Tempest nixes Victorian Fair

David Taber

Last year bad weather limited the first “annual” Jamaica Plain Victorian Fair. Instead of a full-scale period picnic and historic reenactments on the Loring-Greenough House lawn, across from the monument, about 25 people turned out for tea in the house parlor.

“It turned into a wonderfully cozy parlor gathering that raised $250 for the house,” said fair organizer Diane Saint Laurent.

This year, the weather on the weekend the fair was scheduled, May 12 and 13, was picture perfect. But tempestuous interactions between Saint Laurent and the president of the board that owns and operates the historic site led to the cancellation of the second “annual” Victorian Fair.

In addition to a picnic, the two days were to be filled with exhibits of early telephones and Victorian photography, as well as a one-man play about the life and times of Fredrick Law Olmsted.

Some estimated that, with a five-dollar entrance fee, and a $10 charge to enjoy this year’s Victorian tea, the fair could have raised the Loring-Greenough House over $2,000.

“This is very emotionally charged for me right now…I think they have lost a community of people who were ready to rally around the house,” Saint Laurent said.

Saint Laurent said she decided to cancel the fair, after a year of organizing, when, in early May, she received a distressing e-mail from Carole Matheison, president of the board of directors of house owners the Tuesday Club. In the e-mail, Matheison threatened to call the police if Saint Laurent tried to host activities at the house on Sat., May 12.

Saint Laurent made Matheison’s e-mail available to the Gazette. In it Matheison wrote that Saint Laurent did not, “have permission to use the (h)ouse or grounds in any capacity on Saturday, May 12.”

Matheison went on to threaten Saint Laurent with possible arrest. “I will notify the Boston Police Department to remove you as unauthorized persons if you persist as unauthorized persons and without approval and payment of the required fees,” she wrote.

In a telephone interview, Matheison said the Tuesday Club had, in either February or March, approved a plan proposed by Saint Laurent for a one-day event at the house. Saint Laurent asked for, and was granted a 25 percent fee reduction for use of the house and grounds on Sunday, which normally costs $400, she said.

Matheison said she only found out Saint Laurent was planning a two-day event when she read the event listing in the Gazette in late April.

But Saint Laurent said she gave copies of her proposal, which describes a two-day event, to the board of directors in February.

“I physically delivered packets, including my outline, last year’s flyer, photos and an invitation,” Saint Laurent said.

Additionally, a half-page advertisement describing the Victorian fair as a two-day event appeared on page five of the Winter/Spring Edition of the Loring-Greenough House Newsletter.

On either May 1 or 2 Matheison asked Saint Laurent to go before the board of the Tuesday Club on May 8 to go over logistic details at their May 8 meeting, Matheison said.

“We wanted to hear about the activities, about what was happening when and where, and under whose direction,” Matheison said.

The e-mail Matheison sent Saint Laurent, which originated from a City of Boston e-mail address, is dated May 1 and makes no mention of the Tuesday Club board meeting.

Saint Laurent said she was caught off-guard by the request that she appear before the board, and was unable to attend the board meeting due to other obligations.

“There would have been a meeting a long time ago if the concern was, we need this woman to present us with a business plan and get our ducks in a row,” Saint Laurent said.

Up until the point she decided to cancel, Saint Laurent she had been working closely with board member and acting House Manager Katherine Cipolla.

“The Board of House Managers thought this was very simpatico with what they were trying to do with the house. It would have been great for raising funds, as well as raising awareness about the house and generating new members. We were looking to create this as a new staple,” Saint Laurent said.

Citing the need for the board of directors to speak with a unified voice, Cipolla declined to be quoted for this article.

Saint Laurent said she may still try to organize a smaller scale event for later this summer, and will likely organize a fair next year at a different location.

Gerry Wright, who was planning to perform as Fredrick Law Olmsted, said he hopes that, despite the setbacks, Saint Laurent will continue in her efforts to stage the fair.

“I told Diane I would be more than ready to collaborate to do something along the same lines somewhere else, perhaps in Franklin Park or at Jamaica Pond,” Wright said.

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