Uncategorized

Family Treasures & Museum Donations

This handsome, slightly sardonic guy is my grandfather, Roy Seifert. My grandmother is moving out of her home of 60 years for a much smaller apartment. A few weeks ago, we had fun rummaging through old photos and making piles to distribute amongst the family (whether they liked it or not). I also discovered about 45 black-and-white photographs from grandpa’s Army service. Even better, they were labeled with places, dates, and names on the back. The photos dated to 1950-1952 at Camp Stewart and Camp Gordon, Georgia, and Fort Dix, New Jersey. I immediately saw the archival and museum value, so I called the Third Infantry Division Museum at Fort Stewart. The director said he would love the donation.

Camp Stewart, 1950

Today we drove out to the museum, and I realized just how massive Fort Stewart is. It took 30 minutes of driving even after we got on base property, but we eventually reached the gate. One confused MP later, (ugh, I guess show me your drivers license?), we gained access to the base. Apparently, I’m the only civilian who has gone to the museum.

We had a brief chat with director and curator, John Potter, who turned out to be a former student of mine, and gave him the photographs. If you care to baffle an MP, you can visit the Third ID Museum in the near future, and see our pictures on some of the screens. We also took a brief (because the “we” included my four-year-old) spin around the impressive museum.

1941 Ford /Darley Crash Rescue Fire Truck. After serving at Hunter AAF, the volunteer Isle of Hope Fire Dept. used it from 1959 to 1996.

Remember your museums, historical societies, and libraries when you find old family documents, photographs, art, and books. I also took a copy of the History of the Telford Volunteer Fire Company: Serving for 100 years, 1903-2003 to the public library. They had the 50 year history book, but not the 100 year version. These difficult to find, very limited printing books and pamphlets on local history are great for public libraries. If you have these types of resources and want to share, look for a library with local history room. For coastal Georgia, that is the Bull Street Library‘s Kaye Kole Genealogy & Local History Room.

Some tips for donating:

  • Don’t be offended if the library or archive doesn’t want your items! I had photos with great documentation, with names, dates, and places written on the photographs’ backs. Not everything has enough informational value for a museum or archive.
  • Do a little research to ensure the donation is a good fit for the museum. It’s really a coincidence that I found Camp Stewart photos in Pennsylvania but live pretty close to the (now upgraded) Fort Stewart.
  • Libraries and museums have limited space to store objects and limited staff time to process these items. At a minimum, donations need to be cataloged and labeled with the call number. Please realize that every “free” donation comes with a cost for the museum including staff time and the perpetual care for the items. Consider a small donation to the museum if you care about the cause.
  • Expect to spend some time doing paperwork. Typically, museums will need a deed of gift form and will want some background information to properly document the collection. The process of accepting a new donation or acquisition is called accessioning.
  • Never just drop something off, especially without speaking to the curator or collections manager. It’s generally best to call or email first to gauge interest and make an appointment to deliver the items if the museum is accepting the donation.
My grandfather at Camp Stewart 1950.
Freedmen school & monastery

Malaria & Mosquito Control

I was pretty sick last weekend, nothing unfixable, but something that definitely will have to be fixed. Immobile for 30 minutes while a machine took pictures of my insides, I contemplated 1870s medicine (and what IS that thing stuck to the ceiling?). The Benedictines at Skidaway Island’s monastery and Freedmen school were often ill from malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Father Oswald frequently writes to Abbot Boniface about the monks’ health troubles. Many religious only stayed on Skidaway for months or a year before requesting a return to St. Vincent or elsewhere, anywhere north, and away from the mosquitoes.

Studying a letter from Father Oswald at Skidaway Island to Abbot Boniface, St. Vincent Abbey, Pennsylvania, on my back porch while contemplating modern medicine.

Bro Alphons is sick in the hospital in Savannah, this day a week ago, I gave him the last Sacraments, now he is recovering, but still he will never be strong.”

Courtesy of Benedictine military school archives

Brother Alphonse Schoene is often referenced as suffering from illness but was present throughout nearly monastery’s entire existence. In August of 1878, Father Oswald administered the last sacrament, but Alphonse recovered. A month later, Father Oswald wrote, “Poor Bro Alphons is at the hospital again in Savannah, he has dispepsy in a high degree, these many years already; and the fever besides”. Alphonse’s stomach trouble (the dyspepsia) was attributed to his childhood, but not further explained.

