The value of relics

by Dale Ogden, Senior Curator of Cultural History

According to a note penned on this splinter, the fragment is purported to be “From the table used to examine Booth’s body.” After Booth was killed, an autopsy was conducted on a rough carpenter’s bench aboard the federal monitor Montauk.

According to a note penned on this splinter, the fragment is purported to be “From the table used to examine Booth’s body.” After Booth was killed, an autopsy was conducted on a rough carpenter’s bench aboard the federal monitor Montauk.

Attempting to touch the life of a great person by obtaining a personal souvenir has been a human compulsion since medieval hucksters scammed the faithful by supplying countless splinters from what they claimed to be the “True Cross” of Jesus. When these entrepreneurs ran out of sacred relics they simply cut down a sapling and made more. It’s not surprising that such an industry developed around the martyred President Lincoln almost immediately upon his assassination. Chips of wood from the house in which he died, remnants of sheets from the deathbed, flakes of stone from Ford’s Theatre, and scraps of clothing from those in attendance were among the artifacts prized for their intimate connection to the great and terrible event.

Even the most minute remnants of artifacts related to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination have become treasured relics. These few strands, glued to a note card, are ostensibly from the rope used to hang one of the conspirators, David Herold.

Even the most minute remnants of artifacts related to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination have become treasured relics. These few strands, glued to a note card, are ostensibly from the rope used to hang one of the conspirators, David Herold.

That some of these relics are authentic, while others were manufactured for financial gain, has had little relevance to their place in the American imagination for nearly 150 years. At some point, whether a specific relic is authentic or not becomes almost beside the point. Of course, a key task of a museum is to separate the real from the fake. Museums are repositories of genuine artifacts and the true stories they tell. That a minuscule or obscure object may be said to represent a great event can become a sidebar in its own right, however. The need for emotional healing can facilitate the financial schemes of petty hucksters.

For many years, this swatch of fabric, which is preserved in the LFFC, was purported to be from the dress of actress Laura Keene, the female lead in “Our American Cousin” the night of Lincoln’s murder. According to legend, Keene rushed to the Presidential Box to comfort the stricken leader, cradling his bloody head in her lap. Whether or not this story is accurate, recent examination suggests this fragment dates to the 1890s, three decades after the murder, and 20-some years after Keene’s death. At one time or another, most historical organizations east of the Mississippi River have claimed to possess a “fragment of Laura Keene’s dress.”

For many years, this swatch of fabric, which is preserved in the LFFC, was purported to be from the dress of actress Laura Keene, the female lead in “Our American Cousin” the night of Lincoln’s murder. According to legend, Keene rushed to the Presidential Box to comfort the stricken leader, cradling his bloody head in her lap. Whether or not this story is accurate, recent examination suggests this fragment dates to the 1890s, three decades after the murder, and 20-some years after Keene’s death. At one time or another, most historical organizations east of the Mississippi River have claimed to possess a “fragment of Laura Keene’s dress.”

By the spring of 1865, more than 1,000,000 Americans had become casualties of the Civil War. A comparable loss today would equate to more than 200 times the American casualties suffered in the war in Iraq. Much of the country lay in ruins, with untold numbers of farms, roads, trains, bridges and businesses destroyed. Political systems from national to community levels were in chaos. Despite the end of hostilities, the future of the country remained in doubt. The American psyche was in great need of reassurance. Attributing such inconceivable loss to a sacred cause led by an almost divine figure was an understandable first step in a national healing that remains incomplete to this day.

The Indiana State Museum’s Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection (LFFC) contains several relics associated with the murder of the nation’s 16th president. Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Lincoln Life Insurance Company began assembling this collection in 1915, and the museum acquired the accumulated treasure in 2009.

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Students’ artwork hits a high note

by Meredith McGovern, Arts and Culture Collection Manager

What do you get when you cross a lone fishing boat, a team of galloping horses, a twirling ballerina and two giraffes with plumed Venetian masks? Symphony in Color at the Indiana State Museum!

Here’s how the annual art contest — administered by volunteers from the Junior Group of the Women’s Committee of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra — works: Indiana students in grades one through six listen to classical music performed by the ISO and create artwork to interpret what they hear. The young artists use a variety of material and techniques — acrylic, watercolor, paper, glitter, collage and batik, to name a few — to represent crashing symbols, surging chords, lilting flutes, high-pitched strings and lively horns. From the thousands of pieces of art submitted, 100 finalists and 10 honorable mentions are selected for exhibition at the museum.

Through May 5, you are invited to stroll the gallery — watch and listen as the students’ creations leap off the page!

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Dialogue Blog: Camp Favorites

by Katy Creagh, School Programs Developer, and Eric Todd, Gallery Programming Manager

041113_katy_ericKATY: Eric, I am so excited! My job has changed and I am now the Indiana State Museum Summer Camp Director. Now, I know you have a special place in your heart for Summer Camps, so I thought it might be fun to discuss our Top 5 favorite things about camp.

ERIC: If there are two things I love, they are camp and lists. So sure, I’ll play along. 

KATY: Great, I’ll go first.  At number five, I have recess. You get to spend time outside playing games and enjoying the summer weather. It has all the perks of recess when you were in elementary school.

