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.

Lovina Streight: Portrait Conserved, Story Preserved

 by Meredith McGovern, Arts and Culture Collection Manager

It took a village — or so it seemed — to conserve and display Lovina Streight, an 1880 painting of an Indianapolis woman who fearlessly marched with her husband, Colonel Abel Streight, and his troops during the Civil War, nursed wounded soldiers on battlefields, and whipped a pistol from beneath her skirt to escape the Confederate enemy. After 130 years and multiple transfers from Mrs. Streight’s parlor to the Statehouse to the Indiana State Museum, the brittle canvas had torn in six places. Patches applied to hold the torn edges together bulged and puckered from misalignment; previous efforts to replace flaked paint resulted in pools on the surface. The portrait was not suitable for display.

Thanks to a grant through the Lockerbie Square Chapter of The Questers, an organization dedicated to heritage preservation, the painting was conserved in the fall of 2012 by Michael Ruzga. The patches were replaced, the pools of paint reduced, and layers of dirt removed from the canvas surface. Details that were previously undetectable now popped: the delicate diamonds glittering in Mrs. Streight’s earrings; her cameo ring; the swirling scrollwork in the rug; and the artist’s signature. The portrait was again ready to tell the story of the bold and spirited Lovina Streight.

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In a stroke of serendipity, just a couple weeks after I picked up Lovina Streight from the conservator, the tour coordinator at the Indiana Statehouse asked to borrow the portrait for programming. It took a lot of synchronization, but we were able to display it on the fourth floor of the Capitol with the help of staff from the museum’s exhibition, collections, conservation and new media departments; a driver from the Indiana Commission on Public Records who transported the painting; and a crew from the Indiana Department of Administration Facilities Management who helped hoist the 8-foot, 80-pound portrait high into the air and secure it to the wall. Many thanks to all involved, particularly The Questers for helping make this project possible! Watch this video to learn more about Lovina Streight and the conservation project.

Visit the Indiana Statehouse to see the newly-conserved portrait on display until August 2013.

Flappers, flyboys, pickles and Abe Lincoln

by Erin Anderson, Gallery & Programming Specialist

When I was about 10 years old I fell in love. Much to my parents’ (mostly Dad’s) relief, I was in love with history and not a boy. I was the only girl in my grade who was fascinated with the people and things that came before me, especially all things Civil War-related. I read history books and obsessed over the movie, Gettysburg. (I almost have it memorized word for word.) But I never really got the chance to experience history hands-on. I was a total history geek … who am I kidding? I still am! I’m excited to announce that those children who are a little interested in history or who are total history geeks like me can spend a week at the Indiana State Museum getting to experience history hands-on at History Alive Camp! Woot!

This year’s camp will have the old favorites, like a visit from Abe Lincoln, going on a museum treasure hunt, making WWII-era refrigerator pickles and hanging out with some Civil War soldiers. Don’t worry; we’re not digging up the dead! They’re re-enactors! There will be some new activities, too.

The Madam Walker Theatre on Indiana Ave.

Flappers, flyboys, jalopies and all that jazz will arrive in style as we learn about the Roaring ‘20s in Indiana! There was a lot going on here in the heartland during the 1920s. For example, did you know that the infamous mobster, Al Capone, was involved in a shoot-out at a speakeasy in McCordsville or that he owned a gun-shaped house in Long Beach, Indiana? Did you know that Indiana Avenue was home to many famous theaters and dance clubs and would become a hub for jazz music and African-American culture? How about Indiana allowing women the right to vote in some elections as early as 1881, 39 years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1920? There’s much more that happened, but I can’t tell you everything now! I have a deal for you though. If you want to know all this cool stuff and your kiddos are into history, sign them up for History Alive Camp. Then, they can tell you all about it!  This year’s History Alive Camp will be the bee’s knees!

Calling all Hoosiers!

In 1861, in the wake of the start of the War Between the States, Abraham Lincoln called the nation to action to quickly raise an army and Indiana answered. Men of all backgrounds stepped forward to preserve the Union, many whom had no military training of any kind. These men had to leave their homes, families and lives behind to train and become a part of a larger cause, one that brought our country back together, but not without sacrifice.

