Museum Monday: New Frontiers

Visiting Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond at the Louisiana State Museum in March 2012.

Visiting Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond at the Louisiana State Museum in March 2012.

This month I begin a new venture: developing a preservation and emergency consulting practice. You can visit my new website at I’ve largely been an institutional creature up to this point in my career. I crave process and figuring out systems that bring colleagues together. I’ve decided to take that enthusiasm to help a variety of organizations with their preservation and emergency planning challenges. I’ll be offering collections management and emergency preparedness services as well as historical research and interpretation services. Some of my favorite past experiences included my work with local history collections and historical sites. Staff and volunteers at these sites often provide much of the elbow grease and demonstrate real buy-in. These are organizations that can really benefit from a systematic approach to preservation that uses their limited resources wisely. Successful preservation programs are dependent not only on conservation science, but on creative management, benchmarking, and staff coaching. Preservation must be a joint effort in which all inputs are valued – this fosters cross-organization collaboration.

Maryland Material Culture: Bushel Basket

What goes in here?

Quiz: What does a bushel basket signify to a Marylander?

Sure, you can put fruit or vegetables in it (it is pick-ur-own strawberry season), but Marylanders most want to see this lined with newspaper and stuffed with steamed crabs, caked with Old Bay seasoning.

Here’s to summer time eating, whether you use a mallet or a knife to clear your claws.



Transportation Tuesday – B&O Centenary Pageant, 1927

Ladies in nymph-like attire twirling and leaping through fields – sounds like the turn of the century pageantry movement to me. The Centenary Pageant in 1927 for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is a rather late occurrence of this type of display of civic and industrial pride. Part artistic endeavor and part technological exhibition, Baltimore and Ohio set up a location for the festival at Halethorpe near Baltimore.

The pageant, staged each afternoon of the festival, melded historical displays and demonstrations of historic equipment. Company musical groups made up the cast of the pageant, including the Women’s Music Club, the Men’s Glee Club, and the Mount Clare Band, with the addition of some outside performers. The Baltimore Sun captured women wearing vintage clothing from the 1830s and members of the Blackfeet tribe that camped on the festival grounds.

Interestingly, the B & O intended the buildings in Halethorpe to house and display their historic collections. In 1935, an intense storm toppled the buildings. Eventually, the B & O Museum opened on the Mount Clare site in Baltimore. The collapse of the B&O Museum roundhouse roof in 2001 in an ice storm likely means some of their collections have weathered more than one disaster. Restoration of the damaged works continues today.

See a fascinating short film by Eastman Kodak of the Pageant here. The first half, showing men and women in historic clothing riding on stage coaches and scrambling down from the first locomotives is followed by a timeline of rail equipment.

For more reading, see David Shackleford’s The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Maryland and David Vrooman’s Daniel Willard and Progressive Management on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 20, 1927. Is the woman on the right wearing 1830s dress? Her gigot sleeves and higher waistline with inverted box pleats and her large brimmed bonnet may point to great-grandmother’s wardrobe as the source (check out the hem detail though).

Event site at Halethorpe along B&O’s Main Line. Photo: Baltimore Sun. Sept 14, 1927. 




Museum Monday: Ten Things in the Indiana State Museum’s Video that Make Me Happy

What makes me happy when I watch the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Happy video? See it here!

  • Double-sided side truck
  • Not one, but two fume hoods
  • Heritage Preservation’s Emergency Salvage and Response Wheel
  • Labeled archive boxes
  • Blackout/dust covers over hanging costume storage and shelving content lists
  • Nice loading dock leveler
  • Stellar carpentry shop
  • People in meetings -non-museum people don’t know what sorts of coordination is necessary to make it all happen!
  • Huge freight elevator
  • Great museum cabinets and compact units


The staff at the Indiana State Museum truly seems happy! It takes a lot of talent to run a museum, so kudos to all the different departments making it happen at ISMHS and represented in the video(knowing full well that staffing is different in every institution, so if I give the folks at ISM a chuckle, great):Preparators, Photo Studio, Design, Security, Facilities, curator (drinking coffee?), Museum Shop, Conservators, Collections staff of varying ilks, Registrars (did I see a clipboard or two?), Visitor Services, and Education. And of course, the folks who filmed and edited it. Thanks!


On Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the descendant of Decoration Day, when the graves of Civil War casualties would be marked in memory. Today, we use the holiday to remember all veterans’ service, letting the day encroach on Veterans Day, where all US service members are honored. That’s not a bad thing – certainly efforts and sacrifices are best recognized when the honoree can witness the appreciation.

I have several family members from Maryland and Pennsylvania that served in the Union Army. This photo is most likely my great great grandfather, a man of whom I have no memory. With this holiday, the sacrifices of the Civil War generation are replaced with more general notions of national struggle and perseverance in the absence of personal memory. The holiday has evolved to honor veterans from subsequent wars in order to hold onto the personal aspects of Memorial Day. We now honor our grandfathers’ World War II and Korean War service, our fathers’ Vietnam service, and so many endeavors of men and women in subsequent military operations. It is the personal that is our path to the national meaning of the holiday.

George Harrison Bowman (1841-1921), c. 1861. A native of Harford County, Maryland, my great great served in the 1st and 7th Maryland Infantry. Ambrotype. Collection of RL Fifield.

George Harrison Bowman (1841-1921), c. 1861. A native of Harford County, Maryland, my great great grandfather served in the 1st and 7th Maryland Infantry. Ambrotype. Collection of RL Fifield.

When Your Favorite Place Closes

Pintxos. It was a tiny hole in the wall on Greenwich Street in a cluster of old storefronts squeezed against the Hudson at the end of Spring Street. Small tables snugged up against benches with cushions and the perfect night there was a soft summer night, the windows thrown open onto the sidewalk. I remember squid ink paella and minerally Txakoli. Other nights held croquetas, heartbreakingly good olives and cheese, and friends I no longer see. The kitchen was the size of my apartment kitchen – just enough space for a cook to stand in one place and reach everything. Chatting with the owner one night, he said the tight kitchen was the most efficient way to execute his craft. You don’t spend time running across the floor to the fridge, the prep space, the stove. It became my philosophy in renovating my 24 sq. foot Manhattan kitchen.

But Pintxos closed many years ago, and while I heard that their chef moved to Cafe Ronda, another favorite tapas space of mine, you never can go home again. When a restaurant closes, so do your memories. Did you ever exist in that space? You can’t visit to reconfirm that joke, that night she said yes, that moment in which you both decided the answer was “no longer.” Pintxos is now a bit of a curled lip and a shrug.

I figured that if I ate every meal in a restaurant in NYC, I would never eat at the same place twice. This is especially true considering those restaurants that are flashes in the pan, opening and closing, and being replaced in short order. Sometimes I wonder at the point of having a favorite place in NYC; given all the options, it seems wasteful to go to the same place again and again. But choice can be too much – many New Yorkers consider five blocks distant from their apartments to be another neighborhood. We’ll haunt our Mexican hole in the wall, Sabor a Mexico, Burger Fi, Om Indian, or the Upper East Side version of the Meatball Shop without restraint. One has to set limits.

One of our first dates took place at Nina’s Argentinian Pizzeria, on 2nd Avenue in the 90s. The project of Italian immigrants to Argentina, their food offered the best of both worlds, incredible pasta, empanadas, sangria, flan, and chewy crust pizza – our favorite was one with chimichurri and meatballs. They greeted you with a soft, garlicky eggplant spread, made silken with olive oil. We bemoan that the owner hasn’t seemed to relocate, but it doesn’t stop us from occasionally Googling Nina’s. It wouldn’t be the same, but couldn’t he have reopened in Brooklyn, or maybe Hoboken? Alas. Those special first evenings can’t be relived. But we’d love to be able to make a pilgrimage to Nina’s to mark the passing of time all the same.

Pintxos, NYC, a tapas restaurant on Greenwich Street. Strong in the memory, though it closed several years ago.

Transportation Tuesday: Fundraising for Railcar Restoration

Kudos to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad as they restore Western Maryland Railway’s Pullman Business Car #204. Built in 1918, it has spent the last 50 years as a residence near Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland. Many foundations focus on the big, multi-million donor that will get the job done and take up the smallest plaque possible. But heritage tugs at the heartstrings of people with wallets of all different sizes. The WMSR Foundation, with this in mind, has developed a funding scheme so that donors can fund the replacement of windows $100-750 dollars. While certainly there is the need for larger sums (the platform door is $5000), these smaller sums are great for smaller donors and classroom/scout troop fundraising pools. More speed Business Car #204! Visit their website to donate.

Rendering, Fundraising scheme for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Foundation Pullman Business Car #204.

Small Stove, Big Heft: AGA Now Makes a 24″ Model

AGA now makes a 24″ stand alone range. They intend it as an extension piece for their larger ranges, but it functions as a complete cooktop and double oven unit by itself. My concern, besides the $6000 price tag (makes buying a 24″ Viking range for $3000 look like a breeze!!), is floor-loading issues in my historic third floor walk-up. Alas, 24″ is still too large for my kitchen: I need a 20″ model.

Read my post regarding the difficulty of finding quality small appliances in the US.

Hubba hubba! The AGA Companion comes in 11 colors, including scrummy pistachio.

Racer Dips

Gurnice Stephens, c. 1941.

Gurnice Stephens, c. 1941.

That’s 1930s speak for “roller coaster.” At least it was to my grandmother, Gurnice Stephens. She grew up on Mt. Pleasant Orchard in Harford County, but worked as a nanny and a nightclub violinist in Baltimore during the 1930s and early 1940s. Perhaps she went to Glen Echo in Montgomery County and rode the “Coaster Dips” in the photo below. Perhaps more likely, her family frequented Atlantic City and Rehoboth Beach and the term might be from the seashore. She rode the Comet at Hershey Park not long after it was built in 1946. It’s probably the only roller coaster left at Hershey Park from when I was a child as well. Read up on roller coaster history here.

Don’t Confuse Geisha and Courtesans (Oiran and Tayu)

It’s apparent from my forays around Pinterest and the web that images of geisha and courtesans are often mislabeled. This just perpetuates misunderstandings of the roles geisha and courtesans play(ed) in the entertainment districts within Japan’s flower and willow world.

Geisha and courtesans look different. A brief crash course below of their appearance can tell you what you are seeing in a Japanese drawing for example.

The western world created confusion of the roles of geisha and courtesans. Lumped together, the nighttime entertainment roles of geisha and oiran (in Edo) and tayu (in Kyoto) could only mean sex to Westerners. The West was familiar with hierarchies within sex work, from the lofty courtesan to the streetwalker. The geisha, an entertainer who sang, danced, and provided witty repartee while clients waited for their time with with the courtesan, just didn’t fit the mold in Western minds. Geisha, which loosely translates as “arts person” continue this role in the absence of courtesan culture today.

Geisha were more austere in their appearance compared to the come-hither tinkling of slews of hair ornaments and sumptuous fabrics of the courtesan. As the nineteenth century progressed and modernization arrived in Japan, the geisha began to appear more elegant to their admirers, while the courtesans began to look tawdry, antique, and cheap.

Today, geisha and their maiko apprentices entertain in exclusive tea houses (read: clubs) and restaurants and are featured on stage during festivals. Courtesans are now represented by actresses as tourist attractions in oiran parade and tayu reenactment parks.

Oiran: extravagant hair ornaments and hairstyle, large obi tied in front (easier to untie and retie that way), towering clogs in which she parades in a figure 8 step – this is worth watching! Watch here (the oiran comes into view around 2:00).

An oiran parades with a male attendant. She would often be accompanied by teenage and child apprentices.

















Geiko and maiko: Their appearance is demure in comparison to the tawdry oiran and tayu. Both wear their obis tied in the back. Long sleeves and tucks in the maiko’s kimono signify her immature status, even though these teenagers are full-size. The maiko’s more exuberant accessories will become more subdued as she advances in her career, as can be seen in the geiko’s apparel. Still, the maiko’s embellishments are restrained in comparison to those of a courtesan. They are cute, whereas the courtesan’s are loud.

A geiko (Kyoto geisha) on the right and a child-like maiko (geiko apprentice) on the left.