Thursday, August 29, 2013

Progress on the Missing Soldiers Office

     Just yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to see some of the restoration work which has been done on the building which housed Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.  My museum has been working with the owner of the building, the General Services Administration, to open the Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office Museum in this space.  There is still a lot of work to be done, but already there is visible progress!

Recently, a small Welcome Center was opened on the first floor of the building.  At the moment, it is open on weekdays. 

The space isn’t finished, so no artifacts can be displayed here yet.  There are some great informational panels and a video presentation on display though.

     The main part of the new museum will be located on the third floor of the building, where Clara Barton lived and worked.  A restoration crew is still hard at work preparing the space for visitors. 

Here’s a "before" look at the room which housed the Missing Soldiers Office.

Here you can see that the walls and ceiling have been restored, and the wood trim around the windows has been painted. 

Most of the interior doors looked like this one.

Here a conservator carefully removes the dirt and the top layer of finish from one of the doors.  You can see the lighter area at the bottom of the door that he has already cleaned.

While I was there, he uncovered the original number on the door!

Here’s a look at the hallway outside the Missing Soldiers Office doors, before any restoration.

The hallway is looking much better now, and a skylight has also been added.

This is Clara Barton’s living space before restoration.

Here is what her living space looks like now. 

At the moment, most of the walls are covered with white wallpaper liner.  Several of the original wallpaper patterns from these rooms have been reproduced and will be put on the walls.  There are some places where the original wallpaper is being preserved on the walls though.  These sections will be covered with Plexiglas so that they will be visible, but protected.

Another section being preserved shows a signature from a previous wallpaperer. It reads, “Papered by Andrew Frye, Apr. 29, 1898.”

It’s a bit hard to read through the liner paper, but the tradition of signing the walls before applying the wallpaper is being carried on by the current crew!

One reason I visited yesterday was to place this data logger in the space.  This little unit records hourly readings of the temperature and relative humidity.  This data will help me to better plan for how to exhibit the artifacts. 
     So, the Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office Museum is closer to being finished!  There isn’t an official opening date yet, but be on the lookout for an announcement sometime this fall.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Artifact on Television

     Last week, I was able to help with the filming of part of a television show.  A crew from "Mysteries at the Museum" paid a visit to the museum.  They feature some unusual artifacts in various museums, as well as the stories behind the artifacts.  I won’t spoil the surprise about which of our artifacts was chosen for the show, but I will say that it has an interesting, and somewhat scandalous, story attached to it!
I was not on camera, but that was just fine with me.  I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to meet Don Wildman though! 
     My role was to provide the artifact for filming, and to ensure that it was handled properly.  Mainly I kept repositioning it so that they could film it from every possible angle.  I was amazed at how much footage they took of it, considering that probably only about a minute or so of it will be used.  

     Our Executive Director, George, was interviewed to tell the story connected to the artifact.  The crew filmed the interview in our Camp Life gallery, so part of that exhibit will be visible in the background. 
Here is George having some make-up applied before his interview.  We will probably only tease him a little about that!  This photo shows the set up for the interview as well.  You can see the microphone above his head, the extra lights aimed at him, and the small monitor to preview the footage.

Once George gets started telling a story, everyone is riveted! 
      The air date has not been announced yet, so watch for the artifact from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine on "Mysteries at the Museum" sometime this fall! 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Faces of the Wounded

     The mission statement for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine states that we are the premier center for the preservation and research of the legacy of Civil War medical innovation.  It should be no surprise then that our displays deal with subjects such as the medicines used during the Civil War, the equipment and instruments used, and the medical practices of the time.  While all of this information is quite valuable, it is the personal stories which have the greatest impact though.  So, today I thought I’d share just a few of the stories of some wounded Civil War soldiers.

A photo of Private T.W. Pease of Company H, 19th Indiana, which shows the wounds to his leg.  Also notice his orthopedic shoe.  Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.     

