Thursday, February 28, 2013

Things We Learn from Old Books

      An interesting book was recently donated to my museum.  The title on the spine of the book identifies it simply as “Recipes.”  However, the title page declares that it is, “The United States Practical Receipt Book: or Complete Book of Reference, for the Manufacturer, Tradesman, Agriculturalist or Housekeeper; Containing Many Thousand Valuable Receipts in all the Useful and Domestic Arts, by a Practical Chemist. 
     That’s quite a title!  Since it was published in 1844 and it contains many medical remedies of the time, it is of interest to the museum.  Recipes such as these provide a look into the remedies that people used at the time, the foods they ate, and the ingredients which were available to them.  A few of the recipes could probably still be used today, but many leave you shaking your head in amazement, and some are downright funny.  I thought I’d share a few of them here, but with the standard disclaimer to please not try them at home!
The book appears to have been well-used! Though it is definitely worn and the pages are yellowed, it is actually in pretty stable condition.

     I got a laugh from a recipe on the very first page.

To prevent the Hair falling off.

Wash the head once a day with good old Jamaica rum.

     Folk remedies like this one were used quite often.  This one makes me wonder how much “good old Jamaica rum” was wasted by gentlemen attempting to keep their hair! 

      Here’s another interesting remedy.

To cure those who are too much addicted to drinking Wine.

Put in a sufficient quantity of wine, 3 or 4 large eels, which leave there till quite dead.  Give that wine to the person you want to reform, and he or she will be so much disgusted with wine, that though they formerly made use of it, they will now have an aversion to it.

     The publishers didn’t appear to be against the consumption of alcohol in general though, as there were many recipes for making beer and wine.

Honey Wine

Take honey, 20 pounds; cider, 12 gallons.  Ferment, then add rum, ½ gallon; brandy, ½ gallon; red or white tartar (dissolved), 6 ounces; bitter almonds and cloves, each ¼ ounce.

     Mercury was used in a variety of remedies.  The book contains several pages of mercurial ointments, liniments, plasters, and pastes.

Mild Mercurial Ointment

Take quicksilver, 1 pound; suet, 2 pounds; lard, 5 pounds.  Mix, by patient rubbing.  Used to kill insects on the body.

     This one makes me shudder!  I’m sure the “patient rubbing” of the ingredients was probably done with bare hands.  Not to mention that even if it does kill insects, it is definitely NOT something which should be used on the body!
     Mercury wasn’t the only questionable ingredient.  You didn’t want to get “ague”, which was a term for the fevers and chills usually associated with malaria.  While the dose here wouldn’t have been fatal, it wouldn’t have done the patient any good either.

Ague Drops.

Take arsenic, 1 grain, water, 1 ounce.  Mix.  Dose, one tea-spoonful night and morning.

     Opium was used in many remedies as well.  Take a look at this one for “piles” or hemorrhoids.  A scruple was an apothecary weight equal to about 1/24 of an ounce or 1.3 grams.

A certain Cure for the Piles.

Take 1 scruple of powdered opium, 2 scruples flour of sulphur, and 1 ounce of simple cerate.  Keep the affected parts well anointed.  Be prudent in your diet.

     And, many of the recipes were for making or preserving the everyday items which people used.  There are recipes for gilding items, making paper, ink, and candles, keeping metal from rusting, keeping milk and eggs from spoiling, decorating bottles, dying fabrics, and much more.  Recipes for personal items such as perfume, face powder, and hair pomade recipes are included as well. 

To make Corks for bottles.

Take wax, hog’s lard, and turpentine equal quantities, or thereabouts.  Melt all together and stop your bottles with it.

     Turpentine?  Let’s just hope none of those bottles contained anything people actually had to drink!
     Everyone has their own theories about raising children, and the publishers of this book were no exception.


To prevent the rickets, tenderness, and weakness, dip them in cold water every morning, at least until they are eight or nine months old. 

     There was advice for farmers in the book as well.  The book contains various animal husbandry hints and recipes for feeding and dosing livestock, as well as for choosing the best animals.

To ascertain whether a Horse has Good Sight.

Examine the size of the pupil of the eye in dull light, then gradually expose it to a brighter one, and observe whether it contracts or not; if it does, the horse can see, and according to the amount of the contraction will be the keenness of his sight.

     Many of the recipes are for foods.  Here’s one for a condiment which I'm not sure I'd want to try!

