Transportation Tuesday: Winterthur’s Train Station

The train station at Winterthur Museum, Delaware. 2013.

The train station at Winterthur Museum, Delaware. 2013. Back when the front doors faced the rail. The front is not accessible as its now a private residence and the rail embankment on the other side blocks the view. RL Fifield.

You had to know that the DuPonts would have had their own train station for their 2400-acre estate outside of Wilmington, DE.

I’m living at Winterthur for the month while participating in a preventive conservation exchange and researching how 18th century working women acquired textiles and garments (see an earlier post on the project here). Surprisingly, train fanatics haven’t documented this little station extensively online. It is located between the museum and the employee entrance, so while you can walk to it, most visitors to Winterthur probably never make it over to the little Victorian structure. It serves as a private residence for Winterthur staff, so it’s not very accessible.  The DuPonts welcomed guests, coal, and supplies to the estate via the country train station. Speaking as a public transportation user, it’s too bad you can no longer reach Winterthur by train.

Museum Monday – WNYC Municipal Archives Online

Back in May, I gave a lecture on collections emergency preparedness at the New York Archives Conference. It was supposed to be a roundtable during which institutions shared their preparedness experiences and ideas, but seeing as Heritage Preservation’s Heritage Health Index project discovered that 80% of cultural institutions do not have an emergency plan that is trained, it ended up being a 1.5 hour lecture. When I signed up to do the lecture, I didn’t realize that the conference was being held at LIU’s Post Campus in Brookville. It was a 4 hour round trip between the Long Island Rail Road (my first trip) and local bus service.

While I was waiting for my session to begin, I checked out the poster session next door. I found someone working on a digitization project of segments from WNYC radio interviews, from 1924 to 1997, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The presenters had attached headphones and an iPod with clips of interviews from their digitization project. Many of the recordings were created on unique 16″ transcription discs, which were fragile and at risk of deterioration.  The recordings were cataloged and digitized, and you can listen to over 100 of these recordings  on the WNYC website.

Listen to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Hear Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss and Irving Fine discuss what exactly is American music in 1950. Tune into Harry Mustard, NYC’s Health Commission, give a report on the health of New Yorkers in 1947. It’s an invaluable resource with the leading thinkers of those eras, especially for social historians. I listen to WNYC today for intelligence seriously lacking in so many other media channels today – it’s why I’m member (and you should be too – become a member of your local NPR station).

Museum Monday – Working at Winterthur

I’m in residence at Winterthur Museum, Library, and Garden working on my 18th century runaway project and participating in a preventive conservation exchange. I’m extremely grateful to have this time to focus on my projects and to work with the incredible collection and staff at Winterthur. While my posts won’t be as regular, I’ll try to slip in a few tidbits here and there. To the books!

Historic Philadelphia Mapping Resources

My research on indentured and enslaved servants’ lives has led me to mapping out their existence on historic maps of Philadelphia. I’m hoping to better understand their relation to the community, merchants, and manufacturers in their environment. I’ve found some useful resources to help recreate their world. They work best together: a little from one source, a little from another. Read another post on my project here.

Mapping West Philadelphia: Landowners in October 1777: This interactive site indicates the owners of plots throughout the larger Philadelphia city, including Northern Liberties, Germantown, Blockley and other towns.

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Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network: This interactive site will overlay historic maps with modern streetmaps. Its oldest map is from 1808 so it’s a little late for my work, but it certainly could be expanded with other maps. It’s a project of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL)

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Norman B Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library: A repository of great maps not just from Philadelphia, but all over the colonies.

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.


And the result are the maps I’m creating by decade of the servant women living throughout the neighborhood.

Map of female servants from runaway advertisements [incomplete] in 1770s Philadelphia made by Rebecca Fifield using John Reed's 1774 map.

Map of female servants from runaway advertisements [incomplete] in 1770s Philadelphia made by Rebecca Fifield using John Reed’s 1774 map.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Midsummer in the French Countryside

Midsummer found us not in Sweden, but in the French countryside, south of the Loire Valley and not far from Loches. If you remember going to bed as a child when the sky was still light, this is the adult version. The sun sets around 11:30pm in this quiet part of France, made lush with rain and wind. The cold prevented us from any midsummer-related outdoor frolicking, but there was plenty of wine indoors.


