Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Artifact Scare!

     Most museums, mine included, have far more artifacts than they can display all at once.  So, the artifacts which are not in display are kept in the museum’s collection room.  Here they are stored in fairly stable environment conditions, which help to preserve them.  However, even under ideal conditions there can still be issues which arise.  This is why I routinely monitor the artifacts there.  So, when I recently discovered some whitish spots all over a large leather medical trunk, I was not at all pleased! 
This leather trunk, or pannier, was used to transport medicines and medical supplies in the Civil War.  You can see the areas of white haze on the exterior.

Things looked even worse when I checked the interior.  It looked a lot like mold!
     I took the pannier from the collection room to my conservation work room, partly in preparation for removing the mold, but also to protect the rest of the artifacts in the collection room from the mold.  Knowing that mold spores are airborne and had probably already spread through the collection room was not a pleasant thought for me though!  However, after doing some research I discovered that it was not mold after all, but was actually “fatty spew” or “fatty bloom.” 

     Fatty spew occurs when the fats and oils in the leather migrate to the surface.  Spew can be caused by issues during the tanning process of the leather, or from the application of leather products which contain oil or grease, or from environmental conditions, especially a drop in the temperature.  So, next I researched ways of getting rid of the spots.  I found a number of suggestions, but ultimately decided to try the gentlest and least-invasive method first – wiping the surface with a clean, damp sponge.
Here’s the pannier after it was cleaned.  You can see the embossed “U.S. Medical Dept.” on the front.  The top is embossed, "Jacob Dunton Inventor / Philadelphia / Patent Applied For."  Jacob Dunton was an apothecary and inventor from Philadelphia who was granted many patents for medical items including a tourniquet, bottle stopper, pill machine, and medicine wagon.

The interior looks much better now! 

This pannier has been stored with an acid-free insert to help stabilize the pannier.  The lid is the biggest concern since it otherwise would have nothing underneath to support its weight.  Leather can sag over time, and this helps to prevent that.
     I understand from my research that the fatty spew can possibly return.  So, I will be keeping a closer watch on this pannier.  If that happens I can try some different things, but I will first see if this simple fix does the trick.
Back on the shelf in the collection room, where it belongs!

     To see three different medical panniers from the Civil War, click here.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Few New Artifacts

     Sometimes instead of changing an entire exhibit, a few new items can be added.  This allows some of the artifacts to be rotated off display for a while.  It also gives our exhibits an “update” and allows our visitors to see new artifacts.   I’ve recently updated two of the exhibits at the NMCWM.  Let’s take a look at what’s on display now.

     Most of the new additions were added to the Nursing display.  Though my museum doesn’t have a large collection of artifacts associated with Civil War nurses, we are fortunate to be able to display the following items from the collection of Chris Foard.
Nurses did get breaks from their duties sometimes.  This is a three-day pass for three nurses, Miss Keen, Miss Kimbal, and Miss Morrison, from the Seminary Hospital on August 11, 1864.
Here is a stereograph card which pictures Dorothea L. Dix, who served as the Superintendent of Nurses during the Civil War.  The back of card is dated August 1865.  The twin images on stereograph cards allowed people to view images that appeared three-dimensional when the cards were seen through a hand-held viewer.
There were male nurses who served in the Civil War too.  The image on this Carte-de-Visite is identified on the back as male nurse, William E. Preston, Company I, 112th Illinois Infantry.
You might recognize the woman in this image!  Though Louisa May Alcott is most famous as an author, she was also a Civil War nurse.
This tintype shows an unidentified volunteer nurse who worked at the Armory Square Hospital in Washington D.C.  The image is dated May 1864. 
Nurse Debby Hughes is pictured in this Carte-de-Visite.  On the back of the case is a partial newspaper clipping which reads, "Death of an Army Nurse, Westchester, Pa, Monday Nov. 18.  Miss Debby Hughes, the Washington nurse, so badly injured by the recent railroad accident, died at noon to-day of tetanus."
This is an unidentified nurse from Portsmouth Grove Hospital.  The back of the image is simply labeled, “Nice Lady.”  I imagine this was written by one of her grateful patients. 
This is my personal favorite of the new artifacts on display  - a pencil drawing by Private William T. Peters, Company H, 36th New York Volunteers.  It depicts the interior of a hospital tent, and nurses at the U.S. Army Hospital at Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island.  You can see that the artist (who was a patient there) included his unit’s designation on the haversack!
One additional item was added to the new Recruiting display as well.  You can see the white cap cover on the left side of the display.  This is called a havelock, and it covered the soldiers’ caps and necks to keep them cool and prevent sunstroke in hot weather.  The problem was that they didn’t work!  The men found that the havelocks actually made them feel hotter.  The havelocks were either discarded or put to other uses – as dish rags, coffee strainers, or even bandages.
     For a closer look at the havelock, click here.    

