“Omelettes – Plain or with Rum”


Where in culinary history did I miss the inclusion of rum in an omelet? New York Public Library announced recently the availability of thousands of their images in the public domain available for free and open use. A long-time fan of their What’s on the Menu? crowd-sourced transcription project, I found this Pullman Dining Car breakfast menu from the train carrying William McKinley’s body to rest after his assassination. Breakfast was so much more hearty in the 19th century. Pass on the wan cereal – I’ll have the mackerel or steak with mushrooms. As for the NYPL, their online digital records also have an “item timeline” which indicates when the object was generated, acquired, digitized, and accessed by the user. It’s kind of a fun, accessible way to indicate to the library’s audience how the collection is being used through time.

As for the rum omelette, it not only included rum, but was brought to the table flaming. Read this Gothamist article on rum omelettes. Seems a bit festive for a funeral train.

New York Public Library. 1901-2380.

New York Public Library. 1901-2380.

Apple of My Eye: Lead Pesticide Use in 1920s Orchards

Journal Kept by Hugh Ross Stephens of Havre de Grace, MD. The CEB on the cover are the initials of his employer, Charles Bryan, the owner of Mt. Pleasant Orchards in the early 20th century. Founded in 1755, the orchard was turned into a housing development around 2003.

Journal Kept by Hugh Ross Stephens of Havre de Grace, MD. The CEB on the cover are the initials of his employer, Charles Bryan, the owner of Mt. Pleasant Orchards in the early 20th century. Founded in 1755, the orchard was turned into a housing development around 2003.

Over the Christmas holiday, I unearthed a small journal with a heavily damaged tooled vegetable-tanned leather cover. Within were pre-printed dated pages with intermittent journal entries by my great-grandfather Hugh Ross Stephens, the Orchardist (according to the 1940 census) at Mt. Pleasant Orchards, near Havre de Grace. An architectural survey by the Maryland Historical Trust prior to the development of the property discusses the original 1755 house (rebuilt in 1907) and its 18th century terraced landscape, the tenant houses and buildings (in which my grandmother Gurnice was born) can be read here. The orchard was still in operation during my childhood. This document provides documentation of what was destroyed (with the exception of the 1907 house) when the property was developed into nondescript luxury residences in the early 2000s.

Stephens wasn’t a great diarist. Scattered over the pages are sporadic annotations recording pruning, visits to Baltimore, snowstorms, and bad weather. The entries begin in 1917 and sputter out in the 1960s.

For example, the page with the printed heading of January 8 was inscribed:

“1931 Sawing wood. Pruning in no 2-4 [ill.] rain
1932 At Jasper Berry funeral pruning 4 rows below road No. 1
Margaret 1948
HRS & Wife in York bought Wife’s Coat”

What caught my eye was his repeated entries akin to these:

March 29:
April 3:
“1929 Started prepink [sic] on Apples  3 B 40
10 Gal L[ime] Sulphur Siguiel
6 lb Lead 2 lb Kays”

On April 5:
“1930 finished delayed dormant with Sunoco.”

On April 6:
Finished East side of
back Orchard peaches
and Apples with
Kleanup 12 gal
Lime Sulphur 9 gal
Kleanup in tank”

The composition of the Sunoco (perhaps the “oil emulsion” HRS mentions occasionally), Kleanup, and the “pink spray” used on peaches and apples was cloaked by their proprietary names.

Lead Arsenate was used to deter cydia pomonella moths from damaging the apple crop from 1890 until 1950 (read an article from Virginia Tech on its use here). It’s replacement? DDT.

Orchard workers at Mt. Pleasant Orchard, near Havre de Grace, Maryland.

Orchard workers at Mt. Pleasant Orchard, near Havre de Grace, Maryland, c. 1915.

Railroad Dreams: Danbury Railway Museum

If you me

If you mourn the destruction of the late, great Pennsylvania Station in NYC, you’ll find this glass heralding the coming of the new Madison Square Garden as chilling and cheap. This glass is displayed with a nice collection of railway china and silver at the Danbury Railway Museum.