RL Fifield, 2013.

This photo is of Maison Blanche, where we stayed, around 10:30pm.

Transportation Tuesday – Aer Lingus: Just Don’t.

I hate to fly. All the fun of flying took off somewhere around 1987. We’ve been on a downward spiral of crumb encrusted shrinking chairs and tasteless pretzels served with 1/2 cup of water ever since. I took my first flight in 1985 on Eastern Airlines as part of a long journey with my grandparents to Tucson to visit my great uncle Mr. B. I remember china, silverware, and smoking on board. I felt to be totally glamourous, at the tender age of 10.

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 6.55.26 AMI don’t expect much. I expect to be tortured by my seat (read this article about how the average 17″ wide airline seat is based on male hips from the 1960s), and possibly by my large and/or overly chatty neighbor. I like to bring my laptop and work, but that has increasingly required my elbows to be splayed at odd angles in order to reach the keyboard, and yet not run into my neighbors. Whenever the flight attendant gives the spiel about “we hope you enjoyed your flight,” I wonder “why bother?” Nobody enjoys flying anymore.

I don’t like Delta. I hate United. I’ll choose Southwest (or more likely, Amtrak) if I need to go somewhere. But I can helpfully suggest to ignore Aer Lingus on your next flight search.

Our first plane was struck by a bird. These things happen. We had a three-hour delay as we switched planes, and we missed our connecting flight. The rebooking desk in Dublin had our new flight tickets ready to go when we arrived – we realized later that they obviously had a lot of experience doing this.

On our way home, there was one clerk checking in the flight at Paris, leading to a 100 person queue through Terminal 1. Our flight was 40 min. late (what caused that – yes, another bird strike!), but they held our JFK flight in Dublin. You pre-clear US Customs in Dublin, but have to go through 2 more rounds of security (feeling the love there, Ireland) before boarding the plane. We arrived and realized that our original seats had been changed so we had been separated.

But nothing topped the cake like the EI 109 flight attendants. They don’t answer bells, at least they didn’t answer mine. I found them chatting it up in the galley, and they actually shrugged when I said I called them. They didn’t feed Dr. V – they just skipped him. They gave snark when he called them to ask for his meal, and flung a beef meal at him. Yup, flung. No apologies.

Of course our luggage didn’t make it on the flight, but it didn’t make it on the next flight either. The JFK staff was supposed to call to set a delivery time, but Thursday evening I got a phone call saying “yeah, I’m outside with your bags.” I replied “I”m at work, and you are going to have to wait 20 min.” “Uh, let me see if that’s okay with my supervisor.”

I was reading the history of Aer Lingus on my in-flight entertainment system (which didn’t work for Dr. V on our first flight over, because for some reason the purser kept restarting it throughout the flight), and it seemed like a string of ill-planning, overextension, and near bankruptcies. I wish they’d just get on with it, and go out of business.

Museum Monday: Developing Staff Resources for Managing Collections

My colleague and friend Rob Waller of Protect Heritage Corp. recently sent me a book he collaborated on in 1996, Developing Staff Resources for Managing Collections. It examines institutional responsibilities to protect its collections through development of staff and how to create staff development plans. I specifically like its approach in analyzing the internal and external clients of institutional collection management staff, the services provided to those clients, and the mapping of priorities. It’s a smart way to think about the maelstrom of small actions collection management staff provide every day toward the preservation and access of collections.

I’m on the verge of leaving for Winterthur Museum for a research fellowship during which I will explore for part of the time, professional development of collections management and care professionals. Many collection managers work in institutions for curators or directors that can’t necessarily advise and mentor how that collection management professional should continue to develop their career. My project is to create a template for mentoring exchange between two or more institutions to provide collection management professionals with exposure to new ideas concerning managing change, fundraising, and new ideas in environmental monitoring, risk assessment, and collection care policy.

I realized that this book was published just before I entered grad school, my most absorbent time for Museum Studies literature, but I had never heard about it until now. Published by the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), it is one of a number of great documents by that organization that encourage collections care planning, rather than a piecemeal and sporadic approach espoused by many museums. Beyond bibliographies scattered on a number of sites, how do we protect access to great efforts in our field over the long term? To say “out-of-print” is no longer acceptable. One great project by SPNHC from 1992, Storage of Natural History Collections: Ideas and Practical Solutions, will soon take on new life as a website called STASH: Storage Techniques for Art, Science, and History collections, a project of SPNHC and the American Institute for Conservation. Stay tuned for this important resource.