    So, that’s what’s new at the museum.  If you’re in area, come take a look!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Emotional Toll of War

     Last week was a first for me – I was part of the team which developed the National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s first traveling exhibit!  R. Gregory Lande, D.O.; Terry Reimer, the Director of Research for the NMCWM; and I worked together to create the exhibit titled, “The Emotional Toll of War.”  It was inspired by the recent news stories of our current soldiers who have struggled with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and even suicide.  Civil War soldiers suffered from many of the same issues, and so this exhibit shows some of the causes of these “emotional casualties” of war.
This Currier & Ives illustration “The Soldier’s Dream of Home” depicts one of the most common afflictions for soldiers, homesickness.  Many Civil War soldiers were away from home for the first time in their lives, and didn’t know if or when they would get to see their families again.  Accounts of homesickness are documented in many newspaper articles and letters from the time of the Civil War.   
Library of Congress photo.

This Harper’s Weekly illustration from January 3, 1863 is titled “Christmas Eve 1862.” 
A more severe version of homesickness was referred to by Civil War doctors as nostalgia.  Hospital records show that there were patients admitted for nostalgia.  Nostalgia was also reported to have caused the deaths of some soldiers.  According to Potter’s Monthly Journal (1872), “During the late Civil War thousands of soldiers were afflicted with the….melancholy arising from home-sickness, and large numbers died.”
The stresses of war took their toll on the sanity of some soldiers as well.  The U.S. Government Hospital for the Insane (now called St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) in Washington D.C. saw a rise in admissions during the war.  For the year of 1860, just before the start of the Civil War, the asylum admitted 95 patients.  In 1862, 186 patients were admitted, and by 1865 they had admitted 512 new patients.
     Sadly, some soldiers became desperate enough to commit suicide.  During the period from June 1861 to August 1865, 268 suicides were reported by Army surgeons.  The Richmond Daily Dispatch of October 8, 1861 reported, “Men in war become more reckless of their lives, and attempt, through a mistaken notion, to relieve themselves of a burden too heavy to bear.”  It is an issue which we are still dealing with today.

Since the exhibit is designed to be moved to different venues, it consists of a series of informational banners.  However, we felt that adding a small display of associated artifacts would enhance the exhibit.

These medicine bottles are included in the display.  Transporting round glass bottles on a rolling cart can present a few hazards, but placing the bottles inside a box and putting strips of ethafoam between them keeps them from rolling into each other.

The display of artifacts includes the medicine bottles, some informational cards on homesickness, and letters from soldiers which include passages about homesickness, nostalgia, and suicide.  Notice that the windows behind this display are closed to protect the artifacts from the sunlight.

     This exhibit will be on display at the NMCWM through spring of 2014, after which the banners will be available for loan.  So, if you can’t make it here to see it, perhaps it will come to a museum near you!

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Restoration of the Missing Soldiers Office

     I spent a day in Washington D.C. this week to see the completed restoration work on the Missing Soldiers Office building.  It looks much different than it did when I first saw it over a year ago.  The interior now appears much like it did when Clara Barton lived and worked there.  This is a big step toward being able to open the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum to the public.  Now we can focus more on the exhibits and the artifacts to be displayed in the building. 

     In the meantime, let’s take a look at the work that has been done.  You can see some of the “before” photos here.

The first floor of the building is the Welcome Center and gift shop.  Here you can see the new floor, and some of the items which will be for sale.  There will be some displays here as well.
The Missing Soldiers Office was located on the third floor of the building, so the majority of the exhibits will be there.  Visitors to the museum will be able to walk up the same staircase that Clara Barton used.

Several of the period wallpapers from the building were reproduced.  This is the back hallway of the building where the kitchen, dining room, and some boarding rooms were located.

Gas lights were reproduced for the rooms as well.  The lights in these fixtures even flicker like the real ones did!