Walnut Catsup.

Walnut-shell juice, 3 gallons; salt, 7 pounds; ginger, 8 ounces; shallots, 8 ounces; garlic, 8 ounces; horse-radish, 8 ounces; essence of anchovies, 1 quart.  Mix.

      I’ll leave you with one recipe which you probably can try at home.  I have to admit though, that it was a bit surprising to find a recipe for waffles on the same page as recipes for making waterproof cloth and varnish!


Milk, 1 quart; eggs, 5; flour, 1 ¼ pound; butter, ½ pound; yeast, 1 spoonful.  When baked, sift sugar and powdered cassia on them.

     This recipe book is a nice little glimpse into life in the 19th century.  It makes me wonder how people 150 years from now will see us after reading our books!


Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taking Care of the Caretaker

     Though I am the “guardian” of the artifacts at my museum, there are times I have to take care of myself as well, in order to stay in top guardian form!  Earlier this week, I was able to do that by attending the Small Museum Association conference in Ocean City, Maryland. 

My colleague from the Pry House, Tom Frezza, attended the conference as well. This was our view crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We saw bald eagles on the way too, but I wasn’t quick enough to get photos of them!


After a three hour drive, Tom was happy to be at the conference! 

     We were able to attend several workshops and roundtables on museum-related topics, to talk with vendors (and get some freebies!), and to network with other museum professionals.  There were more workshops scheduled than we could each attend, so we employed the divide and conquer method and went to different sessions.  I chose the ones which related to museum collections.  I was able to learn more about different ways to inventory a museum collection, options for displaying museum collection information online, assessing the museum building and collection area for a variety of risks, and ways for museums to become more green.  Some of the information was new to me, and some was more of a reminder of things which sometimes are forgotten in the day to day bustle.

The theme of the conference was “Superheroes: the extraordinary power of small museums.” You can see here that some of the workshop leaders had fun incorporating the theme into their titles! This one was actually on inventorying museum collections.

     The roundtable on “Building Your Museum Career” was very interesting as well.  We were divided into three groups according to our years of experience (I was in the middle group), and told to come up with advice and questions for the other two groups.  I was not surprised to learn that the younger group appreciated being listened to and mentored, but it was a good reminder for me.  I was eager to hear the main piece of advice from the more experienced group.  I was expecting something museum-based and was a little surprised when it was “Plan for your retirement!”  Though it sounds like good advice for everyone, I have to say that it was another good reminder for me.      

     We had time for a little fun too!  For the banquet on the last night, we were encouraged to come dressed in a costume which related to the theme of the conference.  There were some really creative costumes there!  One person wore a very large visor and was a “Super-visor”, another came as a magician because people at work expected her to produce items as if by magic, someone else came as “Red Tape”, and I think my favorite was the lady who dressed as a Tootsie Pop, because “You have to be a sucker to work at a museum!”  Tom & I had fun coming up with our costumes too.  He came as “Captain American History”, and I decided that I might as well dress the part of the “Guardian of the Artifacts!”

I tried to include many of the items I use to care for the artifacts in my costume. I made my skirt out of ethafoam (artifact padding), I wore artifact tag earrings, white gloves, and a feather duster headpiece. I carried an “acid-free shield” and of course, a light bulb changer!

     It was definitely worth the trip.  I learned some new things, I was able to see some museum issues in a new light, I made some new friends/contacts, and I had some good museum-related discussions.  I hope to be able to attend the next conference – perhaps even as a presenter?

 I have to admit that it’s easier to recharge when you have a view like this from your room!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Please Touch the Exhibits!

     Most times, museum visitors expect to be reminded NOT to touch the items in the exhibits.  In fact, many exhibits are designed so that the items on display are protected from being handled.  Artifacts are generally displayed inside cases, or placed behind barriers.  However, there are some exhibits and displays which are meant to be hands-on for the visitors.  Of course, these displays don’t contain artifacts, but they are still effective in educating the museum’s visitors, especially the younger ones!  Let’s take a look at some of these displays in my museum.

The Discovery Stations at the NMCWM were designed with school children in mind, but we notice that adults like them too! This one provides an opportunity to identify some human bones. Don’t worry, these bones are reproductions! They are attached to the display with weighted ropes so that they remain in their proper positions, but so that visitors can pick them up to get a closer look.
The answer and some additional information can be discovered by opening the door below each bone.