Yesterday found Dr. V, Mr. J, and I at the Danbury Railway Museum. I had used the Metro North Danbury station before but never made it inside the doors of Danbury’s 1903 New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Station. I had ridden up to Danbury to visit with Ms. M, a Danbury resident, thrillingly pulled into the station by an old F-unit right before their retirement in 2009. Our perception of Danbury station today is as an outlier, a stub end of the Metro-North network. The other side of the station is bordered by the double-track Housatonic Railroad, primed for re-ignition through the Bring Back the Trains initiative to restore rail service between the Berkshires and NYC.





A Maine Central caboose and a Canadian National "van" sit in the yard at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

A Maine Central caboose and a Canadian National “van” sit in the yard at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

The museum is like many rail museums; a collection of equipment that ended up at the old Danbury Yard and model railroading layouts sustained by that curious breed: the volunteer rail fan. I’m a museum insider, but I’m part of the audience at rail museums. While I am drawn to rail social history, I don’t know anything about maintaining rail cars or operating excursions.  The museum understands its audience, both rail fans interested in the past and encouraging their future generation. Among the old wrenches and railway china are Thomas layouts that appeal to the kids and prime them for going outside and seeing the real thing. We climbed aboard old Budd RDCs (my first), a Railway Post Office, and several cabooses, of which Dr. V and Mr. J are fans. (Yes, my 22-month-old can point to and say “caboose”).

New Haven's Solari Board sits silent on the floor at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield, 2015.

New Haven’s Solari Board sits silent on the floor at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield, 2015.

I sadly came upon New Haven station’s Solari Board, sitting blank and silent within the station. Plans are to install the Solari Board within the Danbury station to announce their excursion trains. I haven’t been through New Haven recently enough to know it had been gone. I’ll miss it’s click; I wonder when Philadelphia’s board will meet the same fate.

The museum is certainly celebrating the past, but I would have liked to see more about future potential. If the Housatonic Railroad is able to renew passenger service, I’d actually love to use the station as a passenger. I think about how private concerns have preserved many a local train station, abandoned by the rail companies that created them as passenger service atrophied and collapsed. These stations are poised to revitalize city centers in the way new suburban stations never could.  Rail is renewing: what partnerships might we create to provide economic opportunities for our cities, its residents, and our country by facilitating transportation? The highways aren’t doing it. If you haven’t tried a train, do it. Bring some work. Bring some knitting. Bring a blank book and a pen. Bring a camera. Just bring your ability to stare out the window. And experience something beyond the steering wheel. Experience a conversation with someone you don’t know. A view you haven’t seen. Experience the interior of your mind, uncluttered.

What was New Haven is now old - New Haven F Unit and Budd RDC car being used for part for the operating RDC at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

What was New Haven is now old – New Haven F Unit and Budd RDC car being used for part for the operating RDC at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

Snapshots from New Orleans

Aiji is a taxi driver. He is also the founder of the first burrito bar in Rwanda and a vegan chef. For right now, it’s the taxi while he’s between ventures. Aiji also seems to be the only taxi driver in New Orleans, as he randomly picked up me and my colleagues again at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

IMG_6186I grabbed a beer in a bar near the opening reception at Republic. A husband and wife (she, the bartender, him, a regular off shift from a top-tier restaurant) talked living blue in a red state (this just before Bobby Jindle was ousted). Throw the freakin’ guidebooks away and put down your phone and make part of your travels about shutting up and listening to local voices.

Band at Frizzell's.

Band at Frizzell’s.



I stayed in an Air BnB in the Marigny. The apartment was at the back of a shotgun house on Mandeville Street and was completely passable, if a bit worn. A balcony slumped from my windows onto a neighbor’s garden below. A train blew its whistle on the river without consistency, blaring into our sleep. I completely support AirBnB, but this place could have been better for the price. I stayed in lovely apartments in Paris and have had largely good experiences. That being said, I think the sheets on the bed were at least 40 years old, easy. So, I think I will do as eighteenth century travelers did in the future, and take my own sheets.