Some sections of the old wallpaper were preserved.  You can see by the reflection of the window in the photo that the old wallpaper is protected by sheets of Plexiglas.
Here is the front hallway with more reproduction gas lights and a skylight.  The doors to the right were boarding rooms.  The rooms to the left made up the Missing Soldiers Office.  The room through the far doorway and to the left was Clara’s room.
Here is the door which was pictured being restored in my previous Clara Barton post (see the link above).  Room number 7 was part of the Missing Soldiers Office. 
Here’s a peek inside the Missing Soldiers Office.  The panel is a depiction of how the office probably looked while Clara Barton was there.  You can also see the data logger I left there in August in the bottom stovepipe hole.  I retrieved that on my visit and was able to download the environmental information from it.  This information will help to guide us in choosing the artifacts and display cases for the space.

Further down the hall is the door to Clara Barton’s room!
I don’t want to give away too much before the museum’s opening, but here’s a look inside Clara’s room.  The ladder you see is the same one which was used when the artifacts were discovered in the attic, so the ladder and the opening to the attic have been left here to help tell the story of the building. 

     My next update should be on the displays in the Missing Soldiers Office.  I am looking forward to sharing them with you!  In the meantime, you can see more photos and follow our progress on our website, here.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Journey Home

     A faded and well-worn quilt is on display now at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum.  Though it belonged to the Pry family, it has only recently come back “home” to the house.  Let’s take a look at where it has been!

     After the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Philip & Elizabeth Pry's farm was stripped by the armies of most of its resources, including the family’s food, livestock, lumber, and even the crops in the fields.  The once prosperous farm was left in financial ruin.  Though Mr. Pry submitted a claim to the government for the items that had been taken or destroyed, he was never fully compensated.  In 1873, the family moved to farm on cheaper land in Tennessee.  Before the Prys left, many of the local women got together and made a memory quilt as a gift.

      Memory quilts were commonly made in the 19th century as going away presents.  These quilts provided a way to remember distant friends, family, and neighbors.  Often, the quilt blocks would be personalized with signatures, poems, or short notes.  One block on the quilt bears the inscription, "Remember me, when this you see, though many miles apart we be - your friend - Susie Hoffman."  Though the inscriptions could be embroidered, the ones on the Pry quilt are simply ink signatures. 

The quilt’s pattern is called Ohio Star.  The center square of each block is a solid, light color which allowed the quilters to write their signatures and messages for the Prys.

     The quilt was taken with the family to their new home in Tennessee.  After Elizabeth’s death, it was inherited by her daughter, Annie.  Annie was the sixth child of Philip and Elizabeth, and was just a year old at the time of the Battle of Antietam.  Annie eventually passed the quilt on to her daughter, Elizabeth Jones.  When Elizabeth died in 1969, the quilt went to relatives in New Jersey.  It was later purchased at a yard sale by Maggy Sluyter of Plainfield, NJ.  Maggy was intrigued by the signatures on the quilt and set out to find its origin.  Several of the blocks have “Keedysville, Md” written on them.  Maggy initially misread the writing as “Kennedysville” and so sent inquiries about the quilt to the Historical Society of Kent County, Maryland.  She was referred to Mr. Doug Bast at the Boonsborough Museum of History (near the Antietam Battlefield), who directed her to the Keedysville Historical Society.  The quilt was donated to the Historical Society in 1999, and so came back to the community where it was made.

This quilt block is signed, "Ellie M. Landis, Keedysville Md."
     More recently, the Pry quilt was loaned by the Keedysville Historical Society to the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, to be displayed in the house where the family once lived.  It is currently on display there, in its former home. 

The Pry quilt is now faded, worn, and has some holes – signs that it was well used by its former owners.  I suspect that the women who made it would be pleased that their creation was appreciated by the Pry family and by museum visitors now!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A General's Pistol

     Though most of the artifacts donated to my museum are clearly medical in nature, some may not seem so at first glance.  One such artifact in the museum’s collection is an 1862 Police Pocket pistol, which is said to have belonged to General Gustavus Sniper, 185th New York Infantry.  While General Sniper certainly had a role in the Civil War, he was not in the medical profession.  However, his pistol was accepted into our collection so that it can be displayed in an upcoming exhibit on Civil War weapons and the types of wounds they inflicted.

