Thursday, July 25, 2013

There’s an Exhibit Where? Part 2

     Generally the exhibit planners in museums strive to take advantage of as much of the available space as possible.  Sometimes, that exhibit space even extends to some unexpected areas! 
Display panels in the bathrooms at the NMCWM provide the visitors with some educational reading material about sanitation, sewer systems, and bathrooms in Civil War hospitals.
     Outhouses are what come to mind for most people when they think of in regards to the period of the Civil War.  Though there were plenty of outhouses in use at the time, some of the hospitals did have “water closets” and plumbing.
A detail of one bathroom panel shows the Lovell General Hospital in Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island.  The rectangular buildings are the hospital wards.  The larger buildings near the center are the administration building and kitchen.  The two smaller rectangular buildings over the water are the sinks, or outhouses.  This image is from The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, Volume VI.
     Dr. William Hammond, the Surgeon General of the Union Army, recommended that the hospitals be equipped with bathtubs, toilets and washbasins for the patients.  Though not all of the hospitals were able to meet these recommendations, many of them did. 
This diagram shows the Satterlee Hospital in Philadelphia.  This image is from The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, Volume VI.
     The text from the panel describes the facilities at Satterlee:   
"On the left end of the figure, the ward is connected to the rest of the hospital, in this case by a corridor which leads to the other parallel pavilions.  The far end of the ward held the toilet and washing facilities, separated from the patients by a narrow corridor.
The bath room had a cast iron tray with hot and cold water pipes running above.  The wash basins were placed in the tray, and waste water ran down the tray into a drain pipe.  A cast iron bathtub with hot and cold water was also in the room.  Hot water was steam heated in the kitchen and distributed to the wards in iron pipes.  There was only one tub for 48 patients, while the hospital standard would have recommended three, one for every 16 patients.  In the water closet room, a 12 foot long cast iron trough was placed under toilet seats.  A constant flow of water carried waste matter into a sewer line.
Satterlee was fortunate to have a municipal water supply and sewage system available.  Many hospitals had to pump water from rivers, creeks, or ponds and then discharge their waste water into holding tanks, cesspools, or even the supply from whence it came.  At Camp Dennison Hospital in Ohio, the waste water was discharged in the supply river upstream from the intake point, a highly undesirable practice."
     To see an example of a 19th century bathroom, see the article here.    
     So, even while in the bathroom, visitors can learn something about Civil War Medicine!
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

There’s an Exhibit Where? Part 1

     One of the challenges in having exhibits in historic buildings is working with the available space.  Sometimes the rooms are very small, or some of the building’s features must be incorporated into the exhibits, or the path through the rooms isn’t ideal.  That’s when it’s time to get a little creative!

     When my museum’s building was renovated to include the exhibits, there were a few of these problems which needed to be solved.  One was that the floors of the building were not on the same level; there were stairs between the front and back halves of the building.  Putting in ramps was the best solution as far as traffic flow, but it left two rather blank areas.  So, instead of having just a utilitarian ramp to lead from on gallery to the next, the space was used as part of the exhibits. 
On the second floor, the ramp leading into the Camp Life gallery has been transformed into a path to the camp, complete with soldiers.  Notice that on the wall to the right, the soldiers are all heading into camp, leading the visitors into the next gallery.

Visitors have to come back up the ramp after visiting Camp Life, and so on the other wall, the soldiers are shown marching out of camp, and toward the next gallery.

     On the first floor, the ramp leads from the Field Hospital gallery into the Pavilion Hospital gallery.  So, the ramp here depicts one method of transporting the soldiers from the field to the pavilion hospitals.
During the Civil War, railroad cars were modified to transport wounded soldiers.  Stretchers were suspended by large by vulcanized rubber rings, which helped to absorb some of the shock from the moving railroad car, and provided a more comfortable ride. 

This photo shows the image sometimes known as “the creepy guy,” because no matter where you stand, it always seems as if he is looking at you.  Notice here that from partway down the ramp he appears to be looking at the camera.

In this shot, taken from the bottom of the ramp, it still appears that he is looking at the camera!

