Category Archives: historic sites
What would you do if a couple of middle-school-aged kids (12+-) walked into your museum unaccompanied by adults? Would you stop them immediately and bar them from their journey of discovery? Or would you treat them as you would adult visitors and wait to see if they were disruptive before interfering with their visit? Or do you have a special procedure for youth to “register” at the front desk with a parent’s name and contact information?
Two years ago, when one of my sons was that age, he experienced two different museum procedures in Raleigh’s capital cluster of museums on the same day. He and a friend went into “Museum A” and explored and enjoyed themselves—no problems ensued. Afterwards they ventured into “Museum B” and an official stopped them at the door and told them they were not allowed in without a parent. Perhaps there are sound policies in place, based on liability or other concerns, that guided the boys’ exclusion. But whether or not that was the case, I believe a ban on kid visitors is a shame.
I support free-range parenting, which has become something of a movement in recent years. Most parents of tweens and teens today are old enough to remember a time when kids played outside all day and even visited stores, libraries, and museums without parents. Perhaps there’s no need to mention to the large portion of readers who are also historians that as soon as children were physically able in the past, they were encouraged to do all sorts of tasks independently. Amazingly to us today, in 1941-42 my grandparents put my aunt, who was a precocious 2-year-old, on a city bus in Iowa City by herself to ride to pre-school daily. How can it be that in the 21st century, even if we trusted our kids to function independently, we’re either too stunted by fears of criminals or fears of being criminalized ourselves to send them out on their own for brief excursions? Free-range parenting guru Lenore Skenazy has a thorough discussion of the possible reasons for the shift from free-range to cooped-up, often over-scheduled, kids in the last 20-30 years. She argues that the result is often harmful for both child development and parental well being.
Can our institutions function as part of kids’ free range? Read about a 60-something museum professional who fell in love with archaeology by repeatedly visiting his local museum alone when he was 8 years old here. Are there sound reasons to prevent decently behaved children, who are able to move through the space independently, from entering museums? (Granted, precocious 2-year-olds seem too young, but middle-school-age seems reasonable.) If so, can minor adjustments be made—such as registration upon entry—to allow older kids the freedom-with-responsibility they desire and arguably require?
Skenazy cites one school which instituted a “Free-Range Kids project” with great success. Can our cultural heritage institutions partner with schools, scout and church groups, etc. to welcome free-range children? Let’s join the chorus of the free-range kid movement. Independence paired with a sense of responsibility nurtures good citizens, and the freedom to explore inspires effective learning. Shouldn’t museums be a part of those essential processes?
Adrienne Berney, C2C Project Director
Thanks to Beth Bullock, Jayd Buteaux, Caitlin Butler, and Bonnie Soper for this guest post. The students first presented this information during a poster session at NCMC‘s annual meeting last week and we’re grateful to be able to share it with NC C2C’s online community.
In the fall of 2014, graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington started a yearlong project focusing on the preservation and interpretation of slave dwellings. The first part in the process was to gather information on the community’s general impressions about slavery and slave dwellings.
We conducted 90 visitor surveys at the Bellamy Mansion and 12 focus groups with various individuals across age groups and races within the local Wilmington community. This was done in conjunction with research on various slave dwellings, the history of slavery, and slave dwelling preservation. The data we compiled represents the largest known collection of visitor responses regarding slave dwellings and offers great insight into visitors’ interest in slavery, slave dwellings, and preservation.
We asked visitors about their knowledge, associations, assumptions, and interest in the history and preservation of slave dwellings, particularly their impressions from visiting the slave quarters at Bellamy Mansion. We also conducted focus groups with various stakeholders, including African American genealogists, historic preservation professionals, African American community leaders, African American parents, and museum docents. The small group interviews helped us gather in-depth responses about the relative importance of preserving slave dwellings and what people want to know about slavery, slave dwellings, and their preservation.
Through these surveys and discussions, we found that there were huge gaps in knowledge of the history of slavery. Most visitors envisioned slavery as a Southern, rural phenomenon and pictured an antebellum plantation setting. Visitors exhibited surprise when presented with an urban slave dwelling, proving that visitors needed context on the differences between rural and urban slavery, and the changes in slavery over time. These gaps in knowledge were found amongst all age groups and walks of life. Other themes that became apparent throughout the project were the lack of awareness of agency in the enslaved community and the impact of media representations upon modern perceptions of slavery.
