Mariners’ Collection of Curiosities: Spooky and Peculiar Artifacts from the Archives

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Lady Figurehead – The Mariners’ Museum and Park – Accession Number: 1937.0487.000001A

Fear Not! For I have scoured The Mariners’ Collection, walked the dark storage rooms, and gotten up close and personal with five of our creepiest and most mysterious artifacts, so you don’t have to. I’ve listed the following artifacts for their varying levels of creep-factor or for the fascinating or mysterious stories behind them. All just in time for spooky season! 

The Lady

In her heyday, the Lady figurehead sailed the open waters on a European vessel and arrived at the Museum in January 1982. She graced the walls of what was once The Great Hall of Steam until the Museum opened the Speed and Innovation exhibit. She’s not currently on display; however, her glass eyes and blank stare haunt our Collections Specialist from the workspace storage room. There’s just something unsettling about her…   Read more

A Vial-ful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down: Technical Analysis of Historical “Medicines”

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Image 1. Ship’s Medical Chest, c.1860, before conservation treatment. Image Credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Last month, The Mariners’ Museum and Park welcomed me “aboard” for an 8-week Graduate Fellow Internship in Conservation. During this summer, I am working with the Conservation Department under Object Conservator Paige Schmidt. I’m coming to The Mariners’ Museum from Buffalo, New York, where I’m studying Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College, majoring in Objects Conservation. During my time at the Museum, my primary project will be the treatment and analysis of a Ship’s Medical Chest from c.1860 (image 1). The results of analysis will be used to inform safe handling and storage of the chest. The Museum has almost a dozen medical chests, which were once used by ship physicians to hold their medical tools, books, and “medicines.” This chest houses 9 glass vials, 6 of which contain substances that may have been used as medicines in the 19th century (image 2).

Our suspected substances

Finding unknown medical substances in a museum collection can be concerning, as many early medicines are now known to be hazardous. Some of the vials were labeled, “Camphor,” “Bryonia,” “Nux Vomica,” and “Tartar emet,” (although the Nux Vomica vial was empty).  Camphor is a common ingredient in topically-applied medicines like anti-irritants and vapor rubs, but high dermal exposures and ingestion can be toxic.   Read more

The Power of Water: Celebrating National Poetry Month and Earth Day

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The Wild Gulf Stream, artist Frank Vining Smith (ca 1900-1940)/ The Mariners’ Museum and Park

April is National Poetry Month and Earth Day is also today (April 22)! As a poet, writer, and environmentalist, I feel obligated to craft something interesting for this wonderful month honoring one of the most expressive written forms and the best planet in our solar system. 

What’s so special about poetry?    Read more

Matthew Henson: An Arctic Explorer

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Matthew Alexander Henson, ca. 1910. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/00650163/. You can search their website for additional photos.

A great deal of our collection is related to explorations and discovery, because so many of those took place by way of the oceans and rivers of the world. We have objects related to the big names in exploration and also some who are not as famous. So I was interested a few months ago to hear a news report refer to an explorer I had not heard of: Matthew Henson. I went straight to our database to learn more!

The report I heard discussed the conservation of 20 dioramas built for the American Negro Exposition held in Chicago between July 4 and September 2, 1940. There were originally 33 dioramas but 13 have disappeared. The Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University is using the conservation of the dioramas to help teach Black art students who have preservation experience. This will help build diversity within the conservation field. The dioramas each displayed significant stories in American history that prominently featured Black Americans such as Crispus Attucks, the WWI Harlem Hellfighters, surveyor Benjamin Banneker, and Arctic explorer Matthew Henson.   Read more

Success (and Liquor) on the Rocks

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The Success Wedged on a Rock, LE 1452. The image can be found after page 94 of John Hamilton Moore’s 1778 book, “A New and Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels,” online here.

2020 has been a rocky year but humor has definitely helped me along the way. So when I stumbled onto this print and couldn’t stop laughing, I knew that I had to share it. The print is titled “The Success wedged on a Rock, being at the same time between the fire of the Spanish Fort at Umata and a Ship in the Harbour.” Irony anyone?

With such a hilarious title I dug deeper and just laughed more. The captain of Success was John Clipperton, a British sailor who was born in 1676 and joined Captain William Dampier on Saint George for an expedition to the Pacific from 1703-1704. This voyage gave Clipperton knowledge of the Pacific islands, which he put to good use when he led a mutiny against Dampier and left in a prize ship. That didn’t end well: the Spanish captured and imprisoned him in Panama for four years under Juan Antonio Rocha Carranza, Marquis de Villa-Rocha.   Read more