Showing posts with label exhibits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label exhibits. Show all posts

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When the War is Over

     There’s a new exhibit at the museum!  Our “Tools of the Trade” exhibit had been in place for five years, so it was time for a change.  We chose to highlight some of the issues faced by the veterans after the war, so the new exhibit is titled, “When the War is Over…The Mental and Physical Legacy of War.”  It is a topic which is sometimes overlooked, and it relates well to some of the issues faced by veterans of more modern conflicts.

     Before the new exhibit could be installed, I had to take care of the artifacts from the old exhibit.  They need to be carefully taken out of case and transported to the artifact quarantine area, also known as my office!  Later, they will be returned to the collection room.  

These are surgeon’s coats from the old exhibit.  I kind of like seeing them side-by-side here.  However, do you see any issues with this location?

Take a look at all that sunlight coming through the window behind the coats!  Even when I close the blind, there is too much light for the wool coats.  They would fade if left at this light level for very long, so I put cloth covers over them for protection from the light and from dust.

     Now that the artifacts are stored safely, let’s get back to the exhibit case.

See how nicely the old panels fit together here?  The idea was to simply take these down and put the new ones in the same place.  It should be easy, right?

Oh no, the title panel overlaps the panels beneath it!  This won’t be quite as straightforward an installation as I’d hoped.  Isn’t that what happens with most projects though?!

Interns to the rescue!  Emily and Cooper seemed happy to get some hands-on experience with museum exhibits.

Before bring in any artifacts, Emily cleans the insides of the exhibit doors. 

This looks much better.  Cooper dusts off the new panels, because dust another enemy of artifacts!

     I have to admit that I could get used to having this much help!

The large items are brought in first.  The wheelchair is a style which could have been used by Civil War veterans.  You can read more about it here.  

     After I dusted the risers and put protective sheets of Mylar on top of each riser, the remaining artifacts were put into their places.

With over 60,000 amputations performed during the Civil War, there were many veterans who required prosthetic limbs.  The U.S. government supplied limbs to the Union veterans, and there were programs in place which helped to supply the Confederate amputees with prostheses.  The arm is from the NMCWM collection and the peg leg is on loan from Gene and Carol Carmney.  You can read more about the displayed arm here and the peg leg here.

Veterans who had a hand or arm amputated needed some modifications to their eating utensils.  These are amputee eating utensils which combine a knife and fork so that they can be used with one hand.  These utensils are on loan from Scott Pfeffer.  To the left of the utensils is an invalid feeding cup, which could be used to feed liquids to hospital patients.

As you can see, there are many more artifacts on display here.  If you get the chance, come by to see them in person!  The official exhibit opening will be in August.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Slow to Heal

     Part of my job as the curator at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine involves handling the loans of artifacts to other institutions.  I always request photos of the artifacts on exhibit, because I like to see how other museums handle displaying these artifacts.  Sometimes though, I get to actually visit in person.  Recently I had the opportunity to see the new exhibit at the Musselman Library at Gettysburg College.  The curator of the exhibit, Natalie Sherif, had contacted me several months ago about borrowing some artifacts from the NMCWM to display.  I was eager to see how she had used them in her exhibit, “Slow to Heal:  The Evolution of Medicine from the Civil War Era to WWI.”  

I got the curator’s tour from Natalie!  In this exhibit, she explores some of the history of medicine, using artifacts, photographs, and letters.  You can read some of Natalie’s thoughts about this exhibit here.  

     There’s a lot I try to take in whenever I see a new exhibit.  I want to see the intended message of course.  I tend to get a little distracted by the actual artifacts, their mounts, their labels, and the type of lighting though.  I suppose that’s just an occupational hazard!

These medical school class notes on dysentery are particularly appropriate for the Civil War!  Notice though, that the page is a reproduction.  This helps to preserve the original, which could be damaged by being displayed in the light for too long.

Here’s a familiar sight – an amputation kit which came from my museum!  The lid has been propped up slightly here to help visitors see the kit, and to keep the hinges on the kit from being stressed from the weight of the lid.

One topic covered in the exhibit is women in the Civil War.  I was pleased to see this letter written by Clara Barton.  Hmm, perhaps I’ll be requesting a loan from Gettysburg College next!

I was particularly interested in seeing how this Civil War cacolet (chair stretcher) from my museum would be displayed.  It was a bit large for the display case, and the fabric needed to be supported to prevent it from becoming stretched or distorted.  You can see some of the padding which was used.  What you can’t see is how part of it is suspended from the shelf support by monofilaments attached to the wood.