There was also contention over the preservation of slave dwellings and their interpretation. Some participants in the focus groups expressed concern over the authenticity of the representation of slave dwellings.
Our findings prompted research into local slave dwellings and the existence of slave dwellings throughout the Northern and Western United States. These insights will inform our upcoming public exhibit on the preservation of slave dwellings, but can also aid other museums and historic sites in understanding their visitors’ assumptions and correcting myths in visitors’ knowledge. The exhibit will open at the Bellamy Mansion Museum in Wilmington, NC next month (May 2015).
Thanks to members of our cultural heritage community across the state for sharing these holiday photos. Our C2C team wishes you wonderful holidays and all the best in 2015!
A glimmering moon rises to brighten the dark solstice season sky behind the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The Keeper’s House in the foreground is decked out in Christmas finery. The Murrayville Middle School Jazz Band provided holiday musical favorites at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site’s Holiday Open House.
Santa rides a tractor at the Sampson County History Museum in Clinton. Meanwhile, the Winborne Country Store in Murfreesboro showcases seasonal greenery and treats. A gingerbread house-making event delights visitors of all ages at the Rowan Museum in Salisbury.
The Transylvania Heritage Museum hosted a traveling exhibit of mid-20th-century aluminum Christmas trees, coordinated by The Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum (ATOM). Visitors enjoyed the display from Saturday, November 29th until December 20th, when the museum closed for the season.
Beautiful decorations grace the dining table of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society‘s Latimer House. Not to be outdone in the realm of fancy adornment, Tryon Palace focuses its annual decorating efforts on a specific theme. This year the peacock (right) was the inspriration.
Simpler ornaments predominate at humbler sites. For example, candlelight illuminates a spinning demonstration at the Joel Lane Museum House in Raleigh. Stockings hang from the parlor mantle at Historic Edenton’s Zeigler House.
A parade of Santa Clause figurines ushers in the season at the Caldwell Heritage Museum in Lenoir. A tall Christmas tree brightens the stairwell at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.
A crowd gathered around the pavilion on December 1st to sing carols at the Cashiers Historical Society‘s Lighting of the Town Tree in the Village Green. May your holidays be similarly filled with light, music, and many warm gatherings of friends and family.
This weekend the James K. Polk State Historic Site will celebrate the reopening of its visitor center as well as the 11th President’s birthday. The building’s exterior and interior have been fixed up, along with updated exhibits about Polk, who was born on November 2nd 1795 in Pineville, an NC backcounty town not far from Charlotte.
Further renovations will be necessary to the Site’s kitchen building as a result of a disaster at the site last month. On October 9th fire broke out in the roof. According to Site Manager, Scott Warren, the building dates to circa 1800, but had been moved to the site in the 1960s. Staff had outfitted the interior with period artifacts to use in kitchen demonstrations. Unfortunately, after putting out the hearth fire once the demonstration ended, a sparking ember got caught within the chimney and the old wood continued to burn inside, until a fire broke out at the attic level after staff had left the site. Firefighters responded quickly and were able to salvage the building’s lower floor. This fire, however, presented a new artifact recovery challenge–fire fighters put out the fire with suppression foam. Foam is a relatively new product/ technique in firefighting and may require an altered process for artifact recovey. In the Polk instance, however, firefighters removed all artifacts from the kitchen and attic before applying foam.
In this screen shot from the local news coverage, the fire suppression foam is visible coating the floor of the kitchen, after firefighters had evacuated the artifacts from the building.
But what if the foam had contact with artifacts? In addition to soot and ash damage, those involved in recovery would have to consider the effects of foam residue. It turns out that conservator-recommended recovery procedures are similar, with vacuuming first and then wet cleaning with water and a mild detergent. Soot sponging is the recommended 2nd step after vacuuming, but may not be as applicable with foam residues. When foam is involved, rinsing may be a necessary step for most artifacts, rather than a last resort, as conservators recommend in other cases.