The murals in the ramps, as well as the murals in the other museum displays, were painted by Anatoly Shapiro. 
     To see more of Mr. Shapiro’s work click here

     Check back next week to see another unexpected area for a museum display!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Letters from a Surgeon

     This week I’ve been working on transcribing some letters written by a Civil War surgeon to his wife.  Though it is tedious at times trying to decipher the faded, cramped writing, it is also fascinating to read a first-hand account of the life of a Civil War surgeon.  So, I thought I’d share some of his writings.

This is an ambrotype of the author of the letters, Assistant Surgeon Isaac F. Kay, Company K, 110th Pa. Infantry, in his uniform. 
     Isaac Franklin Kay was born March 21, 1828 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.  He attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia starting in 1852.  He enlisted in September, 1861 at the age of 33, and left his wife, Catharine, and three young children at home.

This card was an admission ticket into one of his medical classes.  His signature is at the bottom, and the professor, Dr. Thomas Mutter, also signed the card.  If you’ve ever visited the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, this name may be familiar!   
     It was difficult for Surgeon Kay to be separated from his wife and family.  In a letter dated March 4, 1862 from a camp near Winchester, Virginia he writes, “….[I’ve heard] Genl. Jackson and half his army are captured this evening about 20 miles from here, [but] it needs confirmation.  If it is correct I don't know when we will have to fight.  So darling you need not feel uneasy about me for I don't believe the war will last long, indeed I wish it was over, for darling I never can be happy without you and the dear little children.  Oh, darling I miss you & enjoy [the] likenesses so much.  I sent them home thinking I would [illegible word] them and was afraid they would be broken in the carpet bag, but you are too dear to me to ever be forgotten.”

This small daguerreotype was donated to the museum along with other items which belonged to Dr. Kay.  Though it was not identified, it is likely this image is of Mrs. Kay.  It is possible this is one of the “likenesses” he refers to in his letter.

     Though Southerners are generally known for their hospitality, Surgeon Kay complained to his wife of his treatment by the locals, “Women insult us in passing by.  They call us "Blue Bellied Yankees."  Considering his location at the time, I suspect he’s lucky that’s all they called him!

     Surgeon Kay also wrote of the physical hardships he endured.  In a letter from Martinsburg, Virginia, dated March 11, 1862 he writes, “We marched here today.  The Regt. will encamp about 4 miles from town.  We walked on the R Road 12 miles today and my feet are so sore & my stockings worn out that my feet are blistered so badly that I can hardly stand that daily….  I could not get one pair of stockings in this place.  Cotton you know.  I wear nothing else….  Darling I must close & join the Regt. which is 3 or 4 miles ahead.  My feet are so sore I can scarcely travel.  I am going on as soon as I finish this to get with them.”

     On March 21, 1862, he writes, “We stopped overnight, layed down on the cold ground.  I did not sleep any was so cold and had nothing to cover myself with, but am used to that.”

     And in an undated letter, he writes, “We returned to Strasburg and were put in a low bottom field to pass the night, it [was] raining & mud 6 inches deep.  We nearly all got sick.  My throat is very sore….     It was one of the hardest nights I put in in my life.  I have no [illegible word] and nothing to cover me.  Stood by the fire all night nearly frozen.  I commenced to write to you sitting by the fire on a rail but it was too cold & too hard for me.  I could not finish it.  In the morning we were ordered to return to this camp on this place through the rain and mud 6 inches deep.  I don't believe there was ever an Army in the United States had to endure the hardships we have been obliged to endure.”   

     Surgeon Kay seemed to spare his wife the worst of what he saw during the war.  He mentions in one letter that he will have to wait until he is home to tell her of some of the things he has seen.  He does briefly describe one bloody scene for her though, “There was a little fight where we were encamped.  Ten Rebels killed and Col. Ashby's horse leg shot off by a Canon ball, it is lying in sight of me while I am writing.  I saw the blood along the stone fence [where] the Rebels were killed, it occurred the day before we came here.”

