Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Beautiful Day at the Pry House!

     I recently had some tasks to complete out at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum.  The Pry farm is gorgeous this time of year, and I will freely admit that I chose my Pry work day after consulting the weather forecast!  I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunny day there, while still doing my work.

My first task was to prepare to paint two display cases in the house.  This bright yellow color was a bit too distracting!  A more neutral color will allow our visitors to notice the artifacts on display and not the cases.

     I worked in a room which was closed off from the display areas in the house, so that I didn’t have to worry about the dust or paint fumes affecting the artifacts or the visitors!  I was also careful to protect the floor from any paint drips by laying down some sheets of plastic.  After a quick sanding and dusting of the cases, I was able to get the first coat of paint on both cases that morning.

     While I waited for the paint to dry, I worked on a few other issues in the displays.  I hid some pest strips in strategic areas, to cut down on the number of insects in the house.  Though we take as many precautions as possible to prevent insects from entering the house, historic buildings tend to have little cracks and gaps which still allow entry to some pests. 

     You may recall a post I did back in January about the Letterman desk which is on display at the Pry House.  (You can read that one here.) There was an issue with the amount of light to which it was being exposed.  Though curtains were installed in the windows to block much of the sunlight, I mentioned that I wanted to put a blue wool standard card on the desk to monitor the issue.  Shortly after that post, the entire desk was covered since the house was closed to the public for the winter.  I didn’t need to worry about monitoring its light exposure at that point!

This blue wool standard is used to help assess the amount of ultraviolet light damage to artifacts.  Half of it is covered to keep the light from affecting that side.  When I check it later, I will easily be able to see if the uncovered side has faded due to UV exposure.  You can also see that I placed the blue wool card out of view behind the label on the desk!

At lunch time it was a treat to be able to eat outside on the balcony, and to enjoy the view of the garden, barn, and mountains.

I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the nice weather.  Kyle and Cooper were working hard to keep the Pry medicinal herb garden in good shape.

There are still more great views!  If you come to visit the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, don’t forget that there is an overlook out behind the house.  It allows for a spectacular view of the Antietam Battlefield!

     All too quickly, lunch time was over and I had to get back to my painting.

First though, I had to stop and pet Hazel, who’d come in to keep Katlyn company at the front desk.  How can you walk past that face without saying ‘hello’ to her?!

Back to work now!  The cases are already looking much better, but they need a second coat of paint. 

Two coats of paint did the trick.  You can see that one of the Plexiglas display tops is out of the way in the corner.  You can also see that there’s an easel set up next to it.  Though it may appear that the easel is out of place here, I purposely put it there so that no one would accidentally trip over the top.  Being clear and low to the ground can make them difficult to see when one is walking around and looking at other things…. not that I’m admitting that’s ever happened to me!

Finally, there was the little matter of cleaning up the mess!  It was certainly worth the effort to repaint those cases though.  Now the paint can “cure” for a few weeks while we work on the display of Civil War medicines which will go into these cases. 

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Civil War Selfies?

     People who lived during the time of the Civil War may not have had cell phones and digital cameras, but they still had photographs taken of themselves.  The most popular images were not called selfies, but carte de visites (CDVs).  These were small albumen prints which were mounted on cards measuring about 2 1/2 inches by 4 inches.  They were easy to make, inexpensive, and easy to mail.  Soldiers had CDVs taken to send back home to their families and friends, wives sent CDVs of themselves or their children, and girlfriends and fiancĂ©es sent CDVs to their sweethearts at war. 

This is a nice carte de visite of Union Surgeon Elias Marsh wearing his uniform, taken about 1865.
This is a copy of a famous image titled, "The Soldier's Children."  The original image was an ambrotype, and it was found in the hands of a dead Union soldier after the Battle of Gettysburg.  People were so touched by the image of the children and the story of how the picture was found that CDV copies like this one were made and distributed.  It was hoped that these images would aid in identifying the soldier and letting his family know of his fate.  Through these CDVs he was finally identified as Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers, and the children were identified as Frank, Frederick, and Alice.
     It appears that things haven’t changed all that much!  Today we still use photographs as a way to remember loved ones, and to help find or identify missing persons.  So, when the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area came up with an idea for creating opportunities for "Civil War selfies" at several of the area’s Civil War sites, we were glad to participate!  See more information about their program here.  

     We had to find a spot for our visitors to take these pictures, so we rearranged the lobby just a bit to add a mannequin of a Civil War surgeon which people could stand beside to take their selfies.  

We just had to move the Dr. Letterman welcome banner to make a place for the mannequin.  This was also determined to be a good spot since it is directly across from our admissions desk.  Our wonderful guest services staff members are there to assist in taking the photos if needed.

