Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Few More Missing Soldiers Office Artifacts

     This weekend I took some artifacts out to the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office in Washington DC.  While we do have the space open to the public on weekends, we’re still raising funds for display cases and a security system for the building.  Until then, we cannot put any long-term artifact displays there.  I was able to take a few artifacts out for a specific tour though. 

     A group of teachers from around the country came to the CBMSO with a tour from Brightspark Travel. On their tour they heard about Clara Barton’s life in Washington DC, and her work in forming the Missing Soldiers Office.

Here, Tom tells some of our visitors about Clara Barton’s private room. 

We also now have an area for our visitors to take selfies – complete with a writing desk similar to the type Clara Barton would have used, reproductions of the Missing Soldiers Office forms she sent out to families, and a life-sized cut-out of Clara!

     The members of the tour were also able to view a few of the artifacts which were found in the building.  The teachers on the tour seemed very interested in them, and I enjoyed being able to tell them a little more about the artifacts.

     All the items I took to display were found in the building – most of them packed in boxes in the attic.  Some of the boxes contained items which belonged to Clara Barton, while other boxes belonged to her friend and landlord, Edward Shaw.   

On display were a portfolio of envelopes from a writing set, a man’s slipper; the original tin sign Clara Barton posted on the front of this building to advertise her Missing Soldiers Office; a bent Enfield rifle bayonet which could have been used as a pry bar or could have been part of her relic collection from Andersonville Prison; and two socks which she was probably having mended to send back out to the soldiers.

Here you can also see a small steel sewing thimble and a portion of conserved gas line from the building.  Also on display was a panel from a wooden crate, addressed to the Commissioner of Patents.  On the opposite side it is labeled "Shaw", with the address, "488 1/2 7th St. over Steens." It is likely that Clara reused such crates to send supplies to the soldiers on the battlefields.

     The artifact display was quite popular!  I’m looking forward to the time when we can have artifacts on display out there more permanently!  In the meantime, the CBMSO will be closed starting November 24, 2014 through January 15, 2015 and will reopen on January 16th.  We’re also planning a re-dedication of the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office in the spring of 2015.  I hope you can come out for a visit!  

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Curator In The Big Easy!

     I recently went on a short trip to New Orleans.  Though I was not there on business, I certainly found some things which reminded me of the work I do at the museum.  I suppose this isn’t surprising once you learn that New Orleans is sometimes referred to as America’s greatest outdoor museum! 

A good first stop in New Orleans is at the Basin Street Station Visitor Center.  As you probably guessed from this photo, it is housed in an old railroad station.  Now however, there are exhibits which feature some of the city’s attractions.  Since there’s so much to do and see in the area, it’s a good way to plan for what you absolutely have to see.
     I was with a group of friends, and we only had a couple of days to explore the city.  We made the most of our time there, and enjoyed the history, the local street music and the cuisine.  I think I took advantage of every free sample of pralines I saw!  I also now have to see if I can find a place near my home which makes muffulettas.  Our stroll through the city also took us past the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.  We'd been hearing a lot of stories which involved voodoo, so even though it wasn’t on the itinerary we decided to take a quick tour of it.

Though this small museum did give some interesting history of voodoo, I was disappointed in the displays.  Many of the displayed items were out in the open and covered in dust.  The display case I did see had dirty glass, and there was still a thick layer of dust on the shelves and the artifacts.  The labels were also faded and curled.  It does not make for a very attractive display, and it certainly is not good for the artifacts to remain coated in dust.  I do understand about budget constraints, but it does not take much money to clean and dust the exhibit spaces, or to print legible labels.

The weather was beautiful, so we took a stroll outside in the park along the Mississippi River, and saw the paddleboat Natchez.  There was no time for cruise on river this time though. 

While crossing a street, I discovered this small acknowledgement of the Civil War in New Orleans, on a lamp post.  I really can't get away from my work!  
Next we took a tour of the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.  This cemetery was established in 1789, and features above-ground tombs.  Our tour guide explained that though the area’s low water table is most often cited as the reason for these vaults, it is actually more due to the traditions of the French and Spanish people who settled here.  Of course, I immediately started wondering about the upkeep of all these tombs!

The tombs are various states of repair.  Though there are many which are still beautiful, some are damaged and some have been abandoned and are decomposing. 

Weather, moisture, vandals, and even plants contribute to their breakdown.  I was interested in finding out why the plants were allowed to grow on the tombs, and was told that pulling the roots out can cause considerable damage.  The “guardian” in me still wondered if there was a weed killer which could be used instead. 

At least one vault may be familiar to those who have seen the movie, “Easy Rider!”

This tomb had the most visitors, and is reportedly the final resting place of the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.  People still leave offerings for her here. 

     Unfortunately, some people also vandalize this tomb by marking it with the letter X, or in one case by painting it pink!  You can read more about that here.   
     So, even in cemeteries the caretakers have to be concerned about preserving their “artifacts.”  I am just glad that I don’t have to deal with protecting artifacts which are on display outdoors! 
     If you are curious, I found another article which describes how the pink paint was ultimately removed, here.

Since the paint incident, security cameras have been installed at the cemetery.  Can you spot the one in this photo? 

As with most vacations, this one was much too short and there were many places I still wanted to see.  I’ll just have to plan another trip to New Orleans in the future – maybe during Mardi Gras? 

     In the meantime, I’d better get back to work protecting the artifacts at my museum!

Photos by Lori Eggleston