What can I say – I’m always fascinated by items associated with prostheses!

     There’s much more to this exhibit than what I can show here.  If you’re in the Gettysburg area, check it out in the Special Collections room at the Musselman Library through August 1 of this year.  For more information call (717) 337-7002.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Faces of Civil War Medicine

     Though my job does focus on caring for and displaying artifacts, not all of the displays at my museum contain artifacts.  One of the newer displays at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is a video display titled, “Faces of Civil War Medicine.”  It features images and descriptions of people who have an association with Civil War medicine.  Of course this includes the surgeons and assistant surgeons, but it also covers nurses, hospital stewards, ambulance drivers, wounded soldiers, and even some civilians.  As the title of the display implies, it allows our visitors to see some of the actual faces of the people involved in the story of Civil War medicine.  It’s much more compelling to be able to see the human side of any story.

The Faces of Civil War Medicine is one of the first displays visitors see at the museum!
     Here are just a few of the faces in our display:

Henry Alanson Barnum - Union Colonel
Born:  September 24, 1833, in Jamesville, New York
Served:  Captain and Major of the 12th New York Infantry April 1861; Colonel of the 149th New York Infantry September 1862 to January 1866
Died:  January 29, 1892 in New York City
Photo courtesy of the Otis Historical Archives

     Colonel Barnum was wounded in July 1862.  The wound through his side had passed through his hip bone and was considered fatal.  He was left in a field hospital where he was taken prisoner, then exchanged within a month.  Barnum led his unit at Gettysburg while still recovering, and later received two more wounds.  The first wound never fully healed, although he was in comparatively good health.  He died of pneumonia.

Edson D. Bemis - Union Private
Born:  April 16, 1841 in Chester, Massachusetts
Served:  Private 15th Massachusetts Infantry, December 1861; re-enlisted February 1864, 20th Massachusetts Infantry to July 1865
Died:  November 9, 1900 in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. 
Photo courtesy of the Otis Historical Archives
     Private Bemis was wounded three times during the war; his left arm was fractured by a musket ball in 1862; he received a severe abdominal wound in 1864; and his skull was fractured in 1865.  Part of the temporal bone lodged in his brain and was removed, but the wound healed and his mental facilities were not impaired.  His death at age 59 was "cerebral degeneration as a result of gunshot wounds during the Civil War."

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson - Confederate General
Born:  January 21, 1824 in Clarksburg, Virginia
Served:  General, April 1861 - May 1863
Died:  May 10, 1863 in Fairfield, Virginia
Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
     After military service in the Mexican War, Jackson became an instructor at the Virginia Military Academy.  He joined the Confederate Army in April 1861.  He was seriously wounded at Chancellorsville in May 1863 when accidentally shot by Confederate troops, and his left arm was amputated near the shoulder.  He was recovering from the amputation when he developed pneumonia and died on May 10.

John Lynch - Union Sergeant
Born:  May 14, 1843 in Westford, Vermont
Served:  Private, Corporal, Sergeant, 11th CT Infantry 1861 to 1865
Died:  April 14, 1906 in Pepperell, Massachusetts
Photo courtesy of Jon Regan
     John Lynch apparently claimed to be 19 years old when he enlisted at the age of 16.  Though he was hospitalized for a hernia at one point, unlike many of the other young soldiers Lynch did not suffer debilitating health issues which would have limited his usefulness as a soldier. Rather, he served throughout the war, enlisting twice, and being promoted to sergeant - also twice, since he had been reduced in rank for disobeying orders in 1864.  He is also my favorite face in the display since he is my great-great-great-grandfather!

Albert Sidney Johnston - Confederate General
Born:  February 2, 1803 in Washington, Kentucky
Served:  General 1861 – 1862 
Died:  April 6, 1862 at Shiloh, Tennessee
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

     Albert Johnston graduated from West Point in 1826 and served in the U.S. Army before joining the Confederate Army at the start of the war.  At the battle of Shiloh he was hit in the knee by a rifle bullet.  The wound bled profusely, and while non-medical people attended to him, he bled to death.  Tragically, Johnston had a tourniquet in his pocket which could have saved his life had it been used.

     These are just a few of the faces and their stories in our display.  If you get the chance, come visit the museum to see the rest of them!