Historical Collections and Public Entertainments
by O.W. Mosher, Jr.
February 1934 (Vol. 3, No. 1), pages 86 to 90
Transcribed by lhn; additional HTML by Susan Stafford;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
AT THE present time there appears to be such a cultural interest in historical documents, the creation of school museums and private collections, as well as in the giving of entertainments with a historical basis, that the writer trusts that the following suggestions will be of value to those interested.
During a recent meeting of the Research and Public Archives division of the American Historical Association the point was stressed that there are in the hands of private individuals many valuable documents and relics that would contribute much toward correcting and clarifying incidents in our history, especially biographical material of priceless value that historical investigators would love to use-if they only knew where to lay their hands on it. Unfortunately there is nowhere a central depository where the records of documents in private hands can be filed, and the investigator, once he has exhausted the national and state collections, which may be meagre, is at a loss where to look further. One of the speakers asserted that there are enough Abraham Lincoln letters scattered in the hands of private individuals to serve as a basis for writing a new and more accurate account of the life of the emancipator. Another brought out the point that the main lines of our history are preserved in the public archives and that these have been utilized over and over again-that after all there is not a great deal that has not already been gleaned from the well-known sources. In consequence, the search of the future for historical material should be directed to uncovering those resources in private hands that are so fast disappearing. Every day from lack of expert knowledge, materials of real value are lost or carelessly thrown away. Resting in the dust and silence of garrets are old diaries, letters and relics that would throw intimate light on the past.
All of us know of such cases of valuable documents in private hands, which, unless viewed by the trained and appreciative eyes of a person who understands their worth, will be lost forever.
If the writer may be permitted to cite a personal experience, on one occasion an uneducated family brought forth a lot of old books that were believed to be valueless and were to be given away. True, most of the books were worthless, but, one turned out to be the rare
MOSHER: HISTORY FOR PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT 87
Ranby's Diseases, Instructions for the Treatment of Gunshot Wounds and Army Diseases, issued by the medical staff of the Continental army. Through the Anderson Galleries a great medical library was found that was anxious to secure the volume. It was sold for $50 for which the family was thankful enough-"Just like finding money in the street," they said. Think, too, of the value of throwing open to the medical students this buried information.
Many private collections about Kansas contain more or less valuable material. From a very casual examination of Emporia and neighborhood the writer has observed in private hands an original of the Boston Gazette containing the first account of the Boston massacre by the British, the diary of a Civil War officer, Napoleon's signature on a Legion of Honor, a document of the French revolution, an old religious anthology in Latin dated 1560, an early account of the voyages of Raleigh in which he asserts that oysters grow on trees in America, the Memoires of Anne of Austria, old medical books and letters of early Kansas days. In the field of relics of an archaeological nature many farmers have specimens picked up on their farms, some unusual pieces such as the spear head with triple notches found by the Ronigers. Of frontier days the hammered-iron tomahawk, and the head of a Spanish halberd picked up in the Flint hills are silent witnesses. If all these are to be found around Emporia what treasures for a historian might not be found were Kansas to be surveyed by experts! The time may yet come when as a result of better economic adjustments and more leisure, the state authorities will be enabled to spend more time in discovering and evaluating these materials.
SCHOOL MUSEUMS AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
In the meantime much good work is being done through school museums and private collecting. Almost everyone is a collector at heart, but as yet this very worthwhile interest has been scarcely touched. Wherever there have been meetings at which someone competent to discuss the various fields of collecting has been present, the response has been spontaneous. At the Clements Community Center, in Chase county, the farmers for miles around brought in Indian relics discovered on their farms and followed with keen interest the discussion of how the aborigines made and used their ancient implements.
There are, already, numerous school museums and private collections about the state and there is scarcely a town that does not
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have some enthusiastic collectors who are anxious to be advised as to their collections and told how to classify them. The following /advice from Mr. A. E. Graf, associate director of the United States National Museum in Washington, in his contribution to this article, says:
The starting of school museums or private collections is a matter dependent largely upon the enthusiasm, persistence and personality of the interested individuals. The first item in such a movement, naturally, is to be assured of a suitable room or other space in which material collected may be so exhibited as to attract the interest and cooperation of all concerned. Usually the enthusiasm of a single individual or a small group is responsible for the initial movement which may result in the securing and exhibiting of a few articles which serve as a nucleus to attract the collection and display of other specimens. Having secured suitable space, a local historical series might be started with a spinning wheel or other household appliances showing the development of handicraft; an Indian axe or arrowheads for the beginning of archæology; and a piece of Indian beadwork for ethnology. Such specimens placed on exhibition, labeled clearly as to their origin and use and bearing the name of the donor or collector, or both, will frequently serve to awaken the interest of students in acquiring more and better specimens along similar lines.