Kyle and I had to repurpose a mannequin from our old Recruiting Gallery scene, where he had been dressed as a civilian.  I’ll go on record here to say that it’s not easy to undress or redress a mannequin!

Kyle and Cooper put the finishing touches on the uniform of our new surgeon, who has been dubbed, Bartholomew.  You can see the metal stand at his feet which was fastened to the floor to stabilize him.  I also attached his belt to the wall, to ensure that he doesn’t fall down on the job!

Kyle got the honor of taking the first selfie with Bartholomew.

He thought there was something missing though, so a flag was hung behind the mannequin.  It looks like a good spot to take a selfie!

Our museum’s founder, Dr. Gordon Dammann, seems to think so too!

     If you get a chance to visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, please join in the fun!  Be sure to stop by and take a picture with our Surgeon Bartholomew, then post it and tag it #CivilWarSelfies.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Raising Funds for Clara Barton

     It’s time for another update on the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office!  The building is now open Friday through Sunday each week.  Visitors can tour the restored space where Clara Barton lived and worked while she was running her Missing Soldiers Office.  On the first floor, they can learn more about Washington D.C. in Clara’s time, and about the many ways that Clara made a difference in this world.  On the third floor, they can climb the same staircase, walk the same hallways, look out the same windows, and pass through the same doorways as Clara Barton.  And while this all makes for a great tour, there is still one thing which would make it an even better experience for visitors – artifacts!

I’m sure everyone wants a chance to see the original Missing Soldiers Office sign in person!  Artifact on loan from the U.S. General Services Administration.

     This is not due to a lack of artifacts available for display.  If you’ve been keeping up with our efforts to open this space to the public, you’ve seen pictures of some of them already.  If you’ve missed it, take a look at some of the Barton artifacts here.  

     As you can see, we have the space and we have the artifacts.  So what’s the problem?  We don’t have an adequate security system, display cases, or additional lighting for displaying the artifacts.  All of these things cost money, and as I was reminded many times while growing up, money does not grow on trees!  So, how does a museum raise the funds to display their artifacts?

     We charge a small admission fee of course, but that really only helps to cover the existing expenses of running the museum.  There are grants too, and we applied for and were awarded some grants which allowed us to get the building to the point where it could be opened to the public.  The rest comes from donations – from businesses as well as from individuals.  Our challenge is in getting the word out to the potential donors.  This is accomplished through appeals to our museum members, special events at the museum, and through the use of social media.  The museum’s website is probably the first place you would go to find more information about the CBMSO, here. 

     We also have a blog dedicated to the Missing Soldiers Office which you can see here.  

     Of course we have a Facebook page too.  Click here.  


Clara Barton - from a portrait taken in Civil War and authorized by her as the one she wished to be remembered by – Library of Congress image.

     So, you can see that we are working hard to spread the word about the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office!  The more support we get, the sooner we will be able to display artifacts there.   I know I am looking forward to that day!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Back at the Pry House

     The last time I wrote about the Pry House Field Hospital Museum it was to document the renovations which were being done to the house and barn.  Take a look at what was done here.  

     Though the artifacts are normally put back on display in the Pry House in April, I couldn’t put them in the house during the renovations.  Having the roof replaced meant that the temperature and relative humidity inside the house would fluctuate much more than usual.  If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll know that I aim to keep artifacts in an environment with stable temperature and relative humidity!  There was also a higher risk of leaks and of pests gaining entry to the house, as well as an increase in dirt and dust in the house.  It was just not worth the risk to the artifacts.

Now the Pry House has a brand new roof!

     Once the roof was finished and the house was cleaned, I was finally able to take the artifacts for the displays back out to the Pry House.

No one likes seeing empty display cases!

     Since there had been some extra dirt and dust produced during renovations, I also decided to wash the cloth covers in the cases before the artifacts were put back inside them.  

This foam block was designed to safely support and display an open book.  There is a sheet of foam in the base of the case as well.  The foam helps to cushion and support the artifacts on display.

Unbleached muslin is used to cover both pieces of foam, since this kind of fabric does not contain any dyes or chemicals which can damage artifacts.

Since the Pry House was used as the headquarters for Dr. Jonathan Letterman during the Battle of Antietam, his book, "Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac" is displayed here, on the foam support pictured in the previous photo.  After the Civil War, Dr. Letterman wrote of his tenure as the Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac and of the role played by the Medical Department under his direction.

The rest of the artifacts are back in the display cases as well.  Some of the artifacts on display include amputation instruments, an ambulance water keg, a home pharmacy kit, Irish Brigade items recovered from the battlefield, Dr. Letterman’s desk, and many other relevant items.  If you’re in the area, come and take a look at them!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.