Thursday, July 17, 2014

When the War is Over

     There’s a new exhibit at the museum!  Our “Tools of the Trade” exhibit had been in place for five years, so it was time for a change.  We chose to highlight some of the issues faced by the veterans after the war, so the new exhibit is titled, “When the War is Over…The Mental and Physical Legacy of War.”  It is a topic which is sometimes overlooked, and it relates well to some of the issues faced by veterans of more modern conflicts.

     Before the new exhibit could be installed, I had to take care of the artifacts from the old exhibit.  They need to be carefully taken out of case and transported to the artifact quarantine area, also known as my office!  Later, they will be returned to the collection room.  

These are surgeon’s coats from the old exhibit.  I kind of like seeing them side-by-side here.  However, do you see any issues with this location?

Take a look at all that sunlight coming through the window behind the coats!  Even when I close the blind, there is too much light for the wool coats.  They would fade if left at this light level for very long, so I put cloth covers over them for protection from the light and from dust.

     Now that the artifacts are stored safely, let’s get back to the exhibit case.

See how nicely the old panels fit together here?  The idea was to simply take these down and put the new ones in the same place.  It should be easy, right?

Oh no, the title panel overlaps the panels beneath it!  This won’t be quite as straightforward an installation as I’d hoped.  Isn’t that what happens with most projects though?!

Interns to the rescue!  Emily and Cooper seemed happy to get some hands-on experience with museum exhibits.

Before bring in any artifacts, Emily cleans the insides of the exhibit doors. 

This looks much better.  Cooper dusts off the new panels, because dust another enemy of artifacts!

     I have to admit that I could get used to having this much help!

The large items are brought in first.  The wheelchair is a style which could have been used by Civil War veterans.  You can read more about it here.  

     After I dusted the risers and put protective sheets of Mylar on top of each riser, the remaining artifacts were put into their places.

With over 60,000 amputations performed during the Civil War, there were many veterans who required prosthetic limbs.  The U.S. government supplied limbs to the Union veterans, and there were programs in place which helped to supply the Confederate amputees with prostheses.  The arm is from the NMCWM collection and the peg leg is on loan from Gene and Carol Carmney.  You can read more about the displayed arm here and the peg leg here.

Veterans who had a hand or arm amputated needed some modifications to their eating utensils.  These are amputee eating utensils which combine a knife and fork so that they can be used with one hand.  These utensils are on loan from Scott Pfeffer.  To the left of the utensils is an invalid feeding cup, which could be used to feed liquids to hospital patients.

As you can see, there are many more artifacts on display here.  If you get the chance, come by to see them in person!  The official exhibit opening will be in August.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Getting Away From It All?

     I have been sort of on vacation this past week.  I didn’t go on a big trip, I just took a little time off from work to get some projects done at home.  I did find some time to have fun though, as I visited a few local spots.  Too many times the local attractions get put on the list to visit later, and then “later” never happens!  So, one afternoon we took the short drive over to Jefferson, Maryland to tour the Distillery Lane Ciderworks.  I wasn’t expecting to be reminded of work there, but I was definitely surprised at the connections I found.

I should have known better.  Apples and cider were definitely around during the Civil War, so that was the first connection.

     The Distillery Lane Ciderworks has a self-guided tour through the orchard and farm.  It was a beautiful day to walk and take in the scenery.  Afterwards you can taste some of their ciders, but let’s take a look at our walk through the orchard first.

The farmhouse has a Civil War connection as well!  It was used at the Quartermaster's house and held weapons for the Union troops which camped at a nearby creek.  This property was chosen because it was just out of range of the Confederate cannons in the mountains at Crampton's Gap. 

And you know if the house was used in the Civil War, the barn was used as well!  This foundation is all that remains of the farm's bank barn.  It is believed to have been used as a field hospital.  Hmm, it’s starting to sound a lot like the Pry house and barn!

     Partway through the orchard, I read a sign with a familiar term - Integrated Pest Management.  It’s a concept used at most museums to prevent infestations of pests which can damage the artifacts.  You can see a previous post I wrote about dealing with insects in the museum here.  It turns out that many of the methods used at the orchard are very similar to what I use at the museum. 

This “sticky apple” traps insects, and is used to monitor for the types of pests found in the orchard.  I have similar sticky traps throughout the museum, though they don't look like apples!

This is a pheromone trap, which lures a specific type of insect to it.  This one wasn’t marked for which type of insect it lures, but at the museum traps similar to this one are typically used for moths.
     They utilized a couple of different methods too.

We don’t have much need for scarecrows at the main museum, though I suppose we could put one in the garden out at the Pry House.

The bat house on this silo counts as pest control too, since bats eat insects.  I don’t think this is something I should try at the museum though!

     My family and I enjoyed our tour of the orchard, as well as the chance to sample the ciders made there.  I’m glad we didn’t keep this trip on our “later” list!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Clara Barton’s Bed, Part 1

     I have some exciting news for all the Clara Barton fans out there!  The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is working with the American Red Cross in Washington DC to put Clara Barton’s trunk bed on display!  Since we are still working on some environmental and security issues at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office, the trunk bed will be displayed at our main museum.  A trunk bed, as the name implies, is a small bed, or cot, which folds into a trunk to become more easily portable.  This is the trunk bed Clara Barton used when she traveled to the battlefields and hospitals during the Civil War, so it is particularly appropriate for display here at the NMCWM.

     There is even a mention of it in the book, Clara Barton: Professional Angel by Elizabeth Brown Pryor:  "The first movements of the expedition to Charleston failed, though Barton dryly remarked that she had "seen worse retreats if this be one,"  She was disappointed in being excluded from what little action did take place and was surprised to find that she had time to settle in and become accustomed to the pace of life at Hilton Head.  She and David [her brother] were given two rooms next to the chief quartermaster, furnished with a collection of makeshift furniture and castoffs from the local plantations: a large mahogany table "evidently once very costly," a rocking chair, and Egyptian marble-topped bureau, mosquito netting for curtains, and Clara's army trunk that unfolded into a bed."

      We were all excited at the prospect of displaying Clara's bed, but first we had to get it here.  Packing and moving a 150-year-old trunk bed is a bit more involved than moving a regular bed!

Clara’s trunk bed was professionally packed and crated for its trip from Washington DC by USArt, and then it was carefully transported to Frederick by Red Cross staff members.  The crate was a bit heavy, so it took some teamwork from all of us to get it unloaded!

Though it was just a short distance to the museum from the street, we made sure the crate stayed securely on the cart!

Once the crate was in my office, we could start the process of uncrating it.  You can see here how securely it was packed.  Even if it had been dropped (not a scenario anyone wants!) it would have been well protected.  There were several layers to the packaging.  There was a cloth cover around the trunk as the first line of defense against dust, dirt, and scratches.  Next it was covered with a layer of plastic, to protect it from moisture.  All the surfaces touching the wrapped trunk were foam, which helped to cushion the trunk.  And finally, the wooden crate protected the trunk against more extreme physical damages.

Here’s what we were all waiting to see – the trunk bed which belonged to Clara Barton!  At first glance, it looks like an ordinary trunk.  The frame is made of wood, and the exterior is covered with tooled leather.  It is also reinforced with wood and metal strips.  The trunk is not hinged on the long edge, but along the short edge.  You might notice two orange labels, one on the top and one on the side.  Each one reads, “Clara Barton.”

The trunk folds out to make this small cot.  I’m sure it’s quite functional, but it sure doesn’t look comfortable!  It’s also in remarkably good shape.

Underneath the cot is storage space.  Here you can see a bag which contains some of the leather straps from the trunk, some wooden poles which can be set up around the cot, and the blue mosquito netting which would have been draped over the poles.  I haven’t had the opportunity to set it up with the netting yet, but I plan to have it displayed with the netting.  I’ll be posting photos of that here later!

     I am currently doing some research on this bed, and preparing to put it on display.  Be sure to check back later for more photos and more news on this unique Clara Barton artifact!  In the meantime, take a look at this short video clip on the bed’s journey to my museum, here. 

 Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.