     The war and the separation from his family soon begin to take their toll on Surgeon Kay.  On April 3, 1862 he writes from Winchester, Virginia, “Oh! My dear my darling wife, This is the 7th letter I have written to you since the Battle & Oh! this day I have been almost frantic not having had an answer to any one of them.  Must I die darling because I cannot hear from you?  You have been so punctual before….  how can it be that I cannot hear from you, when almost every member of the Regt. has had letters.  I cannot sleep my dear my darling wife!  Oh!  No, if I do not hear from you soon I do not know what I shall do for I will die for want of not but a letter from you….  Oh! my dear wife I pray to God [daily] that you and the dear little children may keep well.  We are in the midst of an awful war we are not safe to leave Camp.  This country is full of Rebels.”  The depth of his homesickness, and possibly depression, are revealed when he proceeds to tell her, “Oh! my dear my darling wife to relieve an absent and affectionate husband's brains, write immediately to me.  Oh!  I only think (in this dark time of trial) of my dear family & my God….  I am disconsolate and only because I am separated from you.  Oh!  When I think of home, you, & our dear children I cry like a child and every one notices it.  I sometimes feel ashamed.”

     Despite all of this, Surgeon Kay was clearly pleased to be doing his part in the war.  He often commented on the good and brave soldiers who were in his Regiment and Brigade, and also remarked on what a splendid country he served.  He writes from Winchester, “We had no rations…. [in] our Regiment, [though] all the rest of the Brigade had.  We had nothing.  Genl. Tyler called our Regt. out and said, officers and soldiers to day there will be a big Battle at Winchester and if you will agree to march with the balance of the Brigade at Winchester and if you without anything to eat, you can do so, and if you would prefer waiting until you get rations, you can do so.  Every man said, we will go without anything to eat and fight as hard as those who have something to eat.  We cheered the Genl. vigorously several times & away he went for the field of Battle, but he was proud.”  It seems that Surgeon Kay was also rightfully proud.

     Dr. Kay was able to return home after the war.  After reading his letters it is not difficult to imagine that he was very happy to be back with his family!      

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

That's Going to Leave a Mark!

    Cupping is an ancient practice which was very popular during the period of “Heroic Medicine” prior to the Civil War.  Though cupping was beginning to wane in popularity at the start of the war, it was still practiced. 

An ad for a cupping kit.  Image from
     Cupping involves heating small cups, usually made of glass, and then placing them on the skin.  As the cup cools, a vacuum is created inside and the skin is drawn up inside the cup to form a raised blister.  In dry cupping, the cup would be left on the skin for several minutes.  This was thought to promote better blood flow to the area where the cups were applied.  In wet cupping, small cuts would be made in the skin so that the cups would also draw out blood from the area.  Bleeding was thought to reduce the “bad humors” in the body.

Here is a glass cup which has a small brass valve on top to help regulate the pressure.  Not all cups had these valves.

Cups can be made from materials other than glass.  This is a metal cup which was part of a Civil War medical kit.

     An interesting account of cupping can be found in another blog,
     “This painful procedure was performed during the Civil War on Sarah Morgan, a wealthy refugee from Baton Rouge after a wagon accident left her unable to walk. She described the experience in her journal, which has recently been published as “The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman,” as follows:

“I was interrupted yesterday morning by Mrs Badger who wished to apply a few dry cups to my back, to which I quietly submitted, and was unable to move afterwards with[out] pain, as a reward for my patience.”

     When the doctor visited her later, she wrote of the pain she experienced, the large amount of blood lost and the reactions of her sister and friends during another cupping procedure. "two dozen shining, cutting teeth were buried in my flesh....Then came the great cups over the cuts that I thought loosened the roots of my teeth with their tremendous suction power, and which I dare say pulled my hair in at least a foot."

     By the end of the Civil War, cupping was no longer such an accepted practice in the medical community.  However, it was recently brought to my attention that cupping has become somewhat fashionable recently.  Celebrities are touting the health benefits of cupping, and are happily displaying the marks left from these treatments.  To read more about this, click here.      
     It appears that the celebrities don’t have quite the same experience with cupping as poor Sarah Morgan.  However, I strongly suspect that the health “benefits” gained are the same in both cases! 

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