     Private Pease was wounded on July 1, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg.  He was struck in the right leg by a MiniĆ© ball which entered the back of his thigh, fractured the upper portion of his femur, and lodged inside his leg.  While at Gettysburg, he had three surgeries in which the bullet and three inches of his femur were removed.  By the time Pease was mustered out of the army in 1864, he was able to walk using crutches.  However, after returning home to Indiana, he experienced problems with his wounds.  After three additional surgeries it was discovered that there were still fragments of the MiniĆ© ball in his leg.  They were finally removed thirteen years after his original injury!  He was eventually able to walk with the assistance of a cane and a six-inch lift in his boot. 
A photo of Private Lewis Martin, of Company E, 29th United States Colored Troops, which shows the stumps from two amputations.  Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
     Private Lewis Martin enlisted in Illinois in February of 1864.  A muster roll record lists his place of birth as Arkansas, his age as 24 years, his height as 6 feet, 2 inches, and his occupation as a farmer.  A few months later he took part in a battle at Petersburg, Virginia and was wounded in the arm and the leg, resulting in the amputation of both limbs.  His wounds were described in his discharge form:  “Loss of right-arm and left-leg by amputation for shell and gunshot wounds received in battle at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 in charging the enemies works.  In consequence of which is totally disabled for military service and civil occupation wholly.”  Unfortunately, not much is known of Martin's life after the war.     

We do know that after being wounded, Private Martin was a patient here at Harewood Hospital in Washington, D.C.  Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A photo of Private John F. Reardon, of Company C, 6th New York Cavalry, which shows his arm after a bone resection.  Image courtesy of Dr. Gordon Dammann.
     Private Reardon was wounded by a shell fragment in the right arm on October 11, 1863 at Culpepper, Virginia.  An account of his treatment can be found in Images of Civil War Medicine by Gordon Dammann and Alfred J. Bollet.  “Private Reardon....was admitted to the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C. only one day following his injury.  Surgeon D.W. Bliss....found that Reardon's right humerus was shattered by a fragment of shell, which was removed....  The fragment was four inches long, one inch broad, and weighed nine ounces.  Surgeon Bliss excised the head and six inches of the shaft of the humerus through a straight incision on the outside of the limb.  His case was written up as illustrating retained mobility of the arm after excision.  The arm was three inches shorter than the other, but muscle development was comparable.  Reardon was able to move the arm in all directions except abduction (i.e. movement laterally, away from the body)....

After recovering in March 1866, Reardon was reenlisted and assigned to duty as an orderly in the Army Medical Museum.... he served....suffering very little inconvenience "from the mutilation he has undergone." The record of his case....went on to state that "Without difficulty he can place his right hand on the top of his head; he can lift a weight of two hundred pounds or more with the injured limb without pain.  The movements of the forearm and hand are not in the least impaired, and there is great freedom of all the movements except abduction."

This photo from the Harvard Medical Library is captioned:  Photograph of John F. Reardon, showing the scar on his right upper arm as published in "Photographs of surgical cases and specimens / prepared by direction of the Surgeon General by George A. Otis."

     These men are certainly quite the testament to the medical innovation of the time! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Acquiring an Ambulance

     One of the interesting aspects of writing a blog is in seeing the statistics for it. I can see how many people view it, what countries they are from, which posts are the most popular, and what search requests are used to find my blog. One search which appears fairly often is, “Do museums buy artifacts?” The answer varies by museum, but for the NMCWM the answer is, not often! Today I’m going to talk about an exception to that though.

     You may recall that last year I wrote about a reproduction ambulance wagon which was on loan to the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, and was on display in the barn. Since the Pry Barn was used as a field hospital during the Battle of Antietam, it has probably “seen” many ambulance wagons pass by its doors. So, it’s quite fitting to have an ambulance on display in the barn.  In case you missed it, the link to that post is here.  
     Though technically it is not an artifact, the ambulance was very popular with our visitors, and it added to our interpretation of the Pry House and Barn. So, when we were offered the chance to purchase a different reproduction ambulance, we knew we had to find a way to make it happen! Normally, we have to rely on the generosity of people who donate artifacts to our museum. In this case, we will need to raise the money to purchase this ambulance, so we will be hoping for the generosity of people to donate to our “Help Us Keep This Ambulance!” fund.

