Collections: The private museum of twins David and Doug Seward

Memories and mementos of Menemsha past.

The brothers pose in David's 1961 Lincoln Continental. —Photos: Sam Moore

One day this winter, I was coming out of Shirley’s as Roberta Morgan was getting out of her car. We said hello, and I noticed she had left Jimmy in the car with the motor running, so I hopped in to keep him company. He told me he had just come from the Seward Museum. I asked him to explain, and knew I had to pay a visit. Thanks for sharing, Jimmy Morgan!

David and Doug Seward are 67-year-old identical twins who grew up in Menemsha and lived there until 1979. Doug just retired after working for Ralph Packer for 49 years, and David is a semiretired builder who got his start when he helped build the fish-processing plant for Everett Poole in 1978.

I finally got to visit in April, at a house in a town they’d rather not name, a house that contains a rather breathtakingly vast collection of Americana and I guess you could call it Vineyardiana (or Menemshiana). They are somewhat famous for their collection: Each year at the Ag Fair, they display part of it. They showed me their Ag Fair case, and they admit “it takes a little longer every year.” I had not realized one of the things I always look forward to at the fair is the display case these two men put together annually about Island history.

They easily finished one another’s sentences as they walked me around from display to display, telling stories at each stop. The twins were “crickers,” growing up with a gang of kids along the creek. Their parents owned the Menemsha store, and their mother, Barbara Flanders, was the last postmaster; their Vineyard roots go back more than 350 years, or 16 generations. Neither has ever lived off-Island. They told me that when they were young, they could run between their grandmother’s house, their great-grandmother’s house, their great-grandfather’s house, their grandfather’s house (where the Coast Guard Station is now), the house of their other grandfather (where the Coast Guard parking lot is), and the camp behind the Coast Guard Station. The station became their second home (they played pool in the basement). The flagpole there was the highest on any Coast Guard installation in the world; volunteers used to be hoisted up to paint it. It has since been cut down — no one would go up on the seat to paint it anymore — and installed at the new Ag Hall.

We stood in front of a mannequin dressed in the green uniform of the Seward Garbage Disposal Service (SGDS) — a business the twins started while while attending community college on the Cape. The mannequin holds framed photos in each hand of the twins, back in the day, in their own uniforms. The uniform pants, with the red stripe down the outside, were Christmas gifts from their parents; the hat was inspired by Texaco. The vest with the seagull was embroidered by David’s mother-in-law Betty. The belt has a U.S. flag made of rhinestones. At the time, they said, they were all of 150 pounds soaking wet (at over six feet tall). “We had a good time, and worked hard,” they told me — servicing all three up-Island towns with 130 stops a day. They had a ready-made clientele, thanks to the family store.

Dave and Doug attended Menemsha’s one-room schoolhouse, and made up half their class: There were only four kids for seven years. The Sewards and their two classmates comprised the last seventh grade class. Their mother, they said, “wanted to make sure they got an idea what the United States was like,” so the family made frequent trips — to New York City, Washington, D.C., New Bedford (they laugh when reporting this last one).

When they were 13 they attended President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, invited by summer resident John Herling, who ran J.F.K.’s press conferences. They stayed in D.C. with the Herling family, were given passes to the Senate, to the House; their mother “went to a tea with Jackie Kennedy”; they proudly display the photograph of themselves at the inauguration.

When I asked about busy winters in Menemsha, they told me their parents went scalloping together, and neighbors would gather at the first shack past the Galley, belonging to Herbert Flanders. It had a potbellied stove and shucking stations — a warm and welcome hangout.

In spring, they had a baseball field next to the store, so they did not have to go far to have fun. When the community center opened, the brothers headed up the hill to attend dances, community sings, and other events.

These guys have so many wonderful stories, but I wanted to know more about their museum. “After Doug’s wife Barbara died at 51,” David told me, “he was adrift, and he decided to buy a 1956 Thunderbird.” Doug continued: “I bought the car and brought it back, and then David said, ‘I’d like to have a Lincoln.’” David continued, “My first wife’s father had a ’61 Lincoln Continental like this [he gestures to the 1961 Lincoln in their museum], and I used to get to drive it. One night, Dougie calls me up and says, ‘I found your car.’ That was 2001.”

By this point, they said, they had started to put things — photos and memorabilia each had from their youth — up on the walls of their two-car garage, and pretty soon, there was hardly room to move. Night after night, they spent time in the garage, arranging their treasures, fixing their cars, while records played.

