Tangling with the Shakers

We're having a go at dancing and singing a traditional Shaker ditty inside a meeting hall. I can't quite believe it myself but Jim Day is very persuasive. He's an interpreter at the Hancock Shaker Village near Tanglewood and his enthusiasm is catching. So much so that when we're late to meet a friend he offers, " I thought you'd run off and joined the Shakers." Actually there is a lot about their lifestyle which appeals to me. They were quite progressive for their time. They believed in gender and racial equality and pacifism way back in the 18th century. They liked to sing and dance and sorry if this sounds shallow, but I love their style of furniture and home decor.

Simplicity was the essence of their style but the lack of adornment was also a symbol of their simple, hard-working lifestyle. They were celebate (starting to lose me here) and their houses were essentially convents and monasteries in the one building, says Jim. "Are we sure they really were celebate?," I ask. He assures me if they wanted to have a relationship they could leave the organisation. This was a lifestyle choice and they were very successful at persuading people to join. They are considered one of the most successful Utopian societies and at their peak had 5,000 believers in the mid nineteenth century.
Dwellinghouse at Hancock Shaker Village
The Shakers or United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming began life in Northern England (obviously another source of appeal to me). Their leader, Ann Lee, led eight converts from Manchester, England to America in search of religious freedom in 1774. The Hancock Shaker Village at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is one of the best preserved with its yellow meeting house (above, top), pink horse barn, iconic round stone barn and our favourite, the dwelling house (above). 

Shaker sheep
You can meet the animals, the merino sheep, pigs galore, excitable goats and the Shaker oxen Merl and Roy. You can also take workshops here in keeping backyard chickens, beekeeping and how to make wooden oval boxes which the Shakers were so famous for. Aside from farming the Shakers (so named because of their trembling during ecstatic worship) are also credited with developing several crafts -  woodworking, metalworking, basketry and broom making. You could easily spend a day here learning about the Shakers and in the sunshine and colourful gardens of herbs and flowers you can get a sense of that Utopian society they were striving for.
Roy the Shaker ox, or was it Merl?

In the evening we're back at Tanglewood and really getting into the picnic/concert thing on our third night outdoors. We took at cue from the couples around us and lay on our picnic blankets (would the Shakers approve?) and gazed at the stars while listening to the gorgeous sounds of Wagner, Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov with Kazushi Ono conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I swear the leaves on the trees were moving with the music. Maybe it was just the wine. Or the Utopian society of Tanglewood.
Shaker simplicity
Read more about things to do in the Berkshires


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