2011 is the first of four years the country will celebrate the sesquicentennial (that’s 150 years) of the Civil War. Battle recreations and other events are happening all over the United States to honor this period in American History. Indianapolis itself has a piece of Civil War history and is a place that thousands visit every year. Ever wonder how Military Park received its name? This patch of urban landscape, then known as Camp Sullivan, was used to train and stage, or muster, troops during the Civil War.

To honor Indiana’s, as well as Military Park’s, role in the war, the Indiana State Museum is hosting Muster in the Park on Saturday, Aug. 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Get a taste of what it was like for both the men and women who sacrificed their livelihood for the greater cause of preserving the Union. Meet soldier re-enactors on the museum’s front lawn as they demonstrate the drills that turned everyday men into war-ready soldiers. Don’t miss a chance to get into the thick of the action by joining the ranks to see if you have what it takes to train as a Civil War soldier. See how medical practices created during the Civil War have influenced modern medical procedures. See how women adjusted to life without their husbands, fathers and brothers. Hands-on activities will help children experience 1860s life for children of the same age. And don’t miss Abraham Lincoln and other historical characters as they all give their perspective on the war itself.

Come prepared to watch the Civil War come alive!

Of restaurants and museum artifacts

A theory about people and taste led me to see if I could find a connection between the kinds of activities or artifacts people enjoy at the museum and their favorite foods. After a bit of investigation, I don’t know that my theory necessarily holds any water, but I still think it’s fun to note their favorites and pass along a few Indiana State Museum staff picks.

  Gail Brown: Manager, Science Content Delivery
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Monon, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The atlatl in the Native American Gallery
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Native American Dance Circle
~ Favorite restaurant: Bruno’s Pizza, West Lafayette
  Joanna Hahn: Manager of Arts and Culture Programs
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Madison County, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: Kiddish Cup in Hoosier Way Gallery
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Fall when we are the busiest with programs and there are a lot of fun things to do.
~ Favorite restaurant: Right now my favorite restaurant is Iozzo’s Italian on South Meridian.
~ Favorite homemade food: macaroni and cheese
  Michele Greenan: Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: Native American Gallery and the beautifully incised archaic bone pins
~ My favorite time at the museum is late at night working in the clean lab against the lights of the canal.
~ My favorite restaurant in Indy is any Starbucks!
  Eric Todd: Science and Technology Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Graduated from Butler University in 2006
~ Favorite artifact: Bobby Plump’s Milan High School basketball jacket
~ Favorite program: Summer Camps
~ Favorite local restaurant: Yats
  Carrie M. Miller: Science & Technology Program Developer
~ Indiana connection: Born in Rush county, Ind.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The natural history galleries including the R.B. Annis Naturalist’s Lab
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: GeoFest
~ Favorite restaurant or favorite homemade food: Pretty much anything prepared by my mom.
  Katherine Gould: Associate Curator of Cultural History
~ Indiana connection: Moved here to attend graduate school. Got a job and stayed.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: 1970s popular culture wall in Global Indiana (bongs and bell bottoms!)
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: I’m a sucker for anything Christmas.
~ Favorite restaurant: Any Thai or Indian restaurant is my favorite. Spicy, spicy, spicy!
  Rachel Perry: Fine Arts Curator
~ Indiana connection: Raised in Bloomington, attended University High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: NiSource Gallery (where most of our art exhibitions are displayed), of course! Favorite painting is “Dairy Barn” by Robert Selby
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: Great Outdoor Contest at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site
~ Favorite restaurant: College Avenue Yats
  Katy Creagh: Museum Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Graduated from high school in Munster and went to Ball State University
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The Bride & Groom fleas in Odd Indiana
~ Favorite event at the museum / time of year: The Indiana Art Fair and Arbor Day
~ Favorite restaurant: Cafe Patachou
  Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker: Curator of Social History
~ Indiana connection: I was born on a farm west of Greenwood in Johnson County.
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: A pair of dolls given by a Civil War soldier to his daughters before he went off to camp, where he died a month later.
~ Favorite event at the museum: The Indiana Art Fair in February is always a wonderful blast of color and beauty in a cold, gloomy time of year.
~ Favorite restaurant: El Sol de Tala on East Washington Street serves the best Mexican food in Indiana!
  Kerry Baugh: Arts & Culture Program Developer
~ Indiana connection: Born and raised in Terre Haute, Ind. (Vigo County)
~ Favorite artifact or gallery: The entire Odd Indiana exhibit, limestone quarry and the handwritten John Mellencamp lyrics for “Jack & Diane”
~ Favorite event at the museum: Hard to choose, but Family New Year’s Eve is one great party!
~ Favorite restaurant: Market Bella Rosa in Terre Haute; Taste Café and the Donut Shop in Indy.
~ Favorite homemade food: Depends on the season, but right now – chili.
  Christa Petra Barleben: Arts and Culture Program Specialist
~ Indiana connection: Fort Wayne is my hometown
~ Favorite Artifact: Julia Graydon Sharpe’s Silk Ball Gown in the Crossroads of America Gallery.
~ Favorite Event: Pinewood Derby
~ Favorite Restaurant: Creation Café