For those schools or individuals that already have collections the following advice with regard to classification may be helpful: secure a Manual for Small Museums by Laurence V. Coleman, Smithsonian building, Washington, D. C. This will give a general treatment of various exhibits. For those who have Indian relics (stone artifacts, pottery and the like) the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D. C., has a number of bulletins that will aid greatly in the understanding of the nature and uses of the pieces that you have discovered. Although the famous Bulletin 30, commonly known as the Book of the American Indian, is out of print as a whole, nevertheless certain valuable pages are printed separately, and with a little assistance through your congressman, may usually be obtained without cost. The most valuable suggestions are as follows: Aboriginal agricultural implements (pages 26-27) ; archaeology (76-77) ; arrowheads, bows, quivers (90-91) ; basketry (132135) ; beadwork (137-139) ; ornaments (149-155) ; pictographs (242245) ; utensils (601-603) ; the making of stone arrow-heads, spearheads and axes (638643); moccasins (916-917); Indian mounds (943-945).
Other pamphlets such as Krieger's Aspects of Aboriginal Decorative Art (37 plates), Publication No. 3102, and instructions as to excavating prehistoric sites the proper, scientific manner in which to do your exploring, may be procured from the same source.
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As to the proper arrangement for archaeological relics Mr. F. M. Setzler, assistant curator of archaeology, Smithsonian Institute, in his statement for this article, says:
Archaeological artifacts should be arranged either by state or by culture area.
All specimens representing a recognized archæoIogical culture can be grouped under various divisions depending entirely on the nature of the exhibit. Various phases of a culture might be exhibited under art, material culture, ceremonial objects, food, dress and personal ornaments, burial methods, etc. Under material culture one should exhibit examples of all artifacts characteristic of the culture. Then too, much depends on the adaptation of archaeological material to the exhibit cases, room and lighting facilities. Detailed and attractive labels play an important part in any exhibit.
Coming now to a more recent period, collections of utensils employed by the early settlers of Kansas, may frequently be procured by exchanges or gifts. Here are some suggestions, both valuable and amusing, for the building of collections of local interest: whisker combers, butter and sausage presses, turn-keys for pulling teeth, sconces, steelyards, corn-huskers, pill-makers, boot-hooks and boot-jacks, red-top and copper-toed boots, wool-cards, pocket and foot stoves, sap spites, candle snuffers, tuyeres, sand shakers, ox shoes, frown, bullet molds, gun flints, niddy-noddies, bedstead wrenches, lynch pins, puncheon lanterns, conch-shell dinner-horns, tar-buckets, Indian beadwork, etc.
For literature with regard to the arrangement and classification of these articles, the Smithsonian Institute has much material such as Bulletin 141 on Collections of Heating and Lighting Utensils. Clifford's The Junk-Snuppers (Macmillan Co.) is also valuable for general information.
An effective arrangement may be made from the tracing of the Indian bow and arrow through early fire arms to the modern rifle. Other ingenious sequences can be thought out by the exhibitor. The possession of the pamphlets and books described, together with the specimens illustrating them, thus gives the basis for a choice and valuable collection.
THE HISTORICAL ENTERTAINMENT
It is not necessary to go far in Kansas to discover models for historical exhibits and entertainments, for quite a number of schools present them each year. At Coffeyville, the high school invites the general public to participate in an annual program and exhibition. It calls for lists of exhibits needed under five different classifications
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-and the people from all over the city and surrounding country make their contributions. The specimens desired are as follows:
1. Maps, charts, books, letters, old newspapers, tin-types, manuscripts, stamps and coins.
2. Aboriginal stone relics; modern Indian relics.
3. Revolutionary War and colonial objects.
4. Civil, Spanish and World War materials.
5. Relics of the early settlement of Kansas, period costumes.
The results greatly interest everyone, especially when the exhibits are carefully explained by an attendant who speaks with authority. These exhibitions are noteworthy and each year may be perfected by a more scientific approach, and by the use of period music.
Eventually, it is fair to predict that these centers of interest in historical matters, whether they be public or private, will be welded into a cooperative organization that will not only aid in preserving for their local communities the records of their past, but will collaborate with the United States and state authorities in bringing to light valuable documents and materials for research in the field of American history. This is indeed a healthy cultural movement. As yet few states have gone far in such organization-possibly it may be for Kansas to point the way.