The ambulance is on loan to us for now. It is a fully-functional reproduction of a Rucker ambulance. If we are able to purchase it, we will refurbish it so that it can continue to be used in our exhibit in the Pry Barn, as well as in some hands-on programs.

      During the Civil War, ambulance wagons were essential for quickly transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefields to the hospitals. At the beginning of the war, many of the ambulances were two-wheeled wagons. While they were lighter and faster than the four-wheeled wagons, they broke down more often, and did not offer a smooth ride for the patients being transported. Soldiers often referred to these two-wheeled wagons as “gut-busters!”

      The four-wheeled ambulances were soon favored. They were equipped with springs in the undercarriage which greatly improved the ride for the patients. They also could carry more patients, they broke down less often than the two-wheeled version, and when they did break down they were easier to repair.

In this photo, probably taken at Fredericksburg, Virginia, the 57th N.Y. Ambulance Corps is shown removing wounded soldiers from the field. Notice that there are two-wheeled and four-wheeled ambulance wagons in use. My eye was also drawn to that adjustable stretcher which is visible on the left side of the photo. I’ll have to cover that in a future post! Library of Congress image.

      To read a little more about our ambulance wagon and about Civil War medicine, click here.

      So, if we want to keep this ambulance wagon, we have some fundraising work to do now. I’m hoping that in the near future I will be able to report that we own the ambulance!

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

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Making Changes to a Gallery

     A few weeks ago I wrote about the Recruiting gallery at my museum, since it was about to be updated.  If you need to refresh your memory and see some of the "before" photos, that post is here.   

     We’ve recently finished with the first phase of changes to the gallery.  As you might expect, making changes to a museum gallery involves quite a bit of planning and teamwork among the museum staff.  Ideas for the new displays must be researched and developed, some appropriate artifacts must be chosen and prepared for display, informational panels and labels need to be written and printed, and mounts for the artifacts and labels must be produced or recycled from the previous display.  Several of us work together when it is time to install the new displays. 

     For this gallery update, we decided to make the changes in two phases.  Today, I’ll show you what we accomplished in the first phase.

     The display case containing the instruments used by recruiting bands just got a little facelift.

We added some window clings to the exhibit case doors here to help convey the feeling of patriotism which the recruiting bands were trying to create in the prospective recruits.

Here is our newest interactive display, called, “Became a Soldier or Sent Home?”  Visitors must guess which medical conditions would have prevented the men from being recruited.  The answers are behind the doors.

     This panel was only up for a few minutes before our visitors started opening the doors and reading the answers.  We did an informal poll while we were working there and discovered that our visitors were surprised at many of the answers!  This panel continues to be a popular draw in the gallery.

This door identifies a potential recruit, Caleb, as having lost his big toe.  Do you think he would have been recruited?  The answer behind the door reads, “Sent home.  Most soldiers had to march for long distances, and the loss of either big toe would make that very difficult.”

          The recruiting display case was changed as well.  This one required the most effort!  

Even though some of the artifacts in the case were going to remain there on display, all the artifacts need to be removed from the case while we were working.  I put them on this padded cart to transport them back to the collection area.   

The case looks pretty empty now, but notice that there are still pieces of adhesive stuck to the back wall.  These will all have to be removed before the new background images can be installed. 

Now that the new background is in, the lights inside the case need to be adjusted. 

While I’m working on the case our exhibit designer, Dennis, puts up the new panels.

And, here’s the finished case, complete with artifacts which relate to recruiting.

     Phase two will involve adding a couple more artifacts to the case, and installing two more interactive displays to the gallery.  Check back later to find out what else becomes part of our new Recruiting gallery!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.