The treatment for malaria was quinine, which is no longer very effective and therefore not recommended. Today there are stronger drugs, with pretty wicked side effects for some people. Historically, when quinine was ineffective, doctors recommended traveling north to allow the body to heal without danger of constant re-infection. This was the case with another malaria victim, Brother Ignatius. In September, 1879, Father Melchior reported, “Brother Ignatius is almost continuously sick. He has not worked one day for the last week”. By November, Father Oswald requested Brother Ignatius’ reassignment “because the Doctor told him he cannot get well again here as his system is filled with Malaria, which consists in little animals that pass from the Atmosphere into the blood and regenerate and propagate themselves in the blood, and which can be killed only by Quinine,  or a preparation of Peruvian bark”. However, quinine is not effective in everyone. Poor Brother Ignatius had been “sick continually since June” and hospitalized repeatedly. Father Oswald regretted losing him and wrote very highly of him as a modest, pious man who was the best carpenter on Skidaway. Brother Ignatius was transferred back his native Pennsylvania by the end of 1879 and spent the rest of his life working throughout western Pennsylvania including Pittsburg in 1890s and Mount Pleasant, a small town near St. Vincent around 1900.  Brother Ignatius died in 1914 at the age of 62 and is buried in the St. Vincent cemetery. 

Today, of course, we know the “little animals” are actually a parasite, which get into your bloodstream via infected mosquitos. Mosquito Control with its little yellow helicopter is not just making our lives less itchy by killing mosquitos, but reducing disease transmission by killing the mosquitos that carry malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Dengue virus, and others. While spewing nasty chemicals everywhere can give one pause, I’ve spoken with the pilots and entomologist at Mosquito Control, and they love to talk about their mission. They have a great website too, including a “Skeeter Meeter”, a mosquito forecast for the week.

** all original sources courtesy of Benedictine Military School Archives

Freedmen school & monastery

Pride Month: One Historical perspective

For nearly four years, I have been researching the Benedictine monastery and Freedmen school on Skidaway Island, first through archaeological field work in 2016 and 2017. Since I have continued my historical research with the goal to write a book. This monastery was one of several started in 1870s Savannah, with the aim to convert the African American families living and farming on Skidaway Island, teach boys in their boarding school, and train adult African American lay brothers to further spread Catholicism.

One of the richest data sources are the letters between the monks. Most, but not all, of the letters are the Skidaway mission founder Father Oswald Moosmüller reporting to his superior Abbot Boniface Wimmer at St. Vincent Abbey in Pennsylvania. In one letter, I was quite shocked to find a reference to gay sex. Really I was shocked to find any reference to sex, because these were monks. In March of 1878, Father Oswald wrote to Abbot Innocent Wolf of Kansas (honestly, the best name ever) and explained why he dismissed an unnamed African American lay brother,

“Yesterday I found myself obliged to raise a row and expel that fellow, after having heard two witnesses in his presence, which proved that he is a Sodomist etc. etc. I claimed that right for myself 1, because there was periculum in mora* 2, if I have the right to receive brothers & let them make their novitiate and take their vows so I have also the right to dismiss them; 3, moreover according to the laws of Georgia there is capital punishment on such crimes; with a nigro [sic] they do not make much ceremony in that matter”.

source: Benedictine Military SChool Archives, Savannah, Georgia

It is unclear whether Father Oswald means that homosexuality is rarely tried and punished when African Americans are involved, or whether an African American accused of homosexuality would simply be lynched without a trial. Either way, Father Oswald expelled the man without further mention. While this man lost his home and possibly his vocation, according to the contemporary laws, he could have lost much more. The punishment for having an LGBT+ relationship was capital punishment. You could be put to death. Pause for a moment and consider those implications.

This document leaves so much unexplained. Nothing is mentioned of his partner. Presumably, it was not someone in the monastery, as no one else was expelled. So his partner was likely another person on Skidaway Island. Further, since we do not have the man’s name, it is nearly impossible to trace his life further. Did he leave the island? Did he leave the Catholic faith? How did he make a living? Did he ever get married or have children?

*Latin for “danger in delay”

Kiah House

What’s Next for the Kiah House?

Massive thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate Virginia Kiah’s birthday this weekend. It was wonderful meeting new people, especially those who had known Mrs. Kiah.

So what’s next in preserving the memory and legacy of this remarkable couple, Dr. and Mrs. Kiah? We are writing a grant to pay for a historic preservationist to evaluate the house. We can’t begin any preservation efforts without first knowing where the problems are (and there are many). The grant pays for 60% of consultant’s fees, so we need to raise approximately $4,000 to make our match. To donate, click here and press the little up arrow to donate in $10 increments ($10, $20, $50, $1,000…). A PayPal pop-up window will appear when you click the button. We appreciate every dime!

The Kiah House in April 2019. We’re very concerned about the roof, which is crumbling at the edges. Also note how the top of the chimney is missing bricks, which fall occasionally and create a serious hazard.

