Best kept secret. Hidden jewel. Two phrases I often hear when people talk about the GAR museum. But life-long Lynners seem to be fully aware of the treasure in their midst–a treasure showing signs of wear and tear.
After attending some of Lynn’s Civil War Sesquicentennial celebration 2 weeks ago, I heard there was going to be a bean supper at the GAR. That was as good an excuse as I needed to check it out for the first time.
The General Frederick W. Lander Post No. 5, Grand Army of the Republic stands at 58 Andrew St. and was built by members of the GAR as a memorial to the Union Army veterans of the Civil War.
My tour of the museum was led by Herbert Comeau, life-long Lynner, GAR trustee and Recording Secretary for the last 10 years. In retirement he is a teacher’s aide in the Lynn school system; before that, he worked at the GE plant. Comeau said the building was deeded to the city of Lynn by the “last man standing”–one John A. Dickason, the last surviving original member–“for $1, for forever and a day.”
On the tour with me were a husband and wife. Life-long Lynners both, the husband had worked at GE and the wife’s great-grandmother had been president of the Woman’s GAR. (sorry, I didn’t get any names. It had been a long day and I was beginning to grow tired of intruding too much into people’s lives. I decided to be just another museum visitor and stop taking notes.)
The wife explained to me how the GAR was a fraternal organization, like the Masons or the Oddfellows. The Grand Army of the Republic was formed mostly for philanthropic purposes, to take care of their own, the soldiers who had fought to preserve the union. They met regularly in an ornate meeting room on the third floor filled photographic portraits of all the members. Meetings of the Civil War Roundtable, one of the organizations that organized the Sesquicentennial celebration, now meet here, as does the Lynn Historical Commission and other affiliated groups. You can get a panoramic view of the meeting hall on the city of Lynn website.
Other rooms and floors in the building house artifacts from the Civil War, including a note handwritten by Abraham Lincoln. One of the founding members built an elaborate bookcase which contains the multi-volume Collected Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. To see all of these treasures in person, you can call the GAR museum at 781-477-7085 to arrange a visit. For more information, go to the museum’s page on the Lynn website.
As I inferred at the beginning, the GAR is in need of renovations. Peeling paint and crumbling plaster can be seen in many corners. You can check out this article in the Lynn Item to find out more about the struggle to keep this magnificent building in good shape. Three tenants on the first floor pay rent, but that money goes to the city’s general fund, according to the Item.