Experts from the Bureau of Land Management offer the following advice:
Foams may hasten rusting on metal surfaces by removing protective coatings and may cause wood to flake due to swelling and contracting…[the] retardant should be washed off important structures as soon as possible. Pre-soaking, then hand-brushing with water and a mild detergent may work for sandstone or painted wood. Metals and glass may be wiped with water and a mild detergent.
Fire suppression foams are proprietary and their chemical compositions may differ. Historic Sites Curator Martha Battle Jackson was concerned about chemical residues the foam may have left behind and ways it could react with cleaning solutions staff would use in the building after the fire. Firefighters provided her with the manufacturers’ safety data sheet (MSDS) for the product they used, ThunderStorm® FC-601A 1% or 3% AR-AFFF concentrate. (download available here)
Suppression foams work by creating a film or membrane to act as a barrier, preventing the release of fuel vapor. Regardless of the fuel type, the foam cover excludes oxygen and drains the liquid composition of the membrane. Additionally, the water content of the foam produces a cooling effect. The ThunderStorm® product promises to be biodegradable and low in toxicity–reassuring information for the Polk recovery efforts.
Our hats are off to Pineville firefighters and Historic Sites’ staff for their quick and effective artifact salvage, as well as introducing us to innovations in firefighting technology. Have you encountered fire suppression foams before? Do you have any advice to share about artifact recovery after its use?
State and local identity is key to the appeal of cultural heritage institutions. The forces of globalization and mechanization seem to push communities toward standardization. Yet, for most of us, our ties to specific places remain important and historic preservation and historic sites can serve as a kind of “antidote to anywhere,” helping localities maintain their distinctiveness. Often state, regional, and local identities depend upon boundaries, whether geological, cultural, or a mixture of both. In the past few years North Carolina and South Carolina have worked jointly to re-delineate their shared boundary, using new surveying techniques, like the global positioning system. Like all resurveys, the process involves hardships as well as surprises. (You can read more about the fascinating resurvey here.) It turns out that some people living on or near the border of the Carolinas are now undergoing an identity crisis, along with logistical hassles. And, though the revised-boundary residents are not always happy about it, North Carolina has begun to welcome most of them into our state’s fold.
The blurred line between the two states has been problematic before. For instance, both states claim the 7th U.S. president, Andrew Jackson, as a native son. The resurvey reaffirmed that his family home was in North Carolina, but the Andrew Jackson Historical State Park is in SC, on the site of a relative’s house where he may have actually been born. Prohibition presented another point of controversy, since NC became a dry state in 1908–8 years before Prohibition in SC. Stores near the state line dispensing alcohol in those years had financial incentive to be on the southern side of the border. The resulting questions may well have been the impetus for the first NC-SC border re-survey completed 1928.
Before the current GPS-fueled resurvey effort, surveyors marked boundaries by geological features. They blazed trees, carved rocks, and documented existing natural features such as rivers and ridges, as well as man-made ones like the Salisbury Road or the Catawba Nation. The North Carolina Museum of History and the South Carolina State Archives house artifacts that testify to both the initial 1735 colonial survey and the early 20th-century re-survey.
The two cross sections of a longleaf pine came from the border of NC’s Columbus County near Tabor City. The brass plate affixed to the surface reads: “Section of long leaf pine exposing blaze made A.D. 1735 marking N.C.-S.C. boundry [sic] discovered in re-survey A.D. 1928 standing alive, 34.07 miles from the Atlantic ocean” (See a better photo of SC’s specimen here) According NCMOH collections files, by the time of the 1928 resurvey Tabor City area residents knew the old pine as the “state line tree,” long after the original blazes had healed over. Based on this community knowledge, Surveyors investigated the claim and cut down the dying tree, sawed it into blocks, and split the blocks until they located an old blaze within the tree. Evidence from the tree rings corresponded to the original 1735 survey. It was one of only two original landmarks found that allowed the original line to be remarked. The investigators also found evidence that the tree survived forest fires, turpentine tapping, and re-blazing by local landowners once the original marks had been obscured by new growth. Tree ring data indicated the pine originated in approximately 1570. Surveyors placed a stone marker in its place (below left).
What’s next for the NC survey work? State commissioners will look toward the other “mountain of conceit” in 2015.
Does your collection contain artifacts dealing with the boundaries of the locality it represents? If so, how do they correspond to notions of community identity?