You can also support the cause by buying a t-shirt. The t-shirts are a limited time offer, so get your orders in before June 17.

Backyard History, Kiah House

Happy 108th Birthday, Virginia Kiah!

To celebrate Virginia Kiah’s 108th Birthday and kick-off renewed efforts to memorialize her legacy, we are hosting a series of events leading up to June 3rd, Mrs. Kiah’s birthday. The “we” of this are: Friends of the Kiah House Museum, Center for the Study of African and African Diaspora Museums and Communities (CFSAADMC), Historic Cuyler Brownsville Neighborhood Development, Inc., and Savannah Archaeological Alliance. Please feel free to attend all or some of the events. If you can’t attend, consider buying a t-shirt to support the cause. Money from the t-shirts will go towards a Kiah House historical marker.

Caring for Creation: “Art is in Everything”

A Birthday Celebration for Virginia Kiah, Kiah Museum Founder

Caring for Creation Then and Now:

Georgia Black Museum and Black Folk Remedies Exhibition

Friday May 31, 2019 Exhibit Reception, 4-7pm

Savannah State University, Social Sciences Building‘s Social Science Gallery

Exhibit runs June 1- June 30, 2019

About the Exhibition: Savannah State University students from the Introduction to Anthropology class and CFSAADMC members’ research of Georgia Black Museums in partnership with the St. Joseph’s Candler African American Health Center project on Black Folk Remedies present their results in an exhibition featuring the ethnographic fieldwork of students and others to collect the oral history home remedies among African American Families in the Georgia Low Country. Also learn about the proposed Museum Administration Certificate Program.

Exhibition Curator (s): Tina Hicks, Ella Williamson (AAH) Black Folk Remedies, Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon- SSU Anthropology

Contact(s) Otilia Iancu -Director MPA at SSU, iancuo@savannahstate.edu 


Caring for Community Cultural Heritage:

Cuyler-Brownville Living History Walk

Saturday, June 1, 2019, 10:00 AM- 3:00 PM

Join us on a walking tour of Cuyler-Brownville’s historic sites, including Dr. & Mrs. Virginia Jackson Kiah’s home and museum, followed by picnic in Floyd “Pressboy” Adams Park (32nd and Cuyler Streets). The walking tour will begin at 10am at the park and end in the same location. The walk will help show community support for a historical marker.

Contact(s):

Jan Fox – Historic Cuyler Brownsville Neighborhood Development, Inc.

Laura Seifert- Savannah Archaeology Alliance (SAA)

Youth Organizers

Essence Irvin

Shanell Byfield


Caring for Church Religious Heritage:

Worship at Asbury United Methodist Church

Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 11AM

Contact(s): Pastor Debora Shinholster Richards, (912) 236-4792

Organizers: Juanita Tucker, Carolyn Fletcher, Vincent Hamilton

1201 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31401

Come and worship at the home church of Dr. Calvin and Virginia Kiah. A program insert is being prepared with collected birthday wishes a special memories of Mrs. Kiah.  Also, a handout of her favorite song that can be taken by those attending the service who want to go with the Friends of the Kiah Museum to wreath-laying at the gravesite. Mr. Vincent Hamilton, former student of Mrs. Kiah and Asbury Lay Leader has been asked to officiate the gravesite ceremony.

The Gravesite Visit and Wreath Ceremony is at Hillcrest Abbey East, 1600 Wheaton St, Savannah, GA, immediately following morning worship.


Image from https://www.savannah.com/savannahs-history-beach-institute/

Caring for Family and Ancestor Knowledge:

Genealogy Research Support Center (GRSC) at the Beach Institute and Cultural Center 

Monday, June 3, 2019, 10:00 AM-3:00 PM

Genealogy Workshop

Contact(s): Ron Christopher, 502 Harris St, Savannah, GA 31402

Finding Family – How Hard Can It Be?

Historic Savannah Church Historians and Family Historians, You’re Invited! It’s a time for caring and sharing your family stories and learn about the newest place in town that wants to care for your family stories from Savannah and throughout the African Diaspora. Schedule for the workshop is forthcoming.

Workshop experts include:

Genealogy Specialist- Mrs. Dorothy Tuck, (Celebrated Researcher of Megan Markel Georgia Ancestry) Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties-The Brown House, McDonough, GA

Amir Jamal Touré, J.D., a professor at Savannah State University (SSU) in the Africana studies program.

