Independent Thoughts: Library highlights part of Hopkinton’s Black history

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sock doll
Librarian Linda Connelly holds an antique sock doll that is part of a display at the Hopkinton Public Library. PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

Librarian Linda Connelly recently put together an interesting and timely display on the Hopkinton Public Library’s main floor. Part of the display focuses on a black sock doll that was donated to the Hopkinton Historical Society about 50 years ago from a family living on North Mill Street.

According to Connelly’s research, the doll appears to be an “Elmira Doll,” created between 1890 and 1910 by a group of women in Elmira, New York, who made dolls from socks and material scraps as a way to assist and comfort people in need.

The other part of the display shines a light on one of the most famous individuals to have come from Hopkinton: Richard Potter, who was a nationally recognized magician and ventriloquist in the early 1800s.

Making his story especially remarkable is that Potter was born to a slave named Dinah on the estate of Sir Charles Henry Frankland (on land that now is part of Ashland). According to “Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity” by John A. Hodgson, Potter’s father likely was George Stimson, a white resident.

Potter traveled to Europe and apprenticed under Scottish magician and ventriloquist John Rannie. They returned to America and toured together, and eventually Potter became a headline act in his own right. He appeared all over the United States, including the South, where he sometimes was mistaken as Native American or Asian.

While Potter is not very well known today, writes Hodgson: “Two hundred years ago, however, he was the most popular entertainer in America — the first showman, in fact, to win truly nationwide fame. Working as a magician and ventriloquist, he personified for an entire generation what a popular performer was and made an invaluable contribution to establishing popular entertainment as a major part of American life.”

Potter died in 1835 and is buried in Andover, New Hampshire, where he had settled with his family.

As part of the library’s display, there is a sock doll representation of Potter.

Noted Connelly: “Dolls can be created as a way to highlight history and culture.”

Hughes returns to HHS football sideline

The Hopkinton High School football team has a new coaching staff this season, but when practices start Aug. 20, there will be some very familiar faces on the field. The most notable addition is Dave Hughes, who was head coach of the Hillers for 30 years before retiring after the 2007 season. Hughes, who posted a career record of 214-94-4 with seven Tri-Valley League titles and one Super Bowl championship (1993), is a member of the Massachusetts Football Coaches Hall of Fame. Oh, and the school’s football stadium was named in his honor in 2009.

Mark Sanborn is the Hillers’ new coach, and because he only got the job this summer, he had little time to assemble his staff.

“Mark was stuck in the time frame for finding coaches, because everybody that wants to coach is already taken,” Hughes said. “So he reached out to guys he knew who had coached to see if we would do it for a year. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll help you out.’ “

While Hughes stopped coaching the HHS varsity 14 years ago, he’s stayed involved with the game. He has coached at the youth level and, more recently, spent three years helping coach the HHS freshman team.

“So, I really never totally left,” he said.

Sharing offensive coaching duties with Hughes will be Steve Simoes, who took over as head coach after Hughes’ retirement and coached two seasons. Simoes, who teaches government at the high school, now coaches the HHS baseball team, leading the squad to the last two Division 2 state championship games.

HHS teachers Brian Prescott, Anthony Gonzalez, Will Collins and Chaney Gaudette, who all have experience coaching multiple sports, also have signed on to join the staff.

Hughes said he is looking forward to making his return to the varsity sideline.

“I’m just excited to be working with the kids,” he said. “It’s always been fun.”

Sunday concerts expand offerings

This past Sunday’s Concert on the Common featured the music of Din Check, which bills itself as New England’s premier Bollywood band.

The performance coincided with India Independence Day and was part of Parks & Rec’s initiative to “include more diverse musical acts to the concert series,” Parks & Rec director Jay Guelfi stated.

Din Check, according to its website, is a “high-energy group of dynamic personalities” that performs the most popular Bollywood sings, from golden oldies to the latest hits.

The previous Sunday, the Town Common hosted Grupo Fantasia, which plays Latin and Caribbean music.