In honor of May as Preservation Month, this post is about a preservation issue inside a building that is iconic for all of North Carolina as well as its capital city. Since its completion in 1840 many visitors to the Old State Capitol Building in Raleigh have left their marks. The large hand-cut stone blocks bear the chisel indentations of various stone cutters; the worn stone steps attest to many footfalls and heavy loads dragged upwards; and wooden banisters in the house and senate chambers boast carvings of names/ initials and dates. Is it a sense of the structure’s significance that has compelled some of those passing through to carve their names into the wood? These marks of creation, use, and commemoration (however subversive) are visible to all who visit the Old Sate Capitol for one of its free tours.
Recently I took advantage of an opportunity for NC Department of Cultural Resources staff to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the building. We snuck peeks at staff offices, attic storage areas, and views near the rotunda. The marks individuals had left behind continued, and perhaps became even more pronounced, as we climbed and pressed our way into non-public areas. This wall (left) near a roof access door exhibits over a hundred years’ worth of visitors proclaiming “I was here!” Earlier marks from the 1900s or so have been carved into the wood, whereas modern graffiti artists chose markers to commemorate their visits.
Additionally, several of the more hidden corridors bear the marks of hands which have accomplished the difficult and often dangerous work of building maintenance duties. These marks on the right are from electricians who have squeezed into tight spaces and balanced themselves on ledges to change light bulbs around the senate chamber rotunda.
When do preservationists view marks like fingerprints and graffiti as defacement in need of correction and when do we view them as interesting testaments to a building’s (or object’s) use and significance? This is a question object conservators must ask themselves before each treatment, and sometimes the answer is different. Cleaning is irreversible and permanently strips away evidence of human interaction with the material. The Old State Capital staff has taken two different approaches to this quandary. For some of the wooden railings bearing carved letters and numbers from visitors (dating from the building’s period of use, 1840-1963), the marks remain. For others, staff has in-filled the carvings and painted over the rails.
Which approach (or combination) has your site taken?
–Adrienne Berney, C2C Collections Care Trainer
Thanks to Martha Battle Jackson, Chief Curator of N.C. Historic Sites, CREST member, and C2C instructor extraordinaire, for this guest post.
Spring has definitely sprung, and with it comes a variety of insects. (I have just been bitten by a mosquito while sitting at my desk!)
Earlier this month I met with Dr. Mike Waldvogel and Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice (NCSU entomologists) to examine some of the buildings at Duke Homestead. Site Manager Jennifer Farley thought one of the buildings had termite issues. While Dr. Waldvogel poked around the buildings, Dr. Rice had a fun time knocking over logs and examining ants. She found several varieties—rather gleefully, I might add. In fact, she likes ants so much, she’s written a book that is free—for now. It will be published soon, and then it won’t be available, so go ahead and download it for your files. If you have an I-phone or Mac, it’s interactive; otherwise, it’s in a pdf. (For one of her briefer discussions of ants, click here.)
BTW: In the book link, there are some other rather intriguing projects listed on the right side, including “Belly Button Biodiversity” and “Armpit Life”. Can’t say these folks don’t have a sense of humor!
Although ants aren’t typically “heritage eaters,” termites are and can damage collections along with the buildings that house them. Someone recently asked if it was okay to put mulch around a building. I didn’t think so as I’ve heard it attracts termites, so I asked Dr. Waldvogel. Here is his response:
Cedar mulch – years ago, I did a project with Eleanor’s major professor where we found that ants did not like to set up nests when the area was covered with cedar mulch. However, as those volatile cedar-smelling chemicals are depleted, the ants will move into the area. As for termites, [they] will inevitably get into any wood mulch and reduce it to organic waste. The big thing is that I would not let it touch the building. We recommend keep mulch 6-12″ away for several reasons (including mice). In the bigger picture, you’re better off with gravel closest to the building, although that gets very expensive.
The good news for Duke Homestead was that Waldvogel did not find evidence of termites in the building. There were some in a log about 10 ft. away, and staff has since removed it.
If your NC institution has questionable pest activity, contact the NCSU entymology department, as Martha and Jennifer did. The experts there can identify pests and offer advice if you provide them with good images.