Library Specialist – Sharen Lee, Bull Street Library Genealogy Room Savannah, GA

Dr. Alena Pirok– Public Historian GSU-Armstrong Development of Free and Enslaved People of Savannah Database

Backyard History, public archaeology

Graves in the Airport Runway

Have you ever seen two gray rectangles distinct from the surrounding gray of the Savannah airport runway? A friend’s Facebook post of the Dotson Runway Graves led me to several articles on this oddity. In short, as the Savannah Airport expanded into the surrounding farmland, it took over a family cemetery as well. Many of the graves were exhumed and the bodies reburied in another cemetery, but per the family’s wishes, Richard and Catherine Dotson were left in place. According to the Atlas Obscura article, “Citing the fact that their ancestors would have wanted to stay on the land they worked so hard to cultivate and purchase, the surviving Dotson relatives refused to allow Richard and Catherine to be moved.” So the runway was built around them and the graves given new markers.

The Dotson graves. The picture is from the Atlas Obscura article. I suspect it’s a Google maps or Google Earth capture, since we can’t walk out on the runway to take photographs.

While this may seem like a bizarre story, these are exactly the type of problems and solutions archaeologists face everyday. Most archaeologists (probably around 80%) work in Cultural Resources Management (CRM). This means they don’t work in academia or in museums but work for archaeology companies or in government. CRM essentially began in 1966 with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. This federal law mandates archaeology and historic preservation for projects with certain conditions:

  • projects on federal land or in federal waters (like National Parks or the White House front lawn)
  • projects involving federal permits or federal money (like the Savannah Harbor Deepening)

But the laws do not mandate how the archaeology is done. In fact, the law only requires that the project managers “consider impacts” to cultural resources eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Of course, I am radically simplifying a complex process. My point is that archaeologists do more than dig. Archaeologists and their cousins (such as historic preservationists) manage archaeology sites and cultural resources to find solutions that work for the most number of stakeholders: the project developer, descendants, businesses, neighbors, etc. To do so, they often mix many techniques like “consultation with stakeholders”. In the case of the Dotson graves, it was the descendant family members whose ancestors’ graves were disturbed. In other cases, such as the CSS Georgia ironclad, the Army Corps of Engineers represented the military’s constituency, since the Confederate Navy no longer exists.

Barge over the CSS Georgia. From this platform, archaeologists recovered artifacts and pieces of the ironclad for study and preservation.

Most importantly, cultural resource managers need and want your input on projects. Resources on public lands belong to all of us, and we are all stakeholders to varying extents. The CSS Georgia project was much more successful than others in sharing the project with the public. The CRM firm, Panamerican Consultants, Inc., hired an archaeologist specifically to do public outreach, resulting in the Raise the Wreck festival. A documentarian was hired, the CRM company head Steve James spoke to my students at Armstrong, and much more. We need to demand that more projects follow this model so this becomes the norm and not the exception.

Uncategorized

History Matters, to All

I was delighted to hear the Girl Scouts of America received an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to make Scouting and all Girl Scout programs more inclusive. From the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace blog: “Access for All: Advancing Girl Scouts’ Commitment to Disability Inclusion is a two-year initiative led by the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, that will consist of trainings, conversations and activities promoting inclusion, empowerment and equity for those living with disabilities. The trainings’ goal is to spark an ongoing conversation about disability history, culture, rights and advocacy within the Girl Scout Movement.”

As a former employee, I had a truly memorable experience while leading one Girl Scout troop tour of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. One young Girl Scout had several disabilities including some difficulty walking, and perhaps some difficulty hearing (I can’t remember precisely). She was blind. But she loved art and was thrilled to learn that Daisy (Juliette Gordon Low) was also an accomplished artist. Another employee produced a pair of white cotton museum gloves. With the gloves on, we allowed her to touch Daisy’s sculpture Girl with Tortoise. This artist plaster original was in the front parlor at the time. She was able to “see” the sculpture through her touch and truly connect to another artist and the Girl Scouts’ founder.  The wonder and amazement on this young woman’s face still brings tears to my eyes. 

Girl with Tortoise sculpture. Image from the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace website.

We were not serving her remotely adequately with a traditional tour. But with some quick thinking, we improvised and created a lasting, special memory we all treasure. But most importantly, we made history come alive to everyone in that room. We made Juliette Gordon Low a vital, creative, force of nature again in her childhood home. 

More from the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace blog: “‘Many people don’t know that Juliette Low had profound hearing loss throughout her life, making her birthplace the perfect location for Girl Scouts’ new initiative, Access for All, to offer inclusion training for the birthplace staff, Girl Scout troops and their leaders, and other local audiences,’ explained birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez. Perhaps because of this hearing impairment, which worsened in adulthood, Low uniquely understood the value of Girl Scouts for girls with disabilities. As a result, the organization has long been inclusive of girls with disabilities, and it aims to serve all girls equally.

Staircase at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace