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Hancock Shaker Village Launches Phased Reopening

As Massachusetts slowly reopens from the coronavirus pandemic, Hancock Shaker Village kicked off its 60th season Thursday with a phased reopening of its own. WAMC’s Jesse King stopped by for a preview.

Chickens
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
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WAMC
A trio of chickens jumped up to the fence for a photo.

While its barns and buildings may be closed, the living history museum in Pittsfield has been keeping busy. The grounds and one-mile Farm & Forest trail are officially open for limited tours, after some deep cleaning and COVID-19 training. To maintain social distancing, spokeswoman Amanda Powers says, the museum is only admitting a certain number of people at a time, at intervals across the day. Visitors must wear masks, and are encouraged to buy their timed tickets ahead of time online.  

“We’ll know how many people are on the premises at any given time, we will be radioing each other if there’s anything over — or if there’s under, and we can take walk-ins in the parking lot who have their phone, [you] can order up your ticket or you can call us," Powers explains. "As long as we have a slot available for you, you can do it right here on the spot.” 

Garth
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
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WAMC
The museum's youngest kid, Garth, is just over a week old.

One-way paths marked by orange arrows weave guests in and out of the gardens, past the gift shop, and alongside the pens of baby animals — including three calves, lambs, and a number of kids. The youngest, a wobbly, black-spotted goat named Garth, is just over a week old. Visitors are invited to look, but not touch, as animals bound to the fence for attention. 

The sheep, meanwhile, can use a little encouragement. 

“Come on, babies! Come on, babies! Come on!” Farm Director Bill Mangiardi calls the flock from the back fields. They slowly mosey over to the fence, chiming in the whole way. 

Livestock Manager Allyson Kowalczyk says most of the sheep were sheared last month, making them more sensitive to the sun and heat. The museum brings them into the barn around noon, so she recommends getting there early if you want to see them. 

Gift Shop
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
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WAMC
Visitors can "window shop" outside the museum gift store by placing orders for items via text.

“The sleep have a giant utility fan that they all lay in front of," says Kowalczyk. "And then in the afternoon they get a little more grain and I tuck ‘em in at night, and tell ‘em I’ll see them again in the morning.” 

Founded as an authentic Shaker village in 1783, the museum doubles as the oldest working farm in the Berkshires. The Shakers, officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, practiced a celibate and communal lifestyle grounded in faith, gender equality, and, of course, their farms. The village peaked with over 300 members in the 1830s, but Powers says there were still some families on the site during the pandemic of 1918 — and it hit them hard.  

"Anybody who was in communal living, they lost a lot of people to any kind of serious disease like that that spread," she notes. "So, on the one hand it was bad for the community here, but on the other hand, they weren't going, for the most part, to the outside world. So they weren't spreading it to others." 

Piglets
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
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WAMC
The museum's newborn piglets are still too young to go outside. Visitors can view them from the barn window.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the museum in other ways. Director Jennifer Trainer Thompson says the museum furloughed a substantial portion of its staff in March, and the outbreak canceled most of the summer’s events. The village hopes to fully reopen with Phase Three early July, but until then, Trainer Thompson hopes the limited tours showcase a different side of the site — and provide a little bit of relief.  

“Yesterday I went into the barn and I saw these little piglets that were five hours old, and it just brought this hiccup of joy," Trainer Thompson smiles. "That’s what it feels like — if we can bring comfort and joy to people, we’ll have done our job.” 

For those keeping track, that makes kids, lambs, calves, and piglets among the museum’s newest arrivals. You can see them Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast, "A New York Minute In History."
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