Another type of hands-on display follows a Civil War soldier through the letters he wrote home. This is just the first of several displays located in the museum which follow the war experiences of Peleg Bradford as he served, and was wounded, in the war. Visitors can flip through reproductions of the letters he wrote home and read about what happened to him.



In our Camp Life gallery, visitors can read cards which describe some of the drugs used during the Civil War. A similar display nearby has cards about some of the diseases commonly seen in the camps.


This display panel introduces visitors to several Civil War surgeons. More information about each surgeon can be seen behind the doors.

Behind this door it reads, “Surgeon William Proby Young, Jr., of Middletown, Maryland, first enlisted as a private in the 116th Virginia. After his one year enlistment ended, he appeared before the C.S. A. Army Medical Examining Board and received a commission as an assistant surgeon. Dr. Young was wounded during the Antietam Campaign of 1862, but returned to Virginia with his regiment. On June 9, 1863, he was promoted to Surgeon and transferred to hospital service.” Photo from A Band of Brothers, by Dan Hartzler.


Another Discovery Station involves information about the horses and mules used in the Civil War. Each bucket here has a question about the feeding of horses and mules on the lid, with the answer printed beneath the lid.


Do you think you know how much water a horse or mule would drink in a day?


Were you right?


It seems fitting to have a Discovery Station about children! There were more children who served in the Civil War than you might imagine.


Here is Private Robert Fryer of the 52nd New York, who was one of many underage boys who claimed to be 18 in order to enlist. Boys between the ages of 14 to 17 could sign on as musicians. Some unofficial drummer boys were as young as 9 years old. Many young soldiers, such as Private Fryer, were wounded or killed while serving with their regiments. You can see in this photo that he lost part of his hand. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.


This panel allows visitors to learn the stories of some of the wounded soldiers.

Private Lewis Martin, Co. E, 29th United States Colored Troops, had his right arm and left foot amputated as a result of wounds sustained during the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864. This photo came from the National Archives.

We certainly couldn’t leave out the Civil War nurses!


Inspired by a plea for “ladies to go to the front to nurse the sick and wounded, “ Kate Cumming left her Mobile, AL, home to serve the Confederate soldiers. Her nursing career began in the hospitals of Corinth, MS, caring for the wounded from the two-day battle of Shiloh. Officially enrolled as a hospital matron, she served with distinction with the Medical Department of the Army of Tennessee throughout Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. Cumming was one of the nurses involved with Dr. Samuel Stout’s mobile hospital system during the Georgia campaign. After the war she published her journal describing her experiences with hospital life in the Confederacy. This photo is from her book, Gleanings from Southland.

Visitors can also read some of the wartime letters of another nurse, Clarissa Jones, in this display. Letters such as these give a deeper look into the feelings and experiences of the writer than an informational panel can.


     So, as you can see there are some times when it is acceptable to touch the exhibits!


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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Volunteering at a Museum

     I’ve mentioned previously that I wear many “hats” here at the museum.  In small museums it is common for staff members to take on multiple roles.  But none of us could complete our duties without the help of our dedicated group of museum volunteers!  They donate their time and expertise to tackle a wide variety of tasks both in the galleries with the visitors, and behind the scenes at the museum.  They may not get the same public recognition as some of the staff members, but they are a vital part of the museum.  Today I thought I’d show just some of the work done by our museum volunteers.
Sometimes the first face a visitor sees is that of a volunteer docent.

Volunteers lead some of the museum tours.

They give lectures.

They represent the museum at outreach programs.

Some even get to portray Civil War surgeons….

…or soldiers!

Volunteers help to teach our visitors things like signaling.

Sometimes teaching involves playing games! Here some volunteers play a game of croquet in front of the Pry House.

Other times the visitors can join in the games. Here a young visitor is introduced to the game of Graces.

We are very fortunate that a Civil War Santa Claus volunteers his time at our museum each Christmas!

Volunteers also work behind the scenes doing research.


As a volunteer you never know what you will be needed do – sometimes it’s directing traffic….

… or helping to reorganize the store….


….cleaning the museum….

….decorating the museum….

….doing conservation work on the artifacts (if you have the proper training!)….

….or weeding the garden!


     Volunteers do all these jobs, and many more, for no pay and usually not much recognition.  The museum could not run without them though.  I am very grateful for all that they do!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.