Whittier Club Goes Behind the Scenes of Documentary

Whittier Club President Margaret Toomey.

Tom Gradzewicz presented his award-winning documentary, “The Abolitionist Poet: John Greenleaf Whittier,” during the 131st annual summer meeting of the Haverhill Whittier Club Sunday afternoon.

Gradzewicz explained the documentary actually began in 2009 as a segment on a Methuen Community Television program, “Right in Our Own Backyard,” spotlighting museums from Lowell to Newburyport. Upon visiting Whittier Birthplace, however, he learned more about the poet’s life on the farm from Curator Augustine “Gus” Reusch.

As Gradzewicz became more enamored with Whittier’s life, he decided to record the club’s 2010 re-enactment of Whittier’s most famous poem, “Snow-Bound.” In 2011, he interviewed Cynthia Costello, then-president of Amesbury’s Whittier Home Association, at the home Whittier moved to in 1836. By 2013, Gradzewicz and his wife Fran had committed to a documentary. Completed in 2014, “The Abolitionist Poet: John Greenleaf Whittier” took second place in a competition by the Northeast Region of the Alliance for Community Media. The video is available on demand at www.methuentv.org.

The Gradzewiczs, Reusch and Costello continue the discussion on tonight’s Open Mike Show, beginning at 6:30 p.m., over WHAV.

President Margaret Toomey also expressed her vision for the future of the club.

“My goal as president is twofold—to increase membership which is crucial to the club’s successful continuation and to expand the programs we now offer, increasing membership involvement in our programs,” she said. The club’s “Snow-Bound Weekend,” re-enacting Whittier’s most famous poem, returns next February, she said.

Reusch read from the poet’s post-Civil War poem, “The Jubilee Singers.” He explained the actual Jubilee Singers was a group that visited Whittier at his Amesbury home and serenaded him.

Tim Coco, president of the Trustees of the John Greenleaf Whittier Homestead, told Whittier Club members about a recently completed renovation and maintenance project, preserving the exterior of the 328-year-old farmhouse where Whittier was born in 1807. Coco thanked Building and Grounds Chairman Glen Hamilton for overseeing restoration efforts and the many neighbors and volunteers who address day-to-day maintenance. Coco also acknowledged the students and faculty of Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School for their efforts to restore and update the carriage shed on the property.

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