ERIC: You may have just stolen one of mine, but that is fine. My fifth favorite thing about summer camp is the free camp t-shirt. Every time I get one, that’s one more day before I have to do laundry.

KATY: Are you sure it’s just one more day? For number four, I went with looking for fossils. That includes microfossils in Diggin’ Indiana and Exploring Nature Camps and then sifting dirt in Paleontology II. It’s something I’ve never experienced before coming to the museum, and it’s fun to think that I’m doing the same work that REAL scientists and paleontologists do.

ERIC: That is cool, I agree. My number four is making things. You might call them crafts, but it’s really more than that. By summer’s end my desk is always filled with awesome new decorations that also serve as reminders of the fun I had.

KATY: Perfect transition, my number three is also crafty—weaving. You get to try weaving in two different camps (Indiana Artists and History Alive!) and make my favorite, “mug rugs.”

ERIC: I would normally give you a hard time about “mug rugs,” but I do have one at my desk that I use daily. My number three choice is a repeat of one of yours, but you’ll notice I placed it a bit higher on my list. Recess, lunch break and snack time. I have so much fun in those moments! I loved recess as a kid, but now I really appreciate it. And, if my boss is reading this, Susan — what are your thoughts on instituting museum recess?

KATY: I’d vote “yes” for that one. Alright, now we’re getting down to the big ones. At number two on my list, I have all things crafting. See how high it is on my list compared to yours? From the end of the week presentations to making a mosaic in Diggin’ Indiana camp … I love all the projects and crafts we get to make.  

ERIC: I am shocked that is not your number one, frankly, especially with the new Indiana Fashion Runway Camp which I imagine will let you craft around the clock. My number two is behind-the-scenes tours. As you know, even as museum employees we don’t have access to everything in the museum, but during camp, we get to go places and see things that most visitors — and staff — never see.

KATY: Nice choice. But now the big one. My number one favorite thing about summer camp at the Indiana State Museum is … the campers! Spending time with old friends and making new ones — I get to play games and learn new things about Indiana and don’t have to sit at my desk all day … I get to hang out with cool people all day which is way better.

ERIC: Great minds think alike — my number one choice is also the people. I always meet the coolest people in summer camp. From wildlife experts (with their animals) to Abraham Lincoln himself, you never know who you’ll see stopping by an Indiana State Museum camp. Oh, and the campers and counselors are pretty cool, too!

Wherein the new Limberlost Visitor Center is chronicled in vintage style.

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site
(written in the style of newspaper articles of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Geneva years)

To the gratification of all Genevaites and other local citizens of the surrounding environs who have been faithful observers to its construction while eagerly awaiting its completion, Geneva’s delightful new attraction, the Limberlost Visitor Center, is now open. This beautiful 4,000 square foot building is clad with Alaskan cedar, but not in the usual lap-siding pattern of which we all are so well acquainted. Instead, these quite attractive boards are arranged in a West Coast style known as “rain screen.” A gap between and behind each board permits them to dry in a most efficient manner after each rainfall and therefore impart to them a longer life. The Limberlost State Historic Site is the first location in the fine state of Indiana to have a structure with this particular type of rain screen design. The rustic golden Alaskan cedar marvelously compliments the red cedar logs covering the Limberlost Cabin where local author and celebrity Mrs. Gene Stratton-Porter and her husband, Mr. Charles Porter, himself a local businessman and citizen of note, resided so many years ago.

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The interior of this building contains three noteworthy areas. Visitors enter the central area through a wonderful glass foyer where handicap-accessible restrooms and drinking fountains await. Beyond the foyer lies a grand and open room with a splendid cathedral-style ceiling. Within is housed the Friends of the Limberlost gift retail establishment and several enlightening exhibitions about Mrs. Porter, her career, her family and her beloved Limberlost. To the rear of this lovely hall, a small bird-viewing room is discreetly placed for the pleasure of the ornithologically-minded.

The western end of the Center houses a fine storeroom, office facilities for the illustrious Historic Site staff, and a classroom/multi-purpose room appointed with audio-visual equipment of the most updated capabilities. This pleasant classroom can be cleverly arranged with chairs and tables for programs, presentations, meetings and gatherings of all manner and purpose. The eastern end contains an office for the sturdy and dedicated Nature Preserves staff, a kitchenette, a room housing furnaces and other devices of mechanical nature, plus another, albeit smaller, multi-purpose room.

Limberlost staff undertook the arduous but satisfying move into the new building in mid-January and threw open its doors to the public by the end of the month. A dedication and grand opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at 11 a.m. This festivity will truly be a community-wide celebration as our new attraction will not only welcome visitors to the Historic Site but also to the area at large. A bodacious brochure rack in the grand hall abounds with information about Geneva, Berne, Adams and Jay counties, and the Hoosier State as a recreational and tourist destination.

The Visitor Center is the latest step in the most worthy effort to restore and promote the Land of the Limberlost. Mrs. Porter’s writings made the Limberlost famous around the world. The heyday of her immense popularity and the magnificence of the mighty swamp are gone now, but the Limberlost Cabin remains, her books are still read and admired, and the Limberlost Nature Preserves still provide access to the wonders of nature she so enjoyed. The Limberlost Visitor Center is the gateway into her world and is quite deserving of a visit. So govern yourself accordingly.