Would scents help the past come alive in new ways for your site’s audience? Several museums around the world have experimented with this technique. Exhibitions usually rely on the visual sense to convey information, but sound is also a common means of setting the scene. Touch, taste, and smell are usually trickier senses to engage, especially given the preservation concerns involved in the display of artifacts.
Last fall the California College of Art installed a scent-only exhibition, entitled “An Olfactory Archive: 1738-1969.” The groundbreaking show experimented with scent as a method of propelling imaginations into the past. To see the installation and snapshots of audience participation, view the show’s flicker page here:
The business of simulating and stimulating scent is growing, with many marketing studies connecting scent to memory, emotion, and ultimately increasing consumer desire. Shouldn’t history institutions tap into the nose’s potential to intensify engagement? Overtime the topic of enhancing exhibit ambience with scent has come up on museum-related listservs. Several historic house staffers have reported using scent diffusers, which work with essential oils to generate ambient scents. This method can replicate cooking smells in places where there is no active living history kitchen demonstration.
Exhibit designer Larry Fisher, however, has warned against the use of liquid scents. He has cited spillage, evaporation, and residue contamination as potential problems. Instead, he recommends scents that use dry media for delivery. Fisher’s reference for this kind of product is Lorane Wasserman, Essential Resources, Torrance, CA, (310)534-3481 Escentialr@aol.com. “Lorane has a standard line of scents and she is miraculous at creating virtually any scent you can, or cannot, imagine. Her ‘scent orbs’ are a dry media form of delivery.” Fisher notes that the beads can be used with special devices for larger spaces or delivery on cue.
One leader in the field of dry delivery methods for synthetic scents is in our own state. The corporate headquarters for the international company, ScentAir, are in Charlotte. Among the firm’s most notable clients is a British Science museum. Exhibit designers wanted to include a cordite scent for their programs commemorating the 40th anniversary of lunar landings, since multiple astronauts had reported smelling gunpowder while on the moon.
Are there any scents that are naturally generated within your institution that visitors have commented on? Have you tried using smell as a way to engage audiences at your site? If so, are there methods you can recommend to other readers?
At last week’s Collections Care workshop in Charlotte, organized by the Mecklenburg Historical Association, one of our participants asked a great question. She explained that her organization maintains a log cabin with no environmental controls. When possible, she has replaced old objects with reproductions, but there are still many antiques at the site. Interpreters and visitors handle and use some of these in demonstrations of blacksmithing, cooking, and more. What should she do?
Coincidentally, this same question came up last week on the Connecting to Collections online discussion forum. According to Museum Consultant Ron Kley, “This has long been a topic of discussion…There is general agreement in the field that the use of original period artifacts in such circumstances is ultimately consumptive, and that the use of replicas is…preferred.” Kley also notes “persuasive counter-arguments…that certain artifacts — machines in general being a good example — are [better off] through prudent use with appropriate maintenance rather than sitting in storage under ‘benign neglect’ conditions.” Kley recommends ALHFAM, the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, as a good resource to learn more about this issue and to gather supply sources for suitable reproductions.
In addition to reproductions, some old objects may be okay to continue using in these programs. Fully equipping historic environments with reproductions is not likely to be affordable for most organizations. Although those of us working for non-profits and public institutions are bound to preserve collections according to the best practices available within budgetary limits, some objects within the museum can be considered expendable. Kley uses the apt term “expendifacts” to distinguish such objects from those that require care for perpetuity. Staff should designate an education collection that includes both reproductions and expendifacts (some museums even track these categories separately). Accessioned objects should not be used up for programs unless first transferred to an educational collection, and the transfer process typically involves Board approval.
How do we decide whether an artifact should be considered expendable? Here are some questions to consider:
- Does it have a good story, especially one that relates to the institution’s mission? If yes, then the object should be accessioned or remain in the permanent collection and its handling limited.
- Could it be replaced easily through purchase? If yes, then the object may be appropriate for the educational collection.
- Is the object a machine or musical instrument that warrants (and possibly benefits from) periodic, limited use? If yes, and public program use is occasional, then it may remain in the permanent collection, as its use can be considered preservation-appropriate.
How does your site handle using artifacts for public programs? How long does it take before the objects break down? We’d love to share your examples here!