The Wabash Washboard

by Ange Albsmeyer, Indiana State Museum volunteer

I have been a volunteer in the Indiana State Museum conservation lab for about eight months. My job is to do some of the more basic tasks around the lab to help free up conservator Gaby Kienitz to work her magic in repairing, cleaning and restoring museum artifacts. I have vacuumed dust off of the sport coat Ernie Pyle wore to a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt. I have photographed a 19th century floor sample coffin, cleaned stage props used by an acting troupe from the late 1800, and helped repair an 1830s quilt. And I’ve had fun doing all of it — and learned a lot about Indiana history along the way.

But my favorite project to date has been the restoration of the Wabash Washboard — a handmade, one-of-a-kind musical instrument used by Paul “Hezzie” Trietsch of the 1940s novelty band the Hoosier Hot Shots. The instrument will be featured in the upcoming Odd Indiana exhibit that opens on Sept. 4.

Hezzie’s washboard is more than just a rhythm instrument — he could play fairly complicated melodies with the attached horns and cowbells. If you watch the video “She Broke My Heart in Three Places,” at the end of the number you can see how skillful a musician Hezzie was on his Wabash Washboard.

From years in storage after hard use on stage and in the studio, some of the rubber bulbs on the horns were missing or needed replacement. The original duct tape holding the bulbs in place was slowly peeled off and preserved — parts of which may be returned to the instrument because it would look more authentic than using all new tape. The replacement orange bulbs looked too shiny and new next to the originals, so umber coloring was used to “age” them to blend in with the original horn bulbs.

I like to think that Hezzie would be pleased (and maybe a little amused) at all the work that has been put into bring his Wabash Washboard back to life. Oh, and though the instrument will never again be used on stage, the new bulbs have been tested and sound as good as new, too!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Becoming Clifford

Clifford at the Indiana State Museum during Celebration Crossing.

Clifford at the Indiana State Museum during Celebration Crossing.

As part of the museum’s 2008 Celebration Crossing exhibit, I was in costume four times roaming the halls as Clifford. Hidden inside a suit where you are completely anonymous, the kid in me was set loose—maybe it was all that adoration coming my way.

At the first sighting for most kids, there was instant recognition and shouts of “Look Mom, it’s Clifford!” Many immediately came running for a hug. Sometimes it was a group-hug of four, five or more and cries of “Take a picture.” Some were shy, but gazed adoringly from a distance. Parents often urged closer contact with talk of watching Clifford on TV and “now he’s right here!” Most could be coaxed closer with the offer of “high-fives” and non-aggressive doggie behavior like happy clapping of paws when a timid one made first touch. If a small child buried his head in Clifford’s chest, the parents cooed with “Oh, that’s so sweet.”

School-age children were the most vocal. Some said, “I have all your books” or “I love you Clifford!” Others caught a glimpse of hairy arm or peered into the big eye peep holes loudly announcing, “I see a face in there.” But many more gleefully ran on yelling, “I got a hug from Clifford.” A frequent question was “Where’s Emily?” to which Clifford could only shrug with upturned paws.

Teen responses ranged from cool aloofness to challenges like “My dog’s bigger than your dog!” A boy playfully invited me outside to settle the score. Girls more often would feign a swoon into Clifford’s arms with “I loved you Clifford.” The grown-up, too cool teens were a challenge to Clifford and his prowess as suitor. If no small ones were present and seeking his attention, he would pursue the cool ones, male or female, tap them on the shoulder and insist on a high-five usually leading to success and even a hug to everyone’s laughter.

Most adult reactions were in response to the children and Clifford, but a few were startling comments directed at his doggishness. Not surprisingly, the most frequent were about fire plugs and directions to the one nearest. One woman spoke of dog breath and another made an indecent proposal of meeting her later!

But the most fun for Clifford were the infants, those old enough to fix a gaze, but not yet speaking. They generally were not frightened. They just watched in fascination often with a puzzled expression. Playing peek-a-boo or blowing kisses would usually bring a smile to the delight of parents and the satisfaction of Clifford. Those were the times the sweat-soaked guy inside the scratchy suit forgot his creature discomforts and reveled in the moment.

Donovan Miller is a volunteer at the Indiana State Museum.