The Case of the Civil War Cases

Hello all,

I know that I said I would start posting about my favourite show, Warehouse 13, but I have to break in first with an update about my internship at the Medford Historical Society.  This summer, I have been doing a lot of work for them regarding their Civil War collection, even conducting research at the MOLLUS (Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States- a Civil War veterans’ organization for commissioned officers and their male descendants) archives housed at the Heritage Center in Philadelphia, PA.  It was really enlightening in terms of their organizational structure, if not about Medford’s branch specifically.  Sadly, while I was able to make some leads on some questions we at the Society have, I was not able to make any definite conclusions.

On my return, however, we began the daunting task of opening up the Civil War memorabilia cases (gifted to the Society in 1948 from the Grand Army of the Republic, or G.A.R., yet another Civil War veterans’ organization).  The cases are heavy and contain a seemingly random assortment of objects (as you can see below):

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(and before you ask the labels are, more often than not, completely unreadable)

These objects, laid out aesthetically, with no eye towards interpretation, had all been WIRED in, piece by piece, using copper.  These wires have since embedded themselves into the wooden backing of the case or, in the cases of most of the soft lead bullets, into the artifact itself.  The buttons are even more of a nightmare, since their shafts have been forced into the wood, almost as if they were sewn into the wood using the metal wire.  And of course, with such a variety of objects contained in an enclosed space, things have been reacting horribly; most metals are rusting, if not completely oxidized already, the labels (as I mentioned above) are almost (or completely) disintegrating, and black mold runs rampant.  Thus, we have been wearing gloves and surgical masks throughout the whole process.

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(I’m not wearing gloves in this photo only because I needed the dexterity of my hands to remove the screws holding the frame for the glass in place.  I assure you that I put them on as soon as the frames were removed)

And finally, there is the issue of how they were mounted on the wall.  They literally hang by (an admittedly rather thick) wire on hook screws, holding them to the wall in the alcove.  Upon removing the first pair of panels, we learned that the wall had been painted after the cases were hung, which means that the artifacts have been exposed to the fumes, which has not helped their deterioration.

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Now that the pieces are being removed, this is at the forefront of our minds, and we are working carefully to ensure the survival of these delicate items, which span from metal work (like buttons and bullets), to fabric, paper, and even natural items like chestnuts (no kidding, one panel had 3!!!)  Obviously, storage will be an issue as we continue the project, but my site supervisor has a plan involving compartmentalized blue boxes from Gaylord, so we should be well-prepared.

In the long run, the items from each panel will not be kept together, but rather sorted into groups, depending on the types of objects that they are.  For now, however, panels are being kept separate, at least until each object has been entered into PastPerfect, which itself will take a long time. There are a total of 7 cases, with 13 panels of these items, and so far only three of the panels have been emptied.  the rest are still hanging, ready to be removed.

Once the panels have been taken down and the objects are all removed, we will re-cover the back of the cases with a new, lighter, backing.  the plan is to then create temporary displays regarding Medford, which can be changed out periodically.  Civil War will still be present in the exhibitions, but on a smaller scale.  Currently, the plan is to keep a small section of the alcove devoted to Medford in the Civil War.  A large case in the main exhibition hall, which already offers a Civil War display, would be re-done to focus on specific elements of the Civil War; likely what the soldiers carried.  In this way, the Medford Historical Society can more aptly focus on their mission of maintaining and showcasing Medford’s city history.

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