Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Loss of a Friend

     Everyone here at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine was saddened last week to learn of the passing of Elizabeth “Bettie” Delaplaine.  She was one of our museum’s benefactors and artifact donors, but more importantly, she was an avid supporter of our museum and staff members. 

Bettie is near the center in this photo, next to her husband George, who is cutting the ribbon for our museum’s new store opening in 2013.  It’s just not a true museum event unless the Delaplaines are here!

     In memory of Bettie, I would like to feature a few of the artifacts she donated to the NMCWM over the years.

A small tin oil lamp with a metal cap is currently on display in our Everyday Life exhibit as an example of an item which a Civil War soldier may have had with him in camp.  It measures just 2 inches tall and is 4 1/4" in diameter, so it would have been easy to pack and transport.

This is a hand-drawn, color ink drawing of three Confederate flags, the Stars and Bars, the National Flag of the Confederacy, and the Confederate Battle Flag. The handwritten caption gives an explanation of each flag.  It is initialed “W. J. L.” 

A black and white photographic copy of a Civil War soldier's original pen and ink drawing is currently on display in our final gallery.  It is titled, "United States General Hospital, Frederick, MD, from 1862 to 1865."  It depicts six pavilion wards and six tent hospitals. In the distance are soldiers marching up Market Street, and the clustered church spires of downtown Frederick. 

My favorite of Bettie’s artifact donations is this maple four-poster slat bed from the Civil War period.  It is currently on display at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, in the Richardson Room.  

     You can see that Bettie Delaplaine’s donations have certainly benefited our museum, and they continue to help us tell the story of Civil War medicine to our visitors.  We would not be here without her, and we will miss her greatly.

     You can read more about Bettie Delaplaine here.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antietam Time

     The National Museum of Civil War Medicine recently received a donation of a collection of items which came from the Pry family.  If you are familiar with my museum, you will know that our first satellite location is the Pry House Field Hospital Museum out on the Antietam Battlefield.  If you are unfamiliar with the story of this fascinating property, take a look at our website here.  The Pry House was owned by Philip Pry’s family.  However, the items we just received belonged to the Samuel Pry family.  

An undated photo of Philip and Samuel Pry, courtesy of Betsy Web.

     Philip and Samuel Pry were brothers who both lived in Keedysville at the time of the Civil War.  They built the Pry House together in 1844, and a few years later they bought a nearby grist mill together.  They even married sisters!  Philip Pry married Elizabeth Cost, while Samuel Pry married Mary Cost.  In 1862, when the Battle of Antietam was fought, Philip & Elizabeth owned what is now known as the Pry House, while Samuel and Mary owned the Pry Mill.  Both of their properties were taken over and used as Union hospitals after the battle.  So you can see that the two families were closely connected!

A Library of Congress image of the Pry Mill.

     The most striking item from the collection is the clock which belonged to Samuel & Mary Pry.  It was described to me as a mantel clock, so I was quite surprised when a very large box was delivered to my office. 

You can see that the clock stands about 36” tall!  It is actually more of a shelf clock than a mantel clock.

     This is an eight-day weight clock and was manufactured by John Birge and Company in Bristol, Connecticut around 1834.  It has a large triple decker case with a carved eagle on top, columns on the sides, and round feet on the base. 

The top tier contains the clock face.  The small mirrored opening in the center can actually be raised to view the works inside.  If you look carefully on the column to the left, you can see it is covered by a piece of clear packaging tape.  I was not pleased to find that the shipper put that there!  While it came off of the varnished door frame cleanly, it was more problematic on the painted column.  A very gentle test at one edge proved that the tape was pulling the paint off the wood.  After a bit of research into the issue, I used a hair dryer to heat the tape, which allowed me to ease the tape off of the paint more cleanly.

The bottom tier has a hand-painted scene on the door, with a heart-shaped window in the center to view the pendulum.  The buildings portrayed in this scene appear to possibly be the original U.S. Capitol Building and White House.

     The clock had to be partly disassembled before it was shipped, plus the pendulum arm fell off in transit, so I found an experienced “clock guy” to put it back in working order.  Not only was he was able to give me a lot more information about the clock, he made a “house call” as well!

David Myers of Boonsboro, Maryland, oils the works of the clock.  It should be ready to run once he puts it back together!

