Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Look at the Museum

     Earlier this week the founder of the museum, Dr. Gordon Dammann, gave a tour of the museum for the staff and volunteers.  While it may seem strange to take a tour of a museum you’ve worked in for years, he singled out some of his favorite artifacts and treated us to some stories we hadn’t heard about them.  Over half of the artifacts we have here at the museum were either donated by Dr. Dammann or are on loan to us from him, so that adds up to a lot of stories! 
This drum is in our Recruiting gallery because it was used to help “drum up” new recruits.  Dr. Dammann told us the story of its pre-museum life as a coffee table.  Yes, I cringed a little when I heard that! 


I’ve written about this Civil War Surgeon’s tent here.  I think this is Dr. Dammann’s very favorite artifact!  He told us about acquiring it from the family of the surgeon, and about displaying it at Civil War shows and in three presidential libraries before it was put on display here.  It is a well-traveled tent!

Not all of the stories were about artifacts.  Some members of the tour learned that the reason our museum has “trees” in some of the galleries is because they are disguising steel supports!  Dr. Dammann also explained how the trees were treated to eliminate any insects before being installed in the galleries.


Another favorite artifact is a rather ingenious little eating utensil designed for patients with an amputated hand or arm.

Here’s a closer look at the combination knife and fork.  It has an ivory handle, three regular fork tines, and a small, sharp blade in place of a fourth tine.  The user could cut and spear portions of food using only one hand.


We also heard the story behind the museum’s acquisition of this wooden siding, which is on display at the entrance to our Pavilion Hospital gallery.  This siding is believed to have been part of the Hammond Hospital at Point Lookout, in St. Mary's County, Maryland.  It was donated to the museum just in time to be saved from being part of a fire department’s practice burn!  As with the trees in the galleries, this siding was first heat-treated to kill any insect pests.
Peleg Bradford’s prosthetic leg is another of Dr. Dammann’s favorite artifacts.  He told us the story of acquiring the leg, and his resulting search for more of its history.  He eventually was able to track down some of Peleg’s descendants and the letters which are on display in the museum.  Having more of the leg’s history not only makes for a more compelling display, but it teaches us more about the lives of the people during the Civil War.  [See my post about Peleg Bradford here.] 

He also talked about how he came to the decision to start the museum.  He said (and I’m paraphrasing here!) he knew that as a collector he would only have possession of the artifacts for a finite time.  He said it was his job to protect them and to learn more about their stories.  I know there are a lot of people who are very glad that he did that; we wouldn’t have this museum without him!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.


  1. So good to see Doc at the museum. My two trips to the museum were on tours he promoted from north west Illinois. He and his wife are great tour guides and story tellers. We love them! I wish I could sit at his feet more often. He has really inspired me to get "into" the Civil War!

  2. One of the combination knife / forks. identical to yours, came into my possession today. I live in New Zealand which leads me to wonder how a Civil War Era item came to be here. I wondered if perhaps they were made in some considerable number and was perhaps used here in NZ by a casualty of the Maori Wars. Can you tell me please who made these implements and anything you know about the maker would be helpful. Thank you for your time Sir.

  3. We have several of these amputee eating utensils at the museum, but only two of them have a maker's mark on them. Unfortunately, the one pictured above is not marked. One of the other knives is marked "John W. Wood / Liverpool." He was a surgical instrument maker from 1864 - 1916. Another one is marked "J. Russell & Co. / Green Riverworks." Mr. Russell was from Massachusetts, and was known for making cutlery of all sorts. This particular label was used starting around 1836, so these utensils were not unique to the Civil War!

  4. Thank you so much for you prompt reply. Really interesting. I still wonder how this one came to New Zealand and who might have used it.