     The 1862 Police revolver was a small, light, five shot, .36 caliber revolver.  The barrel was made in various lengths of 3 ½” up to 6 ½”.  It had a fluted cylinder, a round barrel, and a creeping loading lever.  This model was designed because of civilian demand for a pocket pistol.  However, according to a 1978 Colt brochure, “The .36-caliber chambering of these medium size revolvers made them highly prized pocket sidearms. As also true with the 1849 Pocket, a number were carried by Civil War soldiers as backup to their single-shot muskets.” 
This pistol has a 6 ½” barrel, and a walnut grip with brass trim.  The registration numbers are clearly stamped in four places, and all match.  Inside the fluting of the cylinder is marked, “PAT SEPT 10th 1858”.  The wooden grip still retains its finish; however, the metal shows some wear.  Though it does show signs of use, it is in very good condition overall, and should be a good addition to the displays at the NMCWM!

     The pistol’s former owner has a good story to tell as well.  Gustavus A. Sniper was born on June 11, 1836 in Germany.  His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was a boy, and they settled in Syracuse, New York where he attended school.  When he was 18 years old, he joined several local militia groups.  In 1859-60 he organized a company called the Monroe Cadets and served as its captain until the start of the Civil War.

     Sniper served during the Civil War as Lieutenant Colonel of the 101st New York Volunteer Infantry, and later as Colonel and Commander of the 185th New York Volunteer Infantry.  It was his service in the 185th that gained him the most fame.  In the book, "Joshua Chamberlain, the Soldier and the Man", by Edward G. Longacre,  General Joshua Chamberlain gives his opinion of Sniper, “[H]e would describe the 185th as a ‘splendid’ regiment,’ its commander, Sniper, as ‘fearless’ and ‘clear-brained’.”

A small portrait of General Sniper.

     The 185th regiment was mustered into service on September 22, 1864, under the command of Colonel Edwin S. Jenney.  Col. Jenney was discharged in February 1865, and Col. Sniper succeeded him as commander of the regiment.  On March 29, Col. Sniper led his regiment in a charge at the Quaker Farm near Petersburg. VA.  According to the 1885 History of Cortland County, “The fate of the colors of the 185th during this charge was most thrilling.  B. B. Wilson was color-bearer at that time; he soon fell wounded.  A private then seized the flag, and was immediately killed.  Another private of Company D then grasped the banner and instantly fell wounded.  Private Herman Rice, of Company B, next seized the colors, but his arm was pierced by a bullet, and they again fell.  At this juncture Colonel Sniper, who was dismounted and in the thickest of the fight, seized the fallen flag, waved it on high and shouted, "Men of the 185th---forward!"  A wild cheer went up, the regiment rushed forward and the field was won.  For his personal bravery Colonel Sniper was warmly complimented by the general officers, while the brave regiment was also showered with congratulations.  He was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers for “conspicuous gallantry in the battles of the Quaker Road and White Oak Road, Virginia.”

     After the war, Sniper went into politics.  In 1870 he was elected to the New York State Legislature, where he served three terms.  In 1876, he was appointed the Deputy County Clerk, and was promoted to County Clerk in 1882.  He died on March 29, 1894. 
In 1905 a monument to General Sniper was erected in Schlosser Park in Syracuse, New York, to honor his contributions as a Civil War veteran.
Artifact photo courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mrs. Richardson, I presume?

     While my job as a museum curator involves helping to tell the stories of the artifacts in my care, sometimes it seems as if the artifacts try to tell their own stories!  Last year at Halloween I recounted some of the ghost stories from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, where I work.  Our satellite location, the Pry House Field Hospital Museum has some pretty spooky stories as well.  This seems an appropriate time to tell some of these stories!
This photo of the Pry farm was taken in 1880.  Though the fences and some of the trees are now gone, the house and barn appear nearly the same as they did then.
     Most of the Pry House’s ghost stories center on Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson.  He was wounded during the Battle of Antietam and brought to the Pry House to be treated.  Though his wound was serious enough to take him out of the battle, he was expected to recover.  He was settled into a room on the second floor of the Pry House to recuperate.  His wife, Fannie, traveled from Michigan to care for him, and stayed with him at the house.  In October, he was even visited there by President Abraham Lincoln!  Unfortunately, General Richardson developed pneumonia and died in that room in November of 1862.
Portrait of Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson, officer of the Federal Army.  Library of Congress photo.
This unattributed Civil War era drawing is labeled, “Fitz P[...] house McClellan's H.Q. on the morning of the battle, Wensday [sic], Gen. Hooker was brought here wounded.”  Another note on the side reads, "[...]T. Pry's house."  Library of Congress image. 
General Joseph Hooker was also treated at the Pry House after the Battle of Antietam, but unlike General Richardson he survived. 
     After the war the Pry farm passed to a couple of other owners before the National Park Service acquired it in 1974.  In 1976 there was a fire in the house, which is the source of one of the ghost stories.  While battling the blaze, several of the firefighters reported seeing a woman in 19th century clothing standing at one of the second-floor windows to the room where General Richardson died.  After the fire had been extinguished, it was discovered that the floor around those windows had collapsed.  No one could have been standing there.  No bodies were found in the house.

