Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's That Time of Year....

     Every year as fall approaches and the weather gets cooler the museum becomes more susceptible to invasions of mice.  The mice are looking for warmth, shelter, and food.  My job is to prevent them from getting into the museum building to find these things!  Blocking possible entrances and keeping the area clean and free of materials which are attractive to the mice can help to deter them.  However, mice can fit into very small holes and cracks, so occasionally one does make its way into the building.  This is why I also monitor the museum for these pests.

If you are familiar with the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, you know that the story involves giving a cookie to a mouse, which leads to him wanting more food and making himself at home in the host’s house. It’s a similar story in real life. Once mice find a good source of shelter and food, they don’t want to leave!

     Monitoring for mice includes looking for mouse droppings or tracks, looking for gnawed areas, hearing reports of mice scurrying or gnawing in the walls, and reports of visual sightings.  When a mouse infestation is suspected, I also check along the walls with an ultraviolet light because mouse urine will fluoresce.

Here are some field mice that took over a bird house in my backyard. Though they are cute when they are outdoors, mice can do a great deal of damage to museum artifacts. 

     Mice will damage any material that can be eaten or which can be chewed or gathered for nesting.  Materials stored in the same areas that they don’t consume or use for nesting will be soiled by their waste.   Holes will be chewed into objects to gain access to the interior or simply to keep the constantly growing rodent teeth in check.  They can pose a health hazard to humans, and they multiply very quickly.  This is why it is critical to monitor for mice inside the museum, and to take action promptly if they are detected. 

     So far I have only had to deal with the occasional lone mouse which blundered into the museum.  It is usually pretty easy to find the evidence of their trails, and setting traps in those areas eliminates the problem.  Once the mouse is gone, traps are left in the area for a while to be sure there are no others in the building.  Of course, I check the building for any new access points for mice, and I step up my monitoring efforts as well! 

     Other museums have more creative approaches to mouse control.  Here’s a short video which shows how the State Hermitage Museum in Russia deals with mice:

     It’s certainly a novel way to keep the mice out, but I don’t think we have the budget to hire cat caretakers here!  I’ll just have to continue my quest to make the museum unattractive and impenetrable to rodents.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Soldiers’ Fair

     The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam was this past Monday, September 17.  During the battle, the Pry House served as the headquarters for General George B. McClellan, and the barn was used as a field hospital.  It was only fitting for the Pry House Field Hospital Museum to take part in commemorating the anniversary of the battle.  Just for the anniversary weekend, the Pry House was the site of a Soldiers’ Fair which featured living historians, crafters, and artisans.  They helped to give a glimpse into life in the 1860s. 

A view of the battlefield from the Pry House today is much more peaceful than it was 150 years ago! The National Park Service was doing tours and reenactments over the weekend as well. The sounds of the cannons in the background definitely helped to set the mood.
The tents and the reenactors helped to make me feel like I’d been transported back in time.
Sometimes though, I had to overlook some of the modern conveniences in the scenery! The red flag flying from the barn door indicated that it was being used as a hospital.

Some anachronisms can’t be avoided…. 

The surgeons were positioned just outside the barn to be ready to treat the wounded.

Inside the barn there was a display of a field kit and the medicines which it would have contained.

A Civil War doctor demonstrates how to make opium pills. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the pill sizes were not always uniform, so the dose of medicine the patient received was an approximation.

Would you like to try to extract the bullet from this leg?

The officers set up camp behind the house.

The period crafters and artisans set up their tents in the field in front of the house. There was a wide range of activities and presentations including live music and dancers, quilting, candle dipping, making rag dolls, children’s games, food preservation, embalming, and even doing laundry.

The U.S. Sanitary Commission was also represented. The Sanitary Commission was a private relief agency created in 1861, just after the start of the Civil War. The Sanitary Commission was created to educate the military in matters of health and sanitation in the camps and hospitals. It also staffed field hospitals, raised money, and provided supplies for the soldiers.


     Many members of the museum staff participated as well.
Tom, the Superintendent of the Pry House, took advantage of the services of a wet-plate photographer.

Here’s the finished product – Tom looks pretty good for being over 150 years old!

Our Store Manager, Judy, demonstrates how to dip candles.
Kyle, the Director of Interpretation & Programming at the Pry House, gets his head read by a phrenologist. Phrenologists examined the bumps and depressions on a person’s skull because they were thought to be an indication of the person’s personality and character.

Our Executive Director, George, displayed the tools he uses to make period banjos. Notice there are no power tools on the table!


