Friday, October 16, 2009

Field Trip


Earlier this week, my FIL and I visited the MN Historical Society for a behind the scenes look at the conservation departments and collections.
WOW! It was soooo cooooool!
So, here are five amazing things I learned:
1. the MNHS has a ginormous room with over 100,000 BOXES of documents. School records, census records, personal papers, election results, prison papers, county meetings, township minutes, and the list goes on and on and on. Rack upon rack upon rack of identical boxes, all catalogued and ready for whomever requests to see them. If you look at the catalog for the MNHS at www.mnhs.org, you can search for documents. Then you go to the library located at the history center, fill out a request form (It's a closed stack library, so you can't wander through and pick out books and papers. The library staff does it for you and brings it to your table in the library reading room.) If the documents you want are in the storage area, they fax it downstairs and someone hops on a forklift and goes to get the box you want. It arrives via elevator and is wheeled out to your table. How cool is that?
2. 2/3 of the MNHS building is actually underground. It goes down floors and floors. And it's all climate controlled, bug free, and secured. We got to ride down in the freight elevator, which explains how they got the fuselage of an airplane into the upstairs gallery. My FIL in the picture is standing next to the airplane in the Greatest Generation exhibit.
3. The 3-D archives (anything that isn't photograph or paper documents) are extensive. Rooms just for textiles, furniture, Indian and military artifacts. We got to see the gun that shot Dillinger when he was hiding out in St. Paul. I also learned that the MNHS has more than 3000 garments of an underwear nature.
4. In visiting the conservation lab, we met three conservationists, one for textiles, one for print media, and one for pretty much everything else. They showed us how they had reconditioned an old map that was falling to bits. They mounted it on paper and then linen to stabilize it, then seamed the broken pieces together, and added new pieces where stuff was missing. It was way cool.
5. MN has a flag that was captured during the Civil War from the State of Virginia during the Battle of Gettysburgh. It was brought it home as a trophy by the private who captured it. Virginia, through the federal department of military history has twice asked for it back. Both times our governor has said, "It's ours. We captured it fair and square. It belongs in our historical archives, and that's where it will stay." I got to see that flag on Tuesday. I stood there, leaning over the case, inspecting the bullet holes, the threadbare spots, the watermarks, and all I could think of was, "Wow, what battles this flag saw. What men died defending her, and what heroic Minnesotans gave their lives so this flag would be taken. I bet there is a novel or two worth of stories all in this one piece of cloth." They had the flag laid out in a bed of archival quality cloth that was mounded jsut right in the places where the threads were loose and scooped out where the cloth was the heaviest. It looked like it was floating on a pillow. And I agree with the Governor. It's ours. We took it fair and square. You can read a little more about the flag and the controversy by clicking HERE.
Have you been behind the scenes at a museum before? Does your state have a particular artifact whose ownership is being challenged? Do you think MN should get to keep the Confederate Flag it captured?

13 comments:

  1. Amazing what the conservatiionists can do. So many stories, so little time. Write, write, write. (-:

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  2. Wow! I want to find that kind of museum of archives here in Michigan! That would be an awesome place to do research! I'm sure if the workers know that you're researching a book, they'd be even more willing to help you find what you need!

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  3. It's bug free? Do they rent living space?

    JK...mostly.

    That'd be a really cool job, preserving and cataloging all those documents and artifacts.

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  4. Rachel Overton8:04 AM

    Caitlin wants to go along on your historical research jaunts! How do you get to go behind the scenes in a museum?

    We went to President Garfield's home near us once (I think it was Dec. 27--slow day!) She and I were the only people on the tour. A 20-min. tour turned into 2 1/2 hours as 11-year old Caitlin asked grown-up questions that blew the curator's mind. We got to go into the vault and other places they don't normally take people. It was amazing and fun.

    She would live in museums, if she could!

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  5. Wow! That sounds like quite the filing system they have.

    And I vote we should get to keep the flag.

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  6. If I had all the time in the world, I'd read every bit of research in that museum! What a dream come true!

    And that's cool about the flag. I haven't had a chance to read about it. What part of VA did they capture it?

    Have a great weekend!

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  7. Afternoon, all! I'm so far behind with reading and comments!

    Rachel, the MNHS mailed me an invitation. They periodically do special things just for the members. There were quite a few people who took advantage of the lectures and behind-the-scenes looks that night. They also offered a peek inside the James J. Hill house into areas normally off the main tour, as well as one inside the state capitol. I chose the archives and conservation lab because that was the most appealing to me.

    Tell Caitlin to come on over! We'll spend a couple weeks touring all the fantastic historical sites in MN.

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  8. Jill, the flag was captured from the 28th Virginia Infantry regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg. In that battle, Minnesota lost 80% of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers and the 28th Virginia lost 90% of their soldiers.

    Though vastly outnumbered, the 1st Minnesota launched a bayonet charge to stop a confederate attack, and held the line that repulsed General Pickett's final push through Union forces.

    Though I can appreciate that VA might like to have the flag back, in the words of the MNHS curator, "the flag doesn't tell a one-sided story." It is important to the history of Minnesota. It is being well-cared for, and the Congressional ruling of 1905 on the return of flags only applied to those flags already in the possession of the War Department. Private- or state-owned flags were not subject to the ruling.

    That's probably way more than you wanted to know. :D

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  9. I've never been behind the scenes in a museum, but I could imagine how interesting it would be. Think of the stories all those things not even on display could tell!

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  10. Yep, finders keepers. LOL

    My family is from Minnesota but I've never even heard of that museum. Very interesting! I can't wait until I get to places and get sneak peeks of stuff. :-)

    I had a lot of fun too, laughing with you at dinner, btw. :-)

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  11. Anonymous5:43 AM

    Should you keep the flag that was captured ? Sure keep it, but display it in the proper context.
    Just as we do in the south. But be forewarned once you display it you will open a can of worms.
    The NAACP will want to boycott your state, Your museum director will be called a KKK member.
    If you have the courage to defend it display it.
    If you are lacking in courage to defend the flag that my great Grand Father fought for,
    Return it to Virginia, we will defend and display it with pride.

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  12. Anonymous5:43 AM

    Should you keep the flag that was captured ? Sure keep it, but display it in the proper context.
    Just as we do in the south. But be forewarned once you display it you will open a can of worms.
    The NAACP will want to boycott your state, Your museum director will be called a KKK member.
    If you have the courage to defend it display it.
    If you are lacking in courage to defend the flag that my great Grand Father fought for,
    Return it to Virginia, we will defend and display it with pride.

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  13. Anonymous, I agree. I think Minnesota should display the flag, and as you say, in context.

    At this point, the best I can hope for is that the MNHS is preserving the flag and its history until it can go on display.

    Thanks for visiting OTWP.

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