Monday, December 29, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things

 by Erin Doane, curator

As the year is coming to a close, I’ve been thinking back on the new donations CCHS got throughout the year.  We received 130 donations of objects and archival materials.  That means that over the course of the year we added 237 individual objects and hundreds of paper-based items like photographs, scrapbooks, and documents to our collection.  Each items helps us tell the story of Chemung County.  While all of the objects are wonderful, I do have my favorites.

Three Piece Traveling Dress, c. 1900

Traveling dress, c. 1900

Second bodice for traveling dress
I have always loved historic fashion.  I love the beauty of elaborate dresses and appreciate the skill that went into making them.  I love that clothing was worn by a specific person, often for a specific event.  So much can be learned from a garment and so many stories can be told.  This traveling gown was worn by Helen Innes Mills around 1900.  It is made of black velvet with satin trim and has two different bodices that can be worn with the skirt.  Inside one bodice is a tag that reads The G. E. Weaver Co. Elmira, N.Y.  In addition to this gorgeous dress, we also have a picture of Helen.  It is wonderful when we can actually see the person who wore the historic clothing.
Photograph of Helen Innes Mills
Police Items from Both Ends of the 20th Century

Items from the Gradwell collection
This year we received two donation, quite coincidentally, related to the Elmira Police Department.  One donation was of items from the early 1900s that were owned by Detective Sergeant Charles Gradwell. Sergeant Gradwell and Police Chief John J. Finnell were murdered March 27, 1915 at a boarding house on Baldwin Street, Elmira. CCHS was given items such as his Colt revolver, handcuffs, and night stick, as well as his patrol diaries.

Items from the Holmes collection
We also received a second donation of police items from retired officer David Holmes who served with the Elmira Police Department from 1980 through 2014.  His donation included items such as badges, cartridge slides, a hat, and patch from the late 20th century.  It is very interesting to look at the two collections of items and see how police equipment changed over 100 years.  These two donations, together with other items already in the collection, help tell a more complete history of the Elmira Police Department.
Ku Klux Klan Sword

KKK sword with inset detail photo of handle
I am almost hesitant to label this sword as one of my favorite donations because of the hatred and violence that it represents.  I have included it on this list because I feel very strongly that we must make an effort to remember the darkest, most difficult parts of our history.  It is easy to remember just the “good old days” and gloss over what makes us uncomfortable.  Our archivist Rachel Dworkin wrote a great blog post a while ago on the history of the Klan in Chemung County.  It’s definitely worth a read.

Undergarments from the 1950s and 1960s

Assorted “modern” undergarments
Did I mention that I love historic clothing?  Undergarments are a particular favorite of mine.  I was thrilled to receive this donation because CCHS does not have many undergarments from the mid to late 20th century.  Maybe people do not consider things from that period as museum-worthy (how can something they wore be in a history museum when they are still so young?) or perhaps there is some level of embarrassment in donating your underwear for research and possible display.  Either way, I hope that more people choose to donate all types of objects from the 1950s and 1960s and onward so we can strengthen that portion of our collection.

Blue Star Service Banner from WWII

Albert Oberg’s service banner
During WWII, Albert E. Oberg served in the U.S. Navy.  He was aboard the USS Jacob Jones on February 28, 1942 when the ship was hit by two torpedoes from an enemy U-boat.  While 30 survivors were able to abandon the ship before it sank, strong winds and rising seas kept rescuers from quickly reaching the rafts.  Only 11 men survived.  Albert E. Oberg was one of those men.  In 2009, at the age of 91, he finally received a Purple Heart medal for wounds he had suffered that day.  The ceremony took place during the annual Veterans Day service at Wisner Park in Elmira.  This year the CCHS received the Blue Star service banner that hung in his family’s window when he was serving during WWII and thus added his fascinating story to our collective history.