Some particularly good bijoux included:

  • Meauxbar’s salad of lentil, faro,eggplant, fried chickpea, ricotta, preserved lemon and their french onion soup sandwich with braised beef.
  • Shrimp and Grits and braised beef short ribs at Donald Link’s private dining space Calcasieu.
  • Sitting next to the band at Frizzell’s.
Decoys at night in the windows of the Historic New Orleans Collection. RL Fifield 2015.

Decoys at night in the entry of the Historic New Orleans Collection. RL Fifield 2015.




An Unfortunate Title for a “Great” Article on Penn Station

David W. Dunlap writes the rather fun Building Blocks column for The New York Times. On December 30, 2015, his contribution was titled “Longing for the Old Penn Station? In the End, It Wasn’t So Great.”

Really? The pun is there (the “late great Pennsylvania Station” for all you not in the know), but it’s hardly apt. The title tarnishes a rather interesting article about Penn’s last years.

Completely bone-headed modern alterations to the station took a terrible toll.  They didn’t make rail travel seem modern, but instead bled all the elegance out of the aging and neglected station and the mode of travel it heralded. Lewis Mumford’s musings about whether the railroad executives killed Penn Station by poisoning it’s customers against Penn’s ill-maintained and brutally modernized interiors is plausible. It is in our nature to strive for our current glory and not to consider how we will maintain our efforts into the future for the benefit of organization, audience, and our teams. I work in museums. I see the dreams of designers and curators crash when they haven’t adequately planned easily maintained exhibition casework, and don’t have the management skills to fix their errors. I’ve seen inappropriate HVAC systems shoved by local contractors in historic houses to the benefit of collections and the detriment of the building which would inevitably need the services of a company like Mold Removal Montreal, leading to mobilization of salts from the building structure and mold growth. This is the stuff of vanity-fueled collapse.

Nick DeWolf. Penn Station ticket counters, April 1958. Photo. SIWS.com.

Nick DeWolf. Penn Station ticket counters, April 1958. Photo. SIWS.com.

This doesn’t mean that Penn Station wasn’t great, even as the wrecking ball arrived. Let’s talk about loss of value. Cultural heritage preservation is using examination of loss of value when exposed to specific risks to prioritize mitigation strategies to those areas where it is most needed. The clamshell ticket booth that blotted out the beauty of the station above may have caused a 30% loss in value of Penn Station. But what remained was something that Ada Louise Huxtable noted: we couldn’t build the same station again today. After 1963, we were left with 100% loss. There is no longer anything left to rebuild. Nothing to clean, to repair, to restore. The work is too great.


The article is fine. It could go one step further by championing the value of the public’s interest in privately-developed public spaces (that’s where I would take it). I think the article could also address why the slew of advertising and services that were so terrible for Penn Station in the 1950s are commonplace and accepted in the historic stations of Europe.

I think we not only feel the loss of Penn Station, in whatever shape it was in. We feel the loss of its potential. We see the rejuvenation of Grand Central Terminal and it thrills us, even though it no longer hosts the New Haven, the New York Central, or even Amtrak. And we’ve suffered the presence of Penn’s replacement and Madison Square Garden and the subjugation of the rail traveler into that gaping maw of a basement for far too long. Architecture that conveys contempt for its users takes its toll on society.

Memorial photograph in the basement of Madison Square Garden (supposedly Penn Station) of the Late, GREAT Pennsylvania Station. RL Fifield, 2013.

Memorial photograph in the basement of Madison Square Garden (supposedly Penn Station) of the Late, GREAT Pennsylvania Station. RL Fifield, 2013.

Samuel Adams’s Mother Was a Fifield

RL Fifield vacuuming samplers with a dental vacuum in the old Textile Conservation Lab, MFA Boston, 2001.

RL Fifield vacuuming samplers with a dental vacuum in the old Textile Conservation Lab, MFA Boston, 2001.

Back in the early aughts, I was a Collection Care Specialist in Textiles and Fashion Arts (TFA) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I was working on a National Endowment for the Arts grant to photograph and perform condition reports on 10,000 objects a part of their American collections. This work was undertaken in part to plan for a brand-new textile storeroom during the construction of the new American Wing. I prepared pre-Columbian fragments, hundreds of pairs of shoes and hats, handkerchiefs, children’s clothes, and dressed nearly 150 garments on mannequins, among many other items. At the same time, we collected critical information about the condition of the collection and their future storage needs.