     We were also fortunate to be able to borrow a modern armored ambulance from Ft. Detrick.  It was placed next to our Wheeling Ambulance so that people could see how much medical transport has changed. 
This is a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Ambulance, also known as an MRAP. Today’s wounded soldiers can be transported off the battlefield in this instead of in a horse-drawn ambulance.

A modern military stretcher has many improvements over the wood and canvas Civil War stretchers!

Setting up a modern stretcher posed some problems for these young reenactors.

Luckily the pros were there to show them how to do it!

A side-by-side view of the old and new ambulances and stretchers.

At the end of the day, everyone pitched in to help move the Wheeling ambulance. Did someone forget to order the horses?!


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Favorite Things

     In working with any kind of collection, one usually develops a few favorite items.  Though I can’t name just one favorite item from the museum’s collection, the medicine bottle for peppermint oil in the photo is definitely one of my favorites.  Let's see what this bottle can tell us.
It’s not just that the glass bottle is cobalt blue, but look at the detail in the artwork on that label! It also has most of its original paper seal at the top, and there’s a small remnant of it on top of the cork as well.  It's all original and it's in very good condition!

     The bottle was made for Alfred Hale and Hendee Parshall of Lyons, New York.  In 1862 they started purifying and bottling peppermint oil and selling it under the name Hale & Parshall.  Their business continued through the early 1900s.
A close-up of the seal shows the Hale & Parshall name.

If you look carefully, you can also see that the base is embossed “Hale& Parshall.”

     They made and sold other essential oils as well, and entered their products in many contests.  The bottle label lists several of the awards they won for their peppermint oil.  The dates of the awards range from 1860 to 1863, so this bottle probably dates from just after 1863.
I found this image on the website for the Free Library of Philadelphia. It is a silver albumen print taken by the Centennial Photographic Co. You can see the Hale & Parshall name on the display case.  I'm sure their case wasn't climate-controlled though! 
Here’s a close-up from the label which indicates that Mr. Hale was marketing and winning awards for his peppermint oil in 1860, before he teamed up with Mr. Parshall.

     Peppermint, Mentha piperita, was used during the Civil War as a flavoring for candies, drinks, and medicines.  Peppermint was also steeped into a tea which was used for nausea, headaches, cramps, indigestion, and colds.
Here's an interesting detail - the bottle also has a pour spout to make dispensing the contents easier.

     This bottle is about to go out on loan to the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum in Gettysburg, PA for their upcoming exhibit, Voices of Duty and Devotion.  The exhibit deals with the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and the care of the wounded in the Seminary hospital.  I may have to go visit my favorite bottle when it’s on display there!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preparing for a Sesquicentennial – part 2

     The temporary exhibit for the month of September at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum is a display of Civil War artifacts recovered from the Roulette Farm on the Antietam Battlefield.  William and Margaret Roulette and their five children lived on the farm during the battle.  Their property saw heavy fighting during the battle as thousands of Union troops marched on their property on their way to attack the Confederates at Bloody Lane.  The house was damaged, the property was looted, and the crops were destroyed.  In the aftermath of the battle, the house and the barn were used as field hospitals.  Over 700 soldiers were buried in the fields of their farm.
 Here is the display set up in the room that was cleared last week. It was created by Mr. George Rees, who collected the artifacts while the property was private property, with permission from the farm’s owners. We are happy to be able to assist him in sharing them with the public!

     There are a couple of interesting stories about the Roulette farm during the battle.  One involves the bee hives that Mr. Roulette kept.  Reportedly, the hives were knocked over by an artillery shell just as the 132nd Pennsylvania Infantry was marching past.  The soldiers were swarmed by bees, which prompted them to advance toward the Confederates more quickly!
Also on display are some photographs of the Roulette farm.

     Another story told is that William Roulette was cheering on the Union soldiers from his property, shouting, “Give it to ‘em!  Drive ‘em!  Take anything from my place; only drive ‘em!”  They certainly took him at his word, since they took nearly everything the family owned.  Following the war, Mr. Roulette submitted a claim to the Federal Government for $2,400, for the property which had been damaged, stolen, and confiscated.  Though he was not able to collect the full amount, his family did manage to rebuild their farm.
Here are some of the artifacts recovered from the Roulette Farm.

     The Roulette Farm was used for veterans’ reunions in the decades after the Civil War. Though the farm was privately owned for many years, today it is part of Antietam National Battlefield.
Also on display are some mementos from the reunions held at the farm.


     For additional information and some great photos of the Roulette Farm, see this blog post from “My Year of Living Rangerously”:  click here

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.