At one point, they agreed it was time to to enlarge the building. “It was Crickerville going on over here with help from David Norton and his dad,” David said about the way their childhood friends pitched in to assist. In 2007 they decided they needed a living room area, so they moved one truck outside. They had all Tom Rush’s albums framed individually, marionette ephemera from Bill Baird (who had a house in Menemsha), childhood toys, and donations from friends, including “caterer to the rock stars” Diane Mackellar’s Woodstock and other concert mementos, Janet Messineo’s 1967 “Summer of Love” jacket and clothes, Susan Pacheco’s hippie photo, and many more.

Having grown up with the giant Coast Guard flag flying practically in their backyard, it just felt right to make red, white, and blue a theme of their collection. When they found a 1940s Ringling Bros. sequined costume at PIK-NIK in Oak Bluffs, they had to have it.

On one wall is a black sign with gold letters: “Menemsha Bar.” Doug got the sign on eBay for fifty bucks, and of course there’s a story behind that. On a family trip to New York City in 1956 when they were just kids, their dad went out after supper and didn’t come back to the Taft Hotel until after midnight. While wandering around the neighborhood, he found his way to 130 East 57th Street, to the below-street-level bar (perhaps a former bomb shelter) at the Allerton Hotel — the Menemsha Bar. When their dad produced his ID card reading “Postmaster of Menemsha,” he got free drinks for the rest of the night.

Next to an original movie ad for Prince Valiant are a Prince Valiant sword and shield — Christmas presents in 1952 — and they admitted they “almost killed each other with them.”

They have paintings from their mother, who was given art and bought work from Menemsha store regulars and other Island artists, including a collection of Julius Delbos’ work. Doug and David used to enjoy hanging out and watching him paint, something he did not let anyone else do. He was a regular in Menemsha, though lived in Edgartown when visiting from New Jersey. David’s first father-in-law, Albert Hydeman, was a friend of Tom (Thomas Hart) Benton’s. Benton was the one who first told Hydeman he should come to the Island. Doug and David still have the map Benton drew for him. “It’s all in color, and it says, there’s a field over here, and he says ‘One cow over here — keep going.’”

They have a huge sign for the Campgrounds from their friend Abby Armstrong, owner of the former Tuckernuck Antiques in Oak Bluffs. It had hung above the office in the campgrounds; they had to cut it into three pieces to get it in the building. The reason they love it, the brothers said, is that it was painted by famous artist and tombstone carver Casimer Michalczyk. Beyond that was a Mickey Mouse Club outfit. I learned their family had the first television in Chilmark, and the boys made sure to leave the beach in time to watch the 5 pm “Mickey Mouse Club” show. They have Davy Crockett gear — they watched that show, too. They have items from the Alamo (they had a relative who died there), lunch boxes, a Bob’s Big Boy, a Jimmy Morgan wooden painted boat, a framed postcard of them as youngsters playing in the water in Menemsha, and a jukebox that doesn’t work. There is an assortment of Mooncusser items, including a menu and performance programs. They remember a night when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band first played, having just come from Club 47 in Boston: “They were totally electric and tore the walls off the place.”

“I bet you didn’t know Trippy Barnes was a doodler,” David said to me, pointing out a series of doodles; “he doodles all the time.” I had no idea, I told them. That’s because, they said, he throws them all away. One on their wall is “Waiting for the boat in 1960.”

They pointed toward a framed photograph of Gay Head,  taken by Philip Mosher, founder of Mosher Photo, that he had hand-colored and enlarged to sell at his store. It ended up over the mantelpiece at the old Seaview Bar in Oak Bluffs. When the Seaview was closing, the twins said, the photo had been sitting in the furnace room there for years. A fellow named George Tucker got it, and David was able to purchase it from George. Below it now, in a triangle frame, is a folded flag that David and Doug’s father used to fly at the Gay Head Coast Guard station during World War II.

We finished our tour, though I hadn’t looked at more than maybe 20 percent of their collections, and by the next time I visit (and I will), it will have grown again. These brothers say they’ll never stop collecting.

So let us give thanks for keepers of the Island, for these men who have memorialized their lives in a collection with everything from mementos of J.F.K.’s inauguration to the groovy clothes of groovy Islanders, and the doodles of Trippy Barnes. Thanks for the memories — for saving our history, items big and small that reflect times past in Vineyard life, and the stories you tell with each one.