Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interviewing the Curator

     A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a student from the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade for a news story about the museum for his class.  I did a similar interview last year, so I knew it involved being filmed.  While I am happy to help in these projects, I have to confess that I am much more comfortable behind the camera rather than in front if it!  However, I’ve learned that one way to help promote my museum and the artifacts and exhibits here, is to promote my work as the museum’s curator.  It is certainly not an aspect of the job which I anticipated when I first started into museum work as a collection manager.  I thought I’d just be taking care of the artifacts! 

It’s much easier when the artifact is the star of the photo!

     I also have to admit that over time doing these interviews has become a little easier.  I’m sure it’s partly due to having done a few of them now.  Mostly though, it’s the interviewer’s reaction to learning more about the museum.  While I may not like seeing the camera pointed at me, I DO enjoy telling people why I love my job at this museum.  I’ve found that many times my enthusiasm for the museum and the artifacts is transferred to them.  Really, that’s another aspect of caring for the artifacts, because if I can’t show people how the artifacts are also important to THEM, I’m not doing my job correctly!  

     So, I would like to thank Staff Sergeant H. William A. Bracy, USAF for his time and his enthusiasm in making this video of his recent trip to the NMCWM!

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Things You Find in Books

     I’ve been busy cataloging a large donation of medical books for the museum.  Cataloging is an essential part of keeping proper records of the museum’s artifacts.  Cataloging can also be a rather tedious task!  However, I’ve been kept entertained by some of the things I’ve found in these books.  Today I thought I’d share a few of these finds with you.

     Even without the “surprise” finds, there are plenty of interesting features to old books.

Some old books have beautifully embossed leather covers. 

Even the book spines can be pretty.  Many times older books have very long titles such as this.

There are sometimes bookplates inside the books as well.  They often list the former owner’s name, and sometimes give clues about his or her interests.  I thought the design of this one was a bit strange, until I looked up the doctor’s name and discovered that he had been a pediatrician!

Of course, at my museum it’s always exciting to find a book which belonged to a Civil War Surgeon!

Many times in older books there is an illustration or photograph of the author or subject of the book, along with a reproduction of their signature.

This book photo highlights the uniform as well as the doctor.

Some images are more flattering than others!  

You can occasionally find messages left by previous readers.

Little sketches on the end pages are common finds as well!

     Leafing further through the books you can find interesting things such as:

A battle map

Class notes in a medical textbook

A cartoon

A photo of a plane crash

A poem about a gas mask!

     With medical books, you also have to be prepared to find images such as:

Nude bodies

A surgical diagram

A diseased ileum

     Sometimes there are advertisements included as well.  The old ones can give a peek into the items and stereotypes from the past.

Once upon a time, this was a state-of-the-art vehicle.

For obvious reasons, this prosthetic leg ad caught my eye!

Some of the old ads simply make you shake your head.

And some ads are shameless self-promotions by the author of the book!

     Not all of my book discoveries are pleasant.

This is what happens when a piece of acidic newspaper is left inside a book.

This was not meant to be a sketch book!  At least these scribbles are in pencil though.

     I have also found some items which have been left inside of books.

I’ve found pressed flowers, leaves, and even this four-leaf clover.  They tend to discolor the pages and to attract insects, so I take them out of the books.


Letters and notes are fairly common finds.  A doctor left this list of itemized hospital admissions inside one of his books.

I even found this knotted lock of hair inside a book.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t any sort of identification with it.

     I will leave you with the most bizarre image I found inside a book:

I’m not sure if they were trying to promote their product, or to scare people with this image!

     Now I'd better get back to cataloging!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mysteries at the Museum!

     Back in August I posted about the Mysteries at the Museum crew being here at the museum to film a segment for their show.  If you missed it, you can see that post here.

     The show aired on Thursday, March 6, and it featured a medicine bottle of silver nitrate in a segment titled, “The World’s Oldest Profession!”  You can see some photos from the episode here.  
     The museum’s photos are numbers five and six in the slide show.  Number five is a great shot from our Pavilion Hospital gallery, and number six shows the medicine bottle containing silver nitrate.  While I am thrilled to see the photos and footage of the NMCWM, I do have to comment about the photo caption which claims that silver nitrate was responsible for snuffing out the epidemic of venereal disease in Nashville.  Though silver nitrate was used during the Civil War as a treatment, and it does have antimicrobial properties, it is not a cure for venereal diseases. 

     So, what was responsible?  First, take a look at a short portion of the Mysteries at the Museum segment here.  

     It was actually the fact that the prostitutes of Nashville were licensed that was responsible for bringing the epidemic under control in that area.  When the women were required to be examined by a doctor before being licensed, it meant that those who were displaying symptoms were not allowed to practice their profession.  Very simply, fewer prostitutes with STD symptoms meant that fewer of their customers were infected. 

A Nashville “Public Woman” license from 1863.  National Archives image.
     There is actually a bit more to the story of the Nashville prostitutes.  Licensing them was only done after General Rosecrans first tried to literally send them up the river!  To read an account of that click here. 
     That’s quite a story associated with a little medicine bottle!

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

House Work at the Pry

     Every homeowner knows that there’s always maintenance work which needs to be done to keep their building in good shape.  Historic houses are no different!  If anything, they can require more maintenance due to their age and the amount of visitor traffic they experience.  So, the Pry house and barn are undergoing some repairs and restoration work this winter courtesy of their owner, the National Park Service. 

Winter is a good time for these repairs, while the house is closed to visitors.   The Pry farm is certainly pretty when covered in snow though!

Work was done on the house windows in 2012.

These wooden shingles on the roof of the house were installed in the 1980s.  It’s time for them to be replaced!  This will help to protect the house from leaks and excess moisture.  It will also create a better environment for the artifacts which are displayed inside.  Don’t worry; there are no artifacts in the house right now!

So, for now the house is covered with scaffolding.

     There is work being done on the barn as well.  The middle section and west hay mow were repaired a couple of years ago.  Now the east hay mow and the corn crib on the east end of the barn are being repaired and restored.

Here is a view from the restored main section of the barn, looking into the restored west hay mow.

The corn crib is on the far right side of the building in this photo.  The east hay mow is on the right side of the main barn building.

The east mow will have new flooring installed, and its timbers repaired.

The corn crib will have new concrete footings and stone piers, and the joists and sills will be repaired.

Some of our visitors are already eager to get a look at the repairs!

     If you are in the area, I hope you can come for a visit as well!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.