     The local legend is that the house is still “visited” by the spirit of the General’s wife, Mrs. Richardson.  Over the years many people have reported seeing a woman in Civil War period clothing in the house.  Sometimes she is seen walking down the stairs, sometimes she is standing at a window, and other times she is reported to walk across a room and through a wall!

     After the fire the NPS hired contractors to begin the process of restoring the house.  Some of the workers recounted a similar story to the firefighters.  When they arrived at the house, they spotted a woman standing in a second floor window.  Once again it was a window to the room where General Richardson had died, and once again when they went inside to investigate they discovered that there was no floor beneath those windows!    
This is the staircase at the Pry House, which leads to the “Richardson Room”.  People have reported hearing footsteps here and seeing a woman in “old fashioned” clothing. 
     In 2005, the NMCWM partnered with the NPS to open a museum at the Pry House.  That’s when our museum staff started experiencing some strange sights and sounds.  Our Executive Director, George reports that on his first day there he needed to clear out some items from the interior of the house to make room for the exhibits.  It was a nice day, so he opened all the doors to make it easier to carry things outside.  Starting at the front door, each door slammed shut in succession until they were all closed again.  While the wind could have swung the front door shut, it wouldn’t have then caused all the interior doors to slam shut.  He opened them all again, and this time the back door slammed shut first followed by the rest of the doors, in order, to the front. 

     Our Director of the Letterman Institute, April, had an issue with one of the doors as well.  In her words, “While running an overnight program at the Pry house, during a bad thunderstorm my small group bedded down for the night in the Pry House.  After making my rounds and locking up for the night, I fell asleep, downstairs in what is now the store only to be awakened around 1:30 am to the sound of pacing on the front porch and a strange metallic scratching noise.  When I opened my eyes, I realized that the key was turning in the lock.  It was an old skeleton key that was difficult for me to turn as I had locked up hours before.  I’m not sure whether the key was turning to let whoever was outside in, or to keep them out; but either way, I didn’t want to know then.”

     Guest Services staff member, Garrett, recently spent a night in the house and heard some strange noises as well.  He reports, “I was up rather late after work…in the office above the bookstore.  I was on my computer.  All doors were locked, and had been since around 5 pm.  Suddenly, there was a loud banging noise from the front of the house, sounding like it was coming from the front upstairs hallway between the Richardson room and the green room.  Initially, I thought it was just one of the random noises that the house makes, but several more loud thumps and bangs followed the first one. I thought it sounded like someone was pacing back and forth along the hallway. This back-and-forth continued off and on for about an hour.  I never went to go check it out.

     Starting a little bit after the thumping, banging, and stomping, I began to hear what sounded like a couple of indistinct voices having a conversation in the house.  Most of the voices sounded like they were coming from the formal parlor.  I could definitely identify a male voice and at least two separate female voices, but could not discern anything they were saying…. I barricaded myself in the bedroom for the night.  I had a lot of trouble sleeping, and was glad to see the morning when it finally came.”

     Other museum staff members have reported hearing footsteps in the house and out on the porch, having doors slam and lock behind them, hearing voices, finding the house lights turned back on after the house has been locked and alarmed, and seeing lights moving through the house after dark.  The Pry Barn is included as well!  People have seen lights in there too, and have heard voices talking and singing in the barn.

     It certainly makes for some interesting work experiences at times!
The Pry House as it probably looked at the time of the Civil War.  The people in the photo bear an eerie resemblance to some museum staff members!
     To see photos of a “ghost tour” of the Pry House, click here. 

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