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As Patrick Lynch tries to `sell, sell, sell' Worcester.

The city has hired the first executive director of Destination Worcester, a new organization dedicated to getting more people to come here to spend money in local hotels, restaurants and retail stores. City Manager Michael V. O'Brien says that F. Patrick Lynch's job is to "sell, sell, sell" more regional convention business. Mr. Lynch, who comes from Providence, says that Worcester, with the DCU Center and new hotel space, has the potential to attract a lot more activity downtown, even without any commercial airline connection at the airport.

Let's hope he's right.

Which raises the question: Can more be done to make Worcester and Central Massachusetts more attractive as a tourist destination aside from activities at the DCU Center? Is there any way to capitalize on our geography, history and cultural assets that will attract the attention of tourists from out of state?

As far as geography goes, Central Massachusetts has nothing really dramatic. Mount Wachusett in Princeton, Purgatory Chasm in Sutton and Lake Quinsigamond are about as far as it goes, and these are not really imposing enough to lure many out-of-staters.

History is another story. We have loads of history, stretching back to the Indian wars of the 1680s to the 1720s. But we don't have the artifacts, and artifacts are what interest the casual visitor.

The Indian raids were as bloody here as anywhere - the little settlement at "Quandsicamond Ponds" was wiped out by the Indians at least twice before 1715, when the first permanent settlers arrived, but the evidence vanished long ago. Not even the tomahawk that Hannah Dustin used to bash in the head of her sleeping Indian captor survives.

By contrast, the town of Deerfield has capitalized on its own massacre by creating and maintaining a museum of artifacts and has reconstructed the old village to simulate the 1700 era. But it is too late to do that here.

Worcester County played a big role in the events that led up to the American Revolution.

One historian, Ray Raphael, claims that the Revolution actually began in Worcester in 1774, when the townspeople closed down the courts and other state offices.

But the only mementoes remaining of that are preserved at City Hall in the smudged pages of the town records for August 24, 1774. Gardner Chandler, the Tory town clerk, had been forced, by vote of the town meeting, to drag his inky fingers across the pages where he had written something that offended the majority. That was eight months before the ride of Paul Revere and the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. Paul Revere, incidentally, was doubly related by marriage to Worcester's pre-eminent lawyer, Levi Lincoln. But it is difficult to convert all that into something that would attract tourists.

Worcester has a few other Revolutionary War artifacts, including the press used by Isaiah Thomas to report the Battle of Lexington.

It is stored at the American Antiquarian Society on Salisbury Street and does hold interest for historians and antiquarians. Worcester has two homes dating back to the Revolutionary period, the Paine House on Lincoln Street and the Salisbury Mansion on Highland Street. They are interesting items, but not impressive enough to be a major draw beyond Worcester County.

By contrast, Boston has Paul Revere's House, the Granary burying ground, the old Statehouse, the Bunker Hill Monument, Old Ironsides, Fanueil Hall and a number of other items along the Freedom Trail. Nothing can match that.

Worcester was also a cockpit for Shays' Rebellion, that violent demonstration in 1786-87 by farmers and tradesmen against mortgage foreclosures and the lack of money. Hundreds of those angry rebels, wielding pitchforks and muskets, marched down the town's Main Street and shut down the Worcester County courthouse in November 1786. The rebellion was finally put down by armed force, but the bitterness lingered for years. Again, little tangible remains from that violent episode, even though it helped bring about the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787.

During the decades before the Civil War, Worcester was Ground Zero for a number of progressive reform movements, including women's rights, abolition of slavery and the temperance fight against drinking. The home of John Gough, the fiery Prohibition agitator, has been preserved and renovated in Boylston, but the main mementoes of that lively period are mostly pamphlets and broadsides, hardly big tourist attractions.

The point I am trying to make is that this region, and particularly this city, for all the natural beauty and impressive history, is not a tourist destination in the usual sense. But that does not mean that Mr. Lynch should forget about promoting Worcester and the surrounding region, because we do have some things worth talking about.

The Higgins Armory, for example, is unique. No other cities in the Northeast have comparable collections of 15th century armor and weapons. The Worcester Art Museum has a national reputation as one of the finest small museums in the land. The EcoTarium is building a regional reputation. Worcester's collection of colleges and universities is second in the state only to those in the Boston-Cambridge complex. Visitors here should be informed of these things and of the more interesting items in Worcester's long history.

Perhaps one way to do that would be to publish a series of pamphlets, each dealing with one main episode - the 1850 Woman's Rights convention, the founding of the College of the Holy Cross; Robert Goddard's invention of rocket flight; the building of Mechanics Hall; the construction of the various bridges across Lake Quinsigamond from 1804 to 1985; John B. Gough's fiery campaign against alcohol in the 1850s and beyond; the tumultuous Ku Klux Klan riots in Worcester in the 1920s; Abby Kelley Foster's anger at not being allowed to vote and her subsequent refusal to pay property taxes on her Mower Street property in the 1870s; Emma Goldman and the plan cooked up on Providence Street to assassinate James Frick, head of the Carnegie Corporation, for his role in the deadly Homestead strike, and any number of other items. Such pamphlets, distributed to hotels, banks and conventions, might make interesting reading to transient visitors who otherwise would have little idea of this city's long history.

What we don't need is another slogan to characterize Worcester. We've gone down that road too many times already. Each one has occasioned hilarious ridicule from Dianne Williamson and others. Mr. Lynch, we don't need that. "Heart of the Commonwealth" has served as our slogan for more than a century, and needs no improvement.

Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Sunday Telegram.
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Title Annotation:INSIGHT
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Words:1092
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