We’d love to hear about your favorite event or exhibit at the museum. Comment below and let us know some of your Indiana favorites.



Bringing Civil War History to Life in the 21st Century

Spring is slowly budding around the city and basketball fever is in the air. Many who choose to enjoy downtown Indianapolis during this time of year are pleasantly surprised to come upon a program that takes place annually at the Indiana State Museum on the last Saturday in March.

For the fifth year, the museum is hosting the 1st Irish Infantry of the 35th Indiana Volunteers, a local Civil War re-enactors group.  This is always one of my favorite programs to work as visitors to the museum have a chance to interact with re-enactors who portray both soldiers and civilians from the Civil War-era. Inside the museum, visitors learn about all sorts of aspects of daily life for soldiers as well as how Irish immigrants answered the call of duty along with native-born Americans. Ladies walk around the museum in their mid-19th century clothing and discuss how the war affected daily life on the home front. Everyone seems to enjoy the outdoor portion the best as the re-enactors use the museum’s front lawn to demonstrate drills and then allow visitors to participate in a mock skirmish.

Don’t miss this chance to interact with history! The 5th Annual Civil War Spring Drill is Saturday, March 27 from noon to 3:30 p.m. And while you are here, don’t miss a chance to visit the two Abraham Lincoln exhibitions currently showing at the museum.

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The floodgates are open!

Written by Dale Ogden, chief curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum

Holy cow! It looks like we may have pulled this thing off! I mean, staff at the Indiana State Museum are gratified and encouraged by the public’s reaction to the unveiling of the recently opened Lincoln exhibitions.

Curator and blogger Dale Ogden, Abraham Lincoln and Dale Martin of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Governor Daniels and company helped cut the ribbon for about 200 VIPs on Feb. 12. Two days later we had nearly 600 at the big For the Love of Lincoln Gala, and according the society pages of the local newspaper, the soirée was a smashing success. My tux’s burgundy vest was a very nice touch, thank you very much.

The crowds started coming the first day we opened to the public, and it appears they may have peaked this weekend. I understand we had over 1,300 visitors on Saturday, and guest services tells me that yesterday (Sunday) has been even busier. Members Only and extended public hours had dozens of patrons in the galleries until 8 p.m. for several days last week.

None of that would account for anything if the experience wasn’t top of the line. I’m hearing that the show is everything people were hoping for. Abe’s poem about Indiana, the contents of his pockets the night of his assassination and the Bible upon which both he and President Obama took their oaths are particular crowd favorites in the Library of Congress exhibit. For Civil War buffs, Lincoln’s correspondence with McClellan, Hooker, Burnside and several of his other generals is especially compelling.

In our Lincoln Financial Foundation portion of the project, visitors are drawn to the family photos owned by four generations of the family. Of course, signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment are evoking powerful reactions. It’s also great fun to see kids watching video of their peers discussing Mr. Lincoln.

The piece the History Channel put together is a personal favorite. Watching Marian Anderson sing and Dr. King speak from the steps of the Memorial is moving, and it’s entertaining to watch Republicans and Democrats — left and right — all claim the Lincoln mantle. Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck both make great Lincolns, but I get the biggest kick out of Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We always felt there would be something for everyone in this exhibition. There is.

Come see us! I guarantee you’ll be kicking yourself for a long time if you don’t.

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection was given to the State of Indiana in December 2008 by the Lincoln Financial Foundation. The Indiana State Museum is home to the historic objects and art while most of the books, documents and photographs reside at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.

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