Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting Ready to Open the Pry House


     Back in December, I wrote about taking the artifacts out of the Pry House Field Hospital and Museum for the season.  Next month the Pry House will open again, and so this past Monday I took the artifacts back out and set up the displays.  Well, I set up some of the displays at least.  Remember in last week’s post I mentioned the need for being flexible?  It turned out that the Park Service had people out at the house doing some repairs to the plaster on the second floor of the house.  It is work which needed to be done, but I didn’t think it was wise to put the artifacts out while there was plaster being sanded!  So, I worked on the displays on the first floor, and planned another trip for Wednesday to deal with the second floor.

Here’s a look at some of the work being done on the Pry House in the hallway of the second floor. Notice all the dust on the floor. I didn’t want to risk exposing the artifacts to this dust!


     I still had plenty of work to do though, since the exhibits at the Pry House have been rearranged and several new displays have been added.  Also, instead of featuring just one surgeon associated with the Battle of Antietam, we are now featuring two surgeons, one Union and one Confederate.  Our plan is to change the featured surgeons each year.

These are two of the new displays at the Pry House this year. One case contains an ambulance water keg. The other case contains an ambulance pass book, and some Civil War medical supplies – surgical needles, silk thread, and two medicine containers.

     I had some work to do on one of the artifacts over the winter as well.  The pair of field glasses which is displayed at the Pry House needed a little repair work.  The threads holding the leather cover in place had rotted, which meant that there was nothing left to hold the cover in place.  The holes for the stitching were still present though, so I was able to use some thin monofilament to hold it together.  The leather had shrunk somewhat, so the seam doesn’t quite meet, but the repair still serves the purpose of keeping the cover in place.

Here is the “before” photo which shows the split seam on the cover of the field glasses. You can also see that the bottom of the cover has pulled away from the brass at the base (more shrinkage). This area was not originally stitched, so I will not attempt to add stitching there.

And this is what the field glasses look like now. You can see that there is about a quarter-inch gap in the seam now, due to shrinkage of the leather. I did not pull the stitching any tighter for fear of ripping out the holes in the seams. Though there is the small gap left now, the stitching is enough to keep the cover in place. It is also entirely reversible, in case a different type of repair should become advisable in the future.

     On Wednesday, the work areas had been cleaned so I was able to set up most of the displays on the second floor.  I also received the delivery of some loaned items which will be included in the display for the Confederate surgeon.  There are some fascinating artifacts in this display!  The medical saddlebags contained medical bottles which contained quinine, arsenic, and mercury, among others.  The medicine chest contained some very nice medical containers, as well as a sizeable chunk of ambergris!  The ambergris was a somewhat unexpected find, as it is generally associated with the manufacture of perfumes, but it did have some medical uses as well.  It has definitely given me a new topic to research!  I still have to make labels to put in the display cases for these new artifacts, but I should have that task completed shortly.

     I am excited about the new exhibits, and hope that our visitors will enjoy them too.  The Pry House opens to the public starting on May 5 this year – weekends only until June.  If you are in the area, you should stop by for a visit!

Here’s a view of the side of the Pry House, and the museum entrance. You can also see a little of the garden on the left side of the photo.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.     

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