Vanishing History: Recording African-American Burial Grounds

On a Sunday afternoon in 1992, I was collecting fallen autumn leaves along Chapel Road outside Havre de Grace, Maryland where my grandparents lived. I no longer remember what the leaves were for. My boyfriend lifted me on his shoulders so I could pluck them from the trees along the edge of a dried up soybean field that rested next to the driveway, and is now occupied with vinyl-sided houses. It was a sunny and fresh day.

We crossed the country road to investigate the remnants of a cemetery in the woods that only oral tradition in my family indicated was African-American. This cemetery had an identity connected through oral history to a farm located down the hill toward the Chesapeake Bay since at least the 19th century. The 1878 Martenet Map for the county indicates the Osborns, Matthews, Holloways, and Silvers lived in the immediate area, and further down the road, an African-American family, the Lisbys. On that afternoon in 1992, the cemetery was deep in fallen leaves and debris, as well as tall trees. I tripped – and landed in a depression. Around us, were several sunken graves, perhaps twenty. We found one readable headstone – a name I no longer remember, from a man who served in the USCT in World War I. U.S. Colored Troops.

Vanishing History: Burial Database of Enslaved African Americans is a project of Fordham University (Note: as of 3/26/2020, I cannot find a viable link to this project but check out the last reference I found to it here). You can visit their website, like I did, and submit information about perhaps forgotten burial grounds of enslaved African Americans. So little of the cemetery across the street from my grandparents’ house survives. My mother indicated that graves were probably destroyed when Chapel Road was paved in the 1970s. It’s imperative to mark these places before more information is lost. I feel some trepidation in highlighting the location; abandoned cemeteries are often subject to vandalism (see my post on my own family’s cemetery recovery project). But the alternative is loss of knowledge and heritage.

Listen to a segment from NPR on the project here.

Wanderlust Wednesday – Indianapolis, and a little about Philadelphia

Thumbs up: Indianapolis.

Philadelphia's 30th Street Station on a Saturday night, the usual bustle gone.

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station on a Saturday night, the usual bustle gone. The World War I memorial. RL Fifield.

Thumbs down: US Airways (I should have known better). The airplane from Indianapolis operated by Air Wisconsin was probably refurbished last in 1983 (the flight attendant was old school and friendly though). Three hour layover in Philadelphia coming home. Kudos to Philadelphia Airport being well connected to train service. I ditched my connection, took SEPTA to 30th Street Station, and caught an Amtrak train. I was home an hour earlier. Just another indication of the faltering ability of airlines to move us about the country. I’d rather take the train.

I’m sure it’s a different story in the winter, but Indianapolis in May was pleasant. Sure, the local department store went under and now the building is occupied by TJ Maxx. A large Mall structure snakes through the downtown, sucking people off the streets. No matter, street life was prevalent. I had dinner with Ms. I at Cerulean in the Alexander Hotel. Ms. T joined us and we sat in their lovely bar on an outside elevated deck in the summer evening breeze.

A few very random shots from Indy. I did spend most of my time in my conference.

Old Trails Building. Indianapolis. 2013.

Old Trails Building. Indianapolis. 2013. RL Fifield.

Creepy pope head in an Italian restaurant at the end of the night. Indianapolis.

Creepy pope head in an Italian restaurant at the end of the night. Indianapolis. Photo: RL Fifield.

A gorgeous evening and having a balcony all to myself at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, during the American Institute for Conservation's Annual Meeting opening reception. It's good to have a little space to break up the being "on."

A gorgeous evening and having a balcony all to myself at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, during the American Institute for Conservation’s Annual Meeting opening reception. It’s good to have a little space to break up the being “on.” RL Fifield.

I can't help but think of historic site signs standing in front of parking garages as apologies. "Whoops, we goofed. Here's another parking garage." Indianapolis.

I can’t help but think of historic site signs standing in front of parking garages as apologies. “Whoops, we goofed. Here’s another parking garage.” Indianapolis. RL Fifield.