Women’s cloak. Robbins family, Lexington, Mass. MFA Boston, 99.664.16.

The MFA Boston’s TFA collection has a particular strength in 18th century costume and textiles. Some of my favorite works are within the 99.664 Robbins family collection from Lexington, Massachusetts. One day, one of the curators asked me if I had seen the Fifield bedcovers yet.

Fifield isn’t a very common name in the U.S., with the exception of New England. Largely, New England Fifields descend from William Fifield, who arrived from Hampshire, England in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1634. He and his descendants migrated into Newbury, MA, Hampton, NH and eventually, and up into Fryeburg and the western reaches of Maine, where my father’s family still lives. What isn’t as widely known is that he had a brother, Giles, who arrived in Hampton a few years after William. Giles’s great-grandson was Samuel Adams, the future governor of Massachusetts.

The MFA’s textile collection includes Samuel Adams’s christening blanket and several bedcovers made from bed hangings embroidered by Mary Fifield Adams and Mary Drew Fifield, her step-mother, in 1713. They were later converted into bed covers, possibly in the late 18th century.

See accession numbers 30.448 (Samuel Adams’s christening blanket), 31.694 (bedcover), and 1972.910 (bedcover) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston online database at mfa.org.

Samuel Adams christening blanket. Mary Fifield Adams. MFA Boston, 30.448.

Samuel Adams christening blanket. Mary Fifield Adams. MFA Boston, 30.448.

Great Collection Care Webinars at no cost!

Under the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, the Connecting to Collection Care (C2CC) resource continues to build on the great work Heritage Preservation began, with the support of the Institute for Museum and Library Services. These webinars really get to the heart of everyday museum practice. For example, I can’t remember a previous collection care resource addressing the balance of seasonal/programatic decorations with preservation, as was presented in their last webinar “Seasonal Affective Disorder: Caring for Collections during Seasonal Special Events.” The content is great for a range of professionals. They are great courses for refreshing your knowledge, getting introduced to a new topic, and all around good food for thought. There are even SAD light reviews which has shown to help people suffering from SAD.  For example, while I’ve worked with a wide assortment of collections, I recently sat in on the taxidermy-focused webinar given by Eugenie Milroy of AM Art Conservation and George Dante, Wildlife Preservations as my taxidermy experience is limited.

All C2CC webinars are available at no cost. Previous webinars are archived at the website. The Connecting to Collections Care webinar offerings for Winter/Spring 2016 are as follows:

“A Conservation Primer: Caring for Historic Furniture”
January 14, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Re-Framing the Problem: Caring for Framed Objects in Small
Institutions (aka: On a Budget)”
February 9, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Much Ado About Mannequins: Making the Perfect Form”
March 8, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Artifacts in Archives Collections”
April 7, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Arsenic and Old Lace: Controlling Hazardous Collection
May 3, 2016
1:30 – 3 pm ET

Register at http://www.connectingtocollections.org

Wanderlust Fodder: Atlas Obscura’s Interactive Map of Roadtrips in American Literature

Mr. I sent me a link recently to Atlas Obscura’s “The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips.” It is obsessive. Richard Kreitner (writing) and Steven Melendez (map) partnered to create a compelling interactive map over which colored lines streak following the stories of Blue Highways (1982), On the Road (1957), Travels with Charley (1962), Wild (2012), Roughing It (1872), and more. With one click, you can read how a variety of authors experienced the same place. Over 1,500 passages are painstakingly linked to the map. The work is so compelling, as one person’s perception could be so different from your own. It can color your view of that place for the future.

9780141182674I isolated On the Road, and clicked on a random dot in Pennsylvania. It was the Susquehanna River Valley, and Kerouac, in a not flattering description of body of water, wrote this:

“We walked seven miles along the mournful Susquehanna. It is a terrifying river. It has bushy cliffs on both sides that lean like hairy ghosts over the unknown waters. Inky night covers all. Sometimes from the railyards across the river rises a great red locomotive flare that illuminates the horrid cliffs.”

