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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.
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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
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Holiday Gifts for Good

I was inspired by The Accidental Preservationist’s Holiday Guide to Gifts that Give Back – Supporting Historic Preservation in Charleston, SC. I absolutely love gifts that give back. The older I get, the less “stuff” I want, and I’m also trying to pass non-materialistic values onto my four-year-old. So here’s a mix of preservation and history gifts that support good causes while being pretty awesome gifts (because everyone wants a little something). 

My favorite gifts are books, both to give and receive. I’m the uncool mom who always gifts books.  My son is getting four books for his birthday today (Happy Birthday sweetie!). I bought two of these books through a Scholastic program at his school, where every order gets free books for the school. I also bought for his friend’s upcoming birthday and Christmas. 

For the adults, Savannah Square by Square is a beautiful coffee table book authored by Michael Jordan and Mick McCay with photography and art by Les Wilkes, Phil Hodgkins, and Constance McCay. Original art work from the book is currently on display and prints are available for purchase. See the image below for details. (Full disclosure, Michael is a friend. Also check out his Hidden History of Civil War Savannah and excellent and surprisingly funny read). 

I know, Amazon is easy, but I encourage you to look into local Museum Shops. Again, these shops are the best places to find a selection of local books. Davenport House and Wormsloe Historic Site immediately spring to mind for great books selections. Museum Shops often have great presents for all price levels and people, and you don’t have to pay admission to browse. Have a Girl Scout in your life? Look at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Military member of the family? How about the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force? Perhaps you have an Uncle Gary who is a twenty year veteran of the Mighty Eighth. No? Just me then. The Mighty Eighth even has an online shop

Dr. Pressly’s extensive history on Savannah’s economy and Caribbean connections. Below is Helen Rountree’s “Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough” that I bought at Jamestown during a 2007 trip.

“I like my history Black, hold the sugar”. Joseph McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project more than educates people, it transforms lives by allowing for real conversations about history and slavery. Support this amazing cause with this cheeky t-shirt

Membership to a museum or historic site also makes a great gift. My son’s grandparents are renewing his membership to Oatland Island Wildlife Center, because he loves walking the trails with his little friends. And picking up lots of sticks along the way. Here is a partial list of the museums in the greater Savannah area. Most offer membership at various levels, and you can always add an extra donation! Historic Savannah Foundation is a venerable preservation organization with cool membership benefits (admission to the Davenport House, an invite to the gala!). Another good option is the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. (See my post about how supporting farmers benefits preservation.) Being a Friend of the Market gets you a Vendor of the Week discount, the newsletter, and Invitations to Farm Tours. Joining at the family level also gets you a colorful market tote bag, which people want to buy but it’s only available to Friends, and the Market-to-Table Recipe book with contributions by market friends and famers. (Full disclosure, I am on the Board of the Forsyth Farmers’ Market). 

Please consider buying local and supporting preservation and archaeology. I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season. 

PS If you want to get me something, write letters to your city and county  officials and tell them you support archaeology. Demand an archaeology ordinance and a city/county archaeologist! 

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Picnics in Cemeteries: Backyard History

Atlas Obscura recently re-posted an article, Remembering When Americans Picnicked in Cemeteries. Author Jonathan Kendall wrote, “Since many municipalities still lacked proper recreational areas, many people had full-blown picnics in their local cemeteries… One of the reasons why eating in cemeteries become a “fad,” as some reporters called it, was that epidemics were raging across the country: Yellow fever and cholera flourished, children passed away before turning 10, women died during childbirth. Death was a constant visitor for many families, and in cemeteries, people could “talk” and break bread with family and friends, both living and deceased.”

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Colonial Park cemetery mausoleum

Picnics in cemeteries are not news to archaeologists. Excavations in cemeteries often turn up soda bottles, alcohol bottles, toys, and bullets. Yes, bullets. In 1999, Chicora Foundation archaeologists mapped Colonial Park cemetery with a penetrometer survey (a penetrometer measures soil compaction). Their main goal was to map unmarked graves (an astonishing 8,678 unmarked graves were found in addition to the 560 marked graves). They also conducted a small excavation and found many late-1800s artifacts from citizens enjoying the park including lamp parts, soda and alcohol glass bottle fragments, toys, pipes, and shell casings and bullets. Few clothing artifacts or elaborate coffin hardware was found, so the burials were probably simple, shrouds and simple wood coffins.

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Sheftall Cemetery

Two eighteenth century Jewish Cemeteries sit behind Esther Garrison Elementary School on Jones Street. The Levi Sheftall Cemetery was the subject of archaeological investigation in 1990. No graves were excavated, but accumulated soil around the headstones was excavated, and the cemetery was mapped. Lots of children’s marbles were found as well as bullets, ranging in size from 18th century lead musket balls to a modern .45 caliber automatic.

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Gravestone in Colonial Park Cemetery

The cemetery picnicking trend ended around the 1920s, as more public parks were established and the death rate dropped, leading to less need for cemetery visitation. Kendall concludes, “Today, more than 100 years since Americans debated the trend, you’d be hard-pressed to find many cemeteries—especially those in big cities—with policies or available land that allow for picnics. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, for example, has a no picnic rule.”