Thursday, December 22, 2011

Moving Artifacts

The Pry House, built in 1844, was originally owned by Philip Pry. It now has the distinction of being known as the birthplace of military and emergency medicine because of the plans developed there by Medical Director Dr. Jonathan Letterman.

     Last Friday I was out at the Pry House Field Hospital and Museum, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s satellite location out on the Antietam Battlefield.  In 1862, just prior to the Battle of Antietam, the house was commandeered by General George McClellan for use as his headquarters.  Major General Joseph Hooker and General Israel Richardson were treated there after the battle for wounds they received.  General Hooker recovered, but General Richardson died in the house two months later.  His death there resulted in some interesting ghost stories about the house, but I’ll have to save those for a later post!

Here is our operating theater display in the Pry House, depicting Major General Joseph Hooker being treated in one of the first floor rooms. The operating “table” here is a door placed on top of stacked crates. 

The Pry barn was used as a Field Hospital. If you were not a General, this was where you would be treated! Over 400 men were cared for here.

     The Pry House closes over the winter, and so the reason for my being there last week was to move the artifacts on display there back to the main museum.  As you might imagine, moving artifacts requires planning, some care, and lots of packing materials!

Here are some of the supplies I use when packing and transporting the artifacts. The sturdy, waterproof containers are padded with ethafoam and acid-free tissue. The cotton gloves are used when handling the artifacts.

     Moving and wrapping artifacts is a methodical process.  This is not an instance when you want to rush!  Each item is wrapped individually.  The larger and studier items, like a cannonball, may only need to be wrapped in some acid-free tissue.  Smaller items or fragile items, like a glass syringe, are also wrapped in ethafoam and packed in smaller boxes for protection. 

Very small items like this bullet are first put into a sealed, labeled bag. It will then be placed into a small box so that it doesn’t get lost in the packing materials!

     When a packing box is filed, all the empty spaces are then filled with more tissue and foam to prevent the items from shifting during transport.  Lids are secured on the boxes to keep everything in place, to protect the packed items from the weather, and to buffer them from the change in environmental conditions as they are taken outside (remember last week’s post on the dangers of rapidly fluctuating temperatures and RH?).

Here’s an amputation kit on display at the Pry House. My first task will be to put the instruments back into their padded compartments inside the case, and to add more padding as needed to keep them in place.

Here’s the amputation kit with the instruments safely stored inside.

Here’s the amputation kit under several layers of tissue and ethafoam!

     When the artifacts arrive back at the museum, they are kept inside the closed containers for at least 24 hours.  This allows them to acclimate to the new environmental conditions gradually.  Then they are carefully unpacked, inspected for any damage, and monitored for a month before being transferred back to their storage places in the collection room.  If any conservation work is required on them, this is the time it is done!  In the spring, they will be packed again and taken back out to their display cases at the Pry House.

     If you’re ever in the area, please stop by and visit!

If you’re lucky, our unofficial mascot, Lacy, will be there to greet you!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine

*Note:  Due to the holidays, there will be no blog post next week.  Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading my blog!

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