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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Some Civil War Medicines

     It’s time for another new exhibit!  Last week I helped to install an exhibit out at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, on Medicines in the Civil War.  NMCWM Educator, Kyle Wichtendahl, developed this exhibit, so my role was mainly to help choose the appropriate artifacts, and then to pack them and transport them to the Pry House.   

Don’t laugh, but I’ve found this to be an effective method of transporting smaller artifacts!  Of course the artifacts are padded and packed well inside this acid-free box first.  I like to tie the lid down to keep everything securely inside the box.  The seatbelt ensures that the box doesn’t slide around inside the vehicle.  The box with the larger artifacts is secured in the trunk with a cargo net.

     So, now that the artifacts are ready to go, let’s take a look at some of the drugs which were used during the Civil War.

One of the panels from the exhibit tells about some of the beneficial drugs of the time, such as opium and quinine, as well as some of the harmful drugs such as mercury and lead acetate.  Examples of each of these are on display in this exhibit.

Also on display is my museum’s TV star – the bottle of silver nitrate which was featured on Mysteries at the Museum!  You can see the post about that episode here.  The large syringe on display behind the bottle would have been used to inject this medicine.

This hospital knapsack could be easily carried, and allowed the battlefield medical personnel access to the medical supplies needed to treat the wounded soldiers.  The case exterior is made of black oil cloth, and it covers a wooden frame.  The interior consists of an upper drawer which swings out and down from the knapsack.  The lower portion of interior has wooden dividers for the medical containers and supplies.

This medicine tin is one of several which came from the knapsack.  It contained “Spiritus Frumenti” or medicinal whiskey.  As you can see from its label, this tin was made by T. Morris Perot & Co. of Philadelphia, specifically for the U.S. Medical Department.

Not all of the artifacts we wanted could be displayed.  I made the decision not to risk transporting this bottle of ether, even though it would have fit well into this exhibit.  Though it’s hard to tell in this photo, the bottle is still about a third full of liquid.  I did not want that glass stopper working loose during the ride in the car!

Our newest intern, Jennifer, was happy to assist with putting the artifacts on display!

Here, Kyle makes sure all the labels are placed correctly before we put the covers on the display cases.

And here’s the new exhibit!

     “Medicines in the Civil War” will be on display at the Pry House through 2015.  Come by and see it if you get the chance!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Civil War Hospital Food

     We’ve all heard the jokes about the food in hospitals being terrible.  Were the meals different for Civil War soldiers in the hospitals?  After all, they didn’t have Jell-O back then!

     I was recently cataloging the book “The Hospital Steward’s Manual,” by Joseph Janvier Woodward, published in 1862.  It contains a section titled, “Cooking in Hospitals” which not only lists the foods served to the patients, but the recipes (or “receipts”) as well!  The opening section reads, “Perhaps no subject is more worthy of attention in a hospital than the quality of the food and the character of the cooking.  In the latter there is certainly greater room for improvement in United States army hospitals than in the former.”  So, it appears that perhaps hospital food was regarded about as well as it is today!

     Let’s take a look at a few of the “Receipts adapted to the ordinary diet in hospitals.”

Would it surprise you to learn that the first recipe listed is for making coffee?  Civil War soldiers, much like soldiers today, counted on their coffee to help keep them going!  This 1863 lithograph by Winslow Homer is titled “The Coffee Call” and shows Army of the Potomac soldiers waiting for coffee at a campfire in an encampment.  Library of Congress image.

No.1. Coffee for ten men. 

Put 9 pints of water into a canteen, saucepan (or other vessel) on the fire; when boiling, add 7 1/2 oz. of coffee; mix them well together with a spoon or piece of wood; leave on the fire a few minutes longer, or until just beginning to boil.  Take it off, and pour in 1 pint of cold water; let the whole remain ten minutes, or a little longer; the dregs will fall to the bottom, and the coffee will be clear.  Pour it from one vessel into another, leaving the dregs at the bottom; add 2 teaspoonfuls of sugar to the pint.  If milk is to be had, make 2 pints less of coffee, and add that much milk; boiled milk is preferable.

REMARKS. - This receipt, properly carried out, would give 10 pints of coffee, or 1 pint per man.” 

During the Civil War coffee was also dispensed as medicine.  This bottle contained Coffea cruda, or unroasted coffee.  The handwritten label reads, "2X Coffea * Cruda 10 oz.”

     Many of the hospital patients required fairly bland, easy-to-digest food.  Corn mush, called Indian mush in this Hospital Steward's manual, served this purpose.

No. 12. Indian Mush for one hundred men

Ingredients – Indian meal [corn meal], 20 lbs., water, 70 pints (8 ¾ gallons), salt, 6 oz.  

Moisten slightly the meal with water.  It will require about one gallon and three-fourths for this purpose.  Have the rest of the water – say 7 gallons – in the caldron boiling; add the salt, then stir in the moistened meal.  The stirring should be continued after all the meal is in, to prevent burning.  From twenty minutes to half an hour will be found long enough to boil.  The above quantities will make 100 pints of mush, or a little more.  One pint may be served to each man, with molasses or milk.  If milk, one pint should be allowed to each patient; if molasses, one gallon to one hundred men.

REMARKS. – If the meal is stirred in dry, the mush will be lumpy.”

As you can imagine, making meals for a hospital full of patients was a big job!  Though the Hospital Steward oversaw the kitchen, there were cooks employed to actually prepare the food.  Here you can see the kitchen and staff at the Soldiers’ Rest Home in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1865.  Library of Congress image.

     As the patients improved, so did their dinner menu!  The following recipe for stew may have been a bit bland, but certainly sounds palatable.

No. 9.  Plain Irish Stew for fifty men

Ingredients - Fresh mutton or beef, 50 lbs., large onions, 8 lbs., whole potatoes, 12 lbs., 8 tablespoonfuls of salt, 3 tablespoonfuls of pepper; water, a sufficient quantity.

Directions. - Cut the meat into pieces of a quarter of a pound each; put the ingredients into the pan with enough water to cover them all.  Set it on the fire, and keep up gentle ebullition, stirring occasionally, for an hour and a half for mutton, and two hours for beef.  The mash some of the potatoes to thicken the gravy, and serve.

Variations. - Fresh veal, or pork, may be used instead, when convenient.”
     Other "receipts" in the manual include beef soup, codfish hash, boiled salt pork, bean soup, baked pork and beans, corned beef and cabbage, and of course, bread.  It may not be considered fine dining today, but I’m sure the hospital patients were glad to get something besides hardtack!

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