Here’s a closer view of the brass clock works.  You can see the chime and the striker at bottom center.  The thin rod in the middle is the pendulum arm, and the cords on either side connect to two large weights.  The clock has one for the time and one for the chime.  Once a week, as the clock is wound, they are raised to the top of the clock next to the clock face. 

     Once I obtain a suitable case, I will have the Pry clock out on display at the Pry House.  I’d like to thank Betsy Web and Robin Jackson, descendants of Samuel & Mary Pry, for their very generous donation!  For now, you can hear the Pry clock chime in this video clip: 


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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

And Other Duties As Assigned….

     Sometimes when you work at a small museum, you participate in projects which may not seem to relate to your job description.  Recently, plans were made to add some Halloween-themed items to the NMCWM’s front window.  There are no artifacts displayed in the window though (I wouldn’t put any there in all that direct sunlight!), so at first this didn’t sound like a very curatorial duty.  It became one as soon as one of the museum’s mannequins was involved though.  Technically, I am also the guardian of the museum’s mannequins!  

The previous store window showed a variety of items available for sale in the museum’s Dispensary Store.  The video display in the center shows some Civil War medical scenes as well as images from the museum to help catch the interest of potential museum visitors.  It was a nice display, but it needed a little something extra for the season.

Normally we don’t have any spare mannequins, but these guys were recently relieved of their duties in our Recruiting gallery.  You can see what replaced them here.  While we have since re-purposed some of them, that slightly creepy-looking guy at the end of the line was still in storage.  He seemed perfect for the part we had in mind!

First I had to dress him for the part.  I was relieved to find that he could keep his original pants and shoes – mannequins are not easy to dress!  As you can see here, I had to take off his head in order to change his shirt.  This “Embalming the Dead” T-shirt was chosen for him because it is one of the best-selling items in our store, and because it features the image of an embalmer who worked here, Dr. Richard Burr.  You can read a little more about Dr. Burr here. 

Emily was in charge of the window design, and here she makes some adjustments to our newest T-shirt model.

He definitely adds to the Halloween d├ęcor, but it seems like something is missing.

Nothing says “Halloween” quite like a coffin and skeleton.  And don’t worry, that ghostly image of a curator with a camera hovering over the coffin isn’t really part of the display!

Here’s our new window display – I hope our visitors enjoy it!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Amputation Table

     Since the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek is in just a few days, I thought this week I should feature an artifact from that battle.  It may not be what you expect though!

     Normally when you hear a surgical procedure mentioned, there’s an associated image of a surgical table and an operating room.  However, surgeons on the battlefields during the Civil War didn’t have these luxuries.  They had to improvise with the supplies they could find in the immediate area.  Fashioning a surgical table could involve putting a door on top of two barrels or chairs, or commandeering a table from someone’s home.  That is exactly what happened to an otherwise very ordinary kitchen table in the NMCWM’s collection!

Usually when visitors see our amputation scene they notice the patient, the medical personnel, and the surgical instruments.  It’s easy to overlook the actual artifact in this scene - the table.

     It is a fairly basic pine kitchen table.  The top is composed of five wide planks.  Underneath, there is one drawer with two small ivory handles.  In the photo above, you can see some dark stains on the top near one end – possibly blood stains?  We haven’t had any testing done on the table, so we can’t say for certain. 

The table and its former home, the Daniel Stickley House, were even featured on a postcard in the 1920s.  According to the caption on the postcard, “This substantial house, built in 1859, is on the Shenandoah Valley Pike midway between Strasburg and Middletown, Va.  During the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought October 19, 1864, between Federal forces under Sheridan and the Confederates under Early, a cannon ball passed thru the gable of the building.  The house was converted into a field hospital, and scores of operations were performed upon the table, shown in insert above.  So great was the call for surgical aid that the amputated arms and legs were piled higher than the table before they could be buried.”

     The table was kept in the Stickley family for many years, and by their accounts was still used in their kitchen until sometime in the 1940s.  One person did note though, that she remembered the top being covered in linoleum in later years.  I would imagine that if you knew there had been amputations performed on your kitchen table, you might want to cover the surface!  There is another story about a Civil War veteran who had been one of the patients on the table, who returned to the house and carved a small sliver of wood from it as a souvenir.  

There does appear to be a piece of wood missing from the frame!

     That’s quite a story for a little wooden table!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.