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Spirit of the Shakers

Spirit of the Shakers

by Kathryn Boughton

How much fun can a religious sect be that believes in celibacy, communal life and confession of sin?

Indeed, the Shakers - founded in 1747 and so called because of the trembling, whirling and shaking they engaged in during ecstatic worship services - seem a strange, other worldly lot. But the Shakers were also forward thinking, believing in racial and gender equality, simplicity and pacifism. They dedicated their lives to creating a working “Heaven on Earth” amid the boundless opportunities presented by America.

With the entire community celibate, Shakers adopted orphans to replenish their numbers. But inevitably, the movement has almost died out. Today, only three Believers remain at Sabbathday Lake in Maine, but the buildings they left behind tell a rich story through living museums such as Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, MA.

Some of those stories will be explored October 10th and 31st when Hancock Shaker Village holds its annual autumn dinners. “This year we wanted to capture the fun of fall and also to explore Shaker beliefs in a different way,” said the aptly named Shawn Hartley Hancock, director of marketing and communication for the village.

“We didn’t want to give people a big lecture about the Shakers, so we decided to hold ‘Spirited Suppers’ during the Halloween season. The Shakers also have a history of making cider, wine and spirits, so it’s a double entendre.”

She said the evening will start with a tour of the village. “It takes people past the farm garden, which is always so pretty in the fall,” she said. “The tour guide will talk about hop production, growing grains for beer and alcohol production. Then they will go to the cider press in the basement of the cannery building and end up in the brick dwelling where we will have a craft beer tasting.”

In addition to the brick-and-mortar tour, the guide will also introduce the audience to a spectral history of the village. “Our tour guide understands how to tell a spine-tingling story,” said Hancock. “We have some interesting ghost stories. He will tell one about the ‘Lady in Black’ that is fascinating.”

In the past the autumn dinners have focused on the plain but wholesome cooking of the Shaker community, but this year a different cuisine is planned for the candlelight buffet meals in the Believers Dining Room of the Brick Dwelling.

“We wanted to give it new life, to be really cool, hip, and attract a younger demographic,” said Hancock. “Our meal will be very different, gourmet and upscale, with very interesting wild food. The dinners and the beer will be off the hook.”

The two meals will be prepared under the direction of Chef Chris Morales of Memorable Cuisine, who just did the Hudson Library gala.

Hancock said that the October 10th dinner is booking quickly. The second dinner will be held, appropriately enough, on Halloween. Both events will be held from 4PM to 8PM and space is limited.

Reservations can be made at 413-443-0188, x 0, or by emailing shancock@hancockshakervillage.org. Tickets are $75 per person for non-members; $70 for HSV members, and $55 for children younger than 12.

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