Monday, May 28, 2012

Adventures of an Intern, Part Two

By Alyssa Hickey, Collections Intern and Elmira College student

My next mission had to deal with the priority boxes. Priority boxes are the boxes we grab in case there is a fire. They have nice bright pink labels on them and they are near the door. I had a list of the items that should have been in the boxes but weren’t. So I went on a quest to find the missing objects and return them to their rightful home. On my journey I had to find a particular vase. There are boxes everywhere in Collections. Everywhere. These boxes are brown, unsuspecting and NOT acidic. I see these boxes all of the time and none of them have ever threatened me….until that day. While searching for the vase I almost died of a heart attack. I innocently walked over to the brown box that the vase was in and lifted the lid. Like in a horror movie I turned slowly to see a World War I gas mask staring straight into my soul. If I was a lesser woman I would have screamed but instead I jumped in the air and yelled, “GAH!” With my heart beating out of my chest and my pride slowly dying on the ground, I managed to calm myself down enough to carefully pick up the gas mask and put it to the side in order to search  for the vase. I hope that someday that mask will scare another unsuspecting intern because after thinking about what happened I can’t help but laugh. Plus, it’s always funnier if it happens to someone else. My only regret is not being there when it happens.

My final project dealt with textiles, the hanging clothing. I never knew how much museums had in their storage rooms. I remember going to museums as a child and seeing a multitude of objects on display and now I know that what I saw was maybe 1/4 of what the museum owns. There are lots and lots of clothing in Collections. All of the hanging clothing needed to be photographed and entered into the database, pretty much the same thing that I did with the paintings. However, the clothing posed a different challenge because black clothing is extremely hard to photograph without it looking ugly. In order to take the photos I grabbed the clothing off the rack and hung it on a golden hook, in front of a blue sheet. Then I recorded the ID number of the article of clothing and removed the plastic covering. After snapping a full length photo of the piece of clothing I wrapped it back up and put it back on the rack. My favorite was a fuchsia dress that came in three parts. The first piece was the silk slip dress, followed by the soft floor length over dress that had a sweetheart neckline and the last piece was a floor length matching jacket that delicately draped from the hanger. It was so elegant and pretty that I wish to have a replica of it someday.

After the process of cataloging the hanging clothing I decided to go one step further.  During the project I kept hearing people wishing that the hanging clothing was in chronological order so they could just go into the back room of Collections and pluck a tuxedo jacket from the 1940’s out of a line-up with ease. This intrigued me. So I asked if I could organize the hanging clothing chronologically and I was happily given permission. Before touching the clothing I made hundreds of charts (or it at least seemed like it) for the hanging clothing. Eventually I organized my data enough that I could finally transport the clothing around.  After switching around the clothing from place to place I catalogued their new locations and now I have to place new labels on them, to indicate where they need to go after being put on display. I’m not done labeling everything but soon my mission will be complete and then I can go home feeling a sense of accomplishment.

These were my adventures at the Chemung County Historical Society.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Adventures of an Intern, Part One

By Alyssa Hickey, Collections Intern and Elmira College student

On my first day of my internship I got to know Velcro. We were setting up for the new Civil War exhibit and the company that created the display panels forgot to put Velcro on the back. The important task fell upon my experienced hands to cut multiple strips of Velcro. I have to admit that it was therapeutic. Over the next few days I helped finish the exhibit. At one point I held a sword and rifle. It was awesome!  Of course, I had to pretend to shoot absolutely nothing because it made the experience complete. I tried my hand at the sword but that was an epic fail so I’ll just stick to firearms from now on. By the way, that rifle was heavy. HEAVY. I feel for those soldiers that had to lug that thing around and then were expected to shoot it constantly in battle, or use the bayonet at the end of it. That would have ended badly for me; and I would have been drafted because the little jar full of Popsicle sticks, red dot for not drafted and black for drafted, always gave me a black dot. Always. Except for the one time I searched for a red dot. I won that round.

After my exhibit fun I got to travel into the secret mysterious room, called Collections. I swear that place is so exciting. All in one room are objects from CENTURIES of humans. Centuries! In one hand I could be holding a tool from the Native Americans that lived in the Chemung area long ago and the other a 1960’s election button for Nixon. However, I did not handle the delicate objects that way. In order to touch the objects in the mysterious Collections Room I had to wear gloves. Wearing gloves prevented the oils on my hands from damaging the historical objects.

My first task in Collections was the back left corner, the paintings. The paintings rest snugly in two shelving units. Please note the word snugly. The paintings were wrapped in cloth or packaging plastic, which means that they take up more space than they should. The wrapping is to protect the paintings but I can tell you right now it was the bane of my existence. Not only were the paintings snugly placed in the shelving but they also had the tendency to fall apart if they were really old, which was always a nice challenge. I had to take out every painting in Collections, photograph it and then write its number and a description.  After the pictures were uploaded onto the computer I would  enter them into the database, along with a description of each piece.  Here’s the cool part: every object you have ever seen in a museum has an ID number hidden somewhere on it. I had to find the ID number of the painting and sometimes there would be multiple numbers on one painting so I had to write them all down, later trying to find the one actually in the database. It was a long process. However, it was fun to see all of the art. There were water, acrylic and oil paintings. There were multiple charcoal renderings, which were my favorite. I can still remember the older lady who wore black clothing with a pink bow. It was gorgeous. There were also photographs that were so long in length that it was hard to get them in and out of their cubby hole. They were mainly photographs of groups of soldiers but it was interesting to see all of their different faces. It made me wonder what happened to all of them. Did they survive the war or did they die? What were their names and where did they go? Alas, I have no idea. Once everything once entered into the database my first mission was complete!

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Bit of Serendipity: The Duane Thompson Story

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Back in July of 2011, the Archives received a large collection of images from the 23rd New York Volunteers, a Civil War unit recruited from across the Southern Tier including Chemung County.  In fact, the Company K of the 23rd was the county’s first Civil War unit and was formed entirely from men who joined at a rally in Elmira in May 1861.  The unit agreed to serve for 2 years, but many surviving members ended up reenlisting in other units once their terms of service were up.  A number of famous locals including Judge Seymour Dexter and Col. Henry Hoffman served in the 23rd. 
A few months after I received the photographs and began to catalog them, I received a letter sent from Duane Thompson, a Civil War soldier in an unspecified regiment, to his father Henry Thompson of Southport. The letter had been transferred to us from another historical society in the Finger Lakes and they wanted to know who Duane Thompson was.  So, I did some digging, found some information on his family and passed that information along. 

Now, here we are a few months after that and I have finally finished cataloging all 75 items in the 23rd New York material and what do I find?  This -

That’s right.  It’s Duane Thompson, the mysterious letter writer.  Turns out he was the 1st Sergeant of Company K of the 23rd New York Volunteers.  Now we can put his letter in context and a face to a name.  Isn’t history awesome?!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gift Shop Special

By Peggy Malorzo, Administrative Assistant

Where can you explore a vast array of publications related to Chemung County history?  At the CCHS Gift Shop!  We are now offering monthly specials! May's specials are -

Our Sense of Place Neighborhoods
 in Chemung County

German Heritage of Chemung Valley

Around the Twin Tiers with Tom Byrne

There are also new items in the Gift Shop.  The newest books are My Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of John Tidd and The 1972 Flood in New York State’s Southern Tier.
Can’t make it the museum?  We are open 24 hours seven days at

Shopping Bag from Izard's Department Store