Witch’s Brew

by Gaby Kienitz, Head Conservator

Conservators have all the trappings of a magical enterprise — a stock of arcane ingredients, “potions” that we mix up ourselves, tongue twisting phrases that we use and transformative powers on objects. Don’t believe me? Well, I might not have eye of newt or puppy dog tails, but I sometimes clean an object with my own spit; I’ve used things like fish skin glue and lamb intestine for repairs; and I regularly use an ethyl methacrylate methyl acrylate copolymer.

A cast iron tea pot before (above) and after (below) Gaby works her magic.

In order for the “magic” (a.k.a. work) to happen, a conservation lab needs lots and lots of ingredients and tools. There is such a huge variety of objects that come through the lab with such a range of problems, that a certain treatment might be performed only occasionally and thus only a small amount of a certain supply is needed. Sourcing just a little of these supplies can be a challenge. Imagine my dismay when I was missing a few milliliters of one crucial ingredient for the solution needed to treat a collection of cast iron cookware and fire dogs from Corydon Capitol State Historic Site that had been damaged by water leaking from a chimney. My magic wand was broken!

The ingredient I needed — phosphoric acid — is so common that I couldn’t imagine not finding it sold locally. It’s what gives some colas the “bright” taste, it’s a homeopathic medicine, brewers and hydroponic gardeners use it to lower the pH of their mash and water respectively, it can be used as a flux for soldering metals, and it’s used as a rust and hard water scale remover. Everyone I called either didn’t have it or didn’t have it in the pure form that I needed. It was hard to fathom that I would need to have it shipped from elsewhere, like a rare and precious commodity.

Fire dogs before (above) and after (below) conservation.

Just as I was about to give up, Tuxedo Park Brewers Supply came to the rescue with what I needed. I’m used to buying supplies from some interesting places, but theirs is at the top of my list. Their shop exterior is a brightly painted scene of orange and yellow wheat fields with a bright blue sky that you can only find by going down an otherwise drab, nondescript alley in Fountain Square. Yes, that’s right, their storefront is the alley.

This was a simple potion that I mixed for the treatment of the corroded cast iron, just some tannic acid and phosphoric acid. Tannic acid is a product that has been used since ancient times for making inks, in fabric dyeing and leather processing; it occurs naturally in tree galls, the bark of some trees and in tea leaves. It sounds scary, but it comes in the form of a fluffy, tan colored powder. Luckily, I had a whole bottle of tannic acid powder and once I mixed that with some de-ionized water, added a few drops of the phosphoric acid and heated it up, it was ready to be applied onto the surface with hog hair brushes. Through the magic of chemistry, the rust is converted to a stable, black colored corrosion layer. You can see for yourself what a few ingredients can do to change the appearance of some frightening looking objects. If you want to see them in person, you’ll have to visit Corydon Capitol State Historic Site.

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Things that go bump in the night!

by Mike Linderman, Angel Mounds Site Manager

Last Friday night we hosted our first paranormal investigation of the Angel Mounds State Historic Site Interpretive Center, thanks to the Paranormal Investigators of Henderson Kentucky (PIHK), who led the “hunt.” For years, the staff at Angel Mounds have encountered all sorts of strange things in the building, from knocks on doors, weird human-like sounds from deep within the exhibit space and the occasional shadow that moves, even though the people in the room are not moving.

The investigation started about 11 that night and went on until 4 a.m. the next morning. Tickets were sold so that the general public could experience what goes bump in the night in the building. About two hours into the investigation, the three “hunters” working upstairs came running down with audio evidence of the sound of finger snapping and one of the largest bangs we have ever heard in the building, even though the rest of us in the building did not hear it. We usually chock these sounds up to the building popping and cracking as it cools or heats up through the day. Both of these sounds that night were foreign to the staff. Listen to one of the whines heard in the building — it comes in at about the four-second mark.

In the past, the staff has set up audio and video recording devices in the building and have picked up the sounds of boxes being moved on desks, high pitched whines and the most impressive piece — a video of a shadow passing in front of the camera with enough translucence that you can see the furniture behind the shadow. These all occurred when no one was in the building.

Many people ask us about the village site and whether or not it is haunted. We like to think of the village site and the mounds as a peaceful place, and no one has ever been afraid to be out there, even after dark. Our modern Interpretive Center is another story. Maybe you too can join our ghost hunt next October!

Time on their hands …

There are only 12 steam clocks in the world, and the Indiana State Museumis lucky enough to have one of them. No one else had even imagined a clock powered by steam before Raymond Saunders of Vancouver, British Columbia, had the idea to build one in 1977 for the Gastown area of Vancouver. That one was built to cover a central heat steam vent in the sidewalk. Saunders since went on to build six more, including ours.

The 17-foot tall Indiana State Museum steam clock is located on the sidewalk on the canal side of the museum. It has four 24-inch diameter dials, back-lit by neon. The clock’s eight brass whistles play a few bars of “Back Home Again in Indiana” every 15 minutes, with a fuller rendition played at the top of every hour.

However, the clock has been out of order this summer and needed to be repaired. Turns out it was somewhat of a plumbing issue, with leaky pipes to the eight solenoids that feed into the eight whistles playing “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

So for now, the HVAC people are fixing the leaks. But eventually Mr. Saunders may need to travel from Vancouver to tune the whistles … stay tuned! Yes, pun intended.