Today, my experience of the same river valley is somewhat flipped. My family has been making a living moving among communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania along the river for nearly 400 years. I see more loss in the absence of transportation along the rails and the river than I do terror at the machinery that used to operate on its banks. I suppose diesel doesn’t command the same respect, but I find atrophy worse than fire.

Lincoln Highway near Geneva, Illinois. RL Fifield, 2015.

Lincoln Highway near Geneva, Illinois. RL Fifield, 2015.

Five Reasons to Take My Emergency Preparedness Course at MuseumStudy.com Starting Jan. 4

bigstock-hard-hat-with-path-577880I’m bringing my experience in building robust emergency management programs for cultural institutions to MuseumStudy.com in January. It’s a web-based course that will partner with later sessions on Collection Risk Assessment by Rob Waller and Disaster Salvage and Recovery by Susan Duhl. I kick off the series by focusing on gaining buy-in, creating a plan, training a response team, and maintaining planning momentum. I will also discuss how to make your program stronger by partnering with local resources such as your emergency management office, training together with other institutions, and creating mutual aid agreements. Instruction includes a combination of lessons, chats, activities, and readings.

I know how difficult it can be to build momentum for emergency preparedness. Your colleagues may feel anxious about a disaster within their institution. They may be confused about their roles and authority in such a situation. Sometimes that can lead to procrastination or outright hostility toward planning. My course focuses on how to affect change in your institution to support not just writing a response plan, but building a comprehensive program that benefits from the involvement of all staff. The better your preparedness and planning, the better the outcomes will be when your institution is tested during an emergency.

Here are some reasons you or your colleagues may want to take my course:

  1. You know emergency preparedness is a core component of responsible stewardship, but you need experience. It’s not just about having a phone tree and a supplies cache (though those are important things!) Maybe emergency preparedness wasn’t your focus in grad school, or maybe it’s been a long time grad school, or maybe you are taking on new responsibilities at your institution. I’ll focus on strategies to build support for your plan, getting the right people involved, the key concepts to include in policy and response plans, and how to maintain momentum.
  2. Recent events or surveys have revealed significant risks to your collections, your building, and ultimately, the ability to fulfill your organization’s mission. Has your organization recently experienced a flood? A fire? Is there a construction project about to start? Have you had to defer a new roofing project and heavy snows are expected? While we mitigate many risks to our collections and organizations, there are some risks that may occur with a great level of uncertainty and a high level of impact. Having response and recovery plans in place can help limit damage to collections in these types of incidents. When everyone is familiar with the plan and practices how to organize a response and recovery effort, this helps the institution bounce back more quickly to fulfilling its mission after an emergency.
  3. Your colleagues aren’t as energized/excited about preparedness as you are, and you need strategies for convincing them to support the emergency management effort. Maybe you are a registrar, collection manager, conservator, curator, or other museum professional, and you want to meet best practices. After all, maintaining a disaster preparedness plans is one of the core documents indicated by the American Alliance for Museums. But you need to build some excitement around the plan. I have lots of experience in persuading administrators and colleagues to improve their state of preparedness through my work in institutions and through Alliance for Response NYC. It takes some strategizing, considering the needs of stakeholders, and some good timing.
  4. You need ideas to keep your institution ready to respond. Has your organization been through a period of good preparedness, but has let that momentum lapse? Has it been more than 2-3 years since your last disaster plan review, or salvage training? Get ideas in the course about how to reenergize the program at your institution while building your own expertise.
  5. You are looking for ways to get more involved with other colleagues and management and develop your opportunities for advancement. Emergency preparedness is a great way to start working with others in your institution if you aren’t already. Planning requires the perspectives of operations staff, security, finance, communications, and other departments. Advocating for better and continued preparedness can also hone your negotiation skills while gaining you visibility as a leader. We will discuss change management, creating a vision, and fostering partnerships with potential allies.

If you would like to participate but have questions, let me know at becky@rebeccafifieldpreservation.com. To register, visit MuseumStudy.com. The course starts January 4, 2015.

IMG_4703 copy 3

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