Artifacts

Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.
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When visitors enter the sitting room of the Eudora Welty House, an unusual sight greets them— a single white feather, encased in a wooden frame, sitting on a small wooden table.  Set against a blue vinyl background, the feather appears to float, a curious sight and natural conversation starter.  Why would anyone have a framed white feather?

A devoted fan acquired this wild swan feather for Welty in Coole, Ireland, a small village in County Westmeath, in recognition of William Butler Yeats.  Yeats, one of Welty’s favorite poets, wrote a piece entitled “The Wild Swans at Coole” in 1917, where he described the sight of swans taking wing:

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   

Trod with a lighter tread.

Welty discovered Yeats’s poetry while studying literature at the University of Wisconsin.  In One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty describes taking refuge in the library from Wisconsin’s seemingly endless snow, when she stumbled upon Yeats and soon devoured his work:

It seemed to me if I could stir, if I could move to take the next step, I could go out into the poem the way I could go out into that snow.  That it would be falling on my shoulders.  That it would pelt me on its way down — that I could move in it, live in it — that I could die in it, maybe.  So after that I had to learn it…and I told myself that I would.  At Wisconsin, I learned the word for the nature of what I had come upon in reading Yeats…that word is passion.

The swan feather is one of many objects that showcase Welty’s favorite writers.  Instead of displaying her own accolades or accomplishments, she chose to celebrate the authors who inspired her.

MDAH received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in the fall of 2014 to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for more than 11,000 artifacts, including books and other artifacts at the Eudora Welty House and Garden. Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on this project.

Jarrett Zeman catalogs at the Eudora Welty House and Garden.

Jarrett Zeman catalogs at the Eudora Welty House and Garden.

My name is Jarrett Zeman, and I am the cataloger for the Museum Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). Thanks to a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I will be embarking on a three-year project to catalog the contents of the Eudora Welty House and Garden, one of the nation’s most intact literary house museums and a National Historic Landmark.  For over 75 years, it was the home of Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Optimist’s Daughter and one of the South’s most prolific short story writers.

What exactly is cataloging?  Why are we taking on such an ambitious project?  Cataloging involves several steps,  categorizing artifacts, checking measurements, taking photographs, and writing detailed descriptions of an artifact’s appearance and function.  These steps are not performed simply for the sake of recordkeeping; rather, they allow us to become history detectives.  The detailed descriptions are a stepping stone to further research, as we investigate each artifact’s history and significance during Welty’s era.  New discoveries help us better interpret artifacts and their owners.

We can learn much about a person by walking in their footsteps and by holding the same objects they’ve held.  At the Welty House objects  pull back the curtain on a life and tell volumes about Welty’s tastes, passions, and dreams, including her preference for Maker’s Mark whiskey, her love of European travel, and her undying passion for books.

Indeed, each room of her home is filled with books in every available cranny and nook: piled onto the couch cushions, spilling over tables, and arranged in uneven piles along the carpet.  Welty’s guests had to move stacks of books off the couch cushions just to sit down.  In total, the home contained 5,000 volumes at the time of her death.

A glance at her bookshelves illuminates Welty’s diverse literary tastes. She seemed to own books on every topic imaginable, from Victorian fairy tales to American poetry to a six-volume set on Thomas Jefferson.  When I work in her sitting room, I like to imagine Welty reclining comfortably on the blue chaise-longue in the corner, set appropriately next to the bookshelf, where she entertained many visitors with the wry wit and astute observation for which she was known.

A short glass barrier sits between the public and me as I catalog objects in Welty’s guest bedroom.  Visitors will frequently peer in, rather like a human observing a zoo animal.

“Are you a part of the tour?” a visitor will sometimes ask, tongue-in-cheek.

“Yes, but I’m not original to the house,” I’ll joke, referencing a phrase visitors often hear on historic house tours.  This invites several questions:  What exactly am I doing?  What steps are involved?  And why am I wearing thick cotton gloves in the middle of summer? (Our gloves protect objects from the harmful oils secreted by human hands).

Although my interactions with visitors are often casual, their opportunity to observe MDAH employees in action serves an important purpose, showing that the Eudora Welty House and Garden is a working museum, where new discoveries are made every day.  It is not a shrine full of dusty glass cases in cobwebbed corners, or a home frozen in time with no new knowledge to impart.

As Eudora Welty wrote, “One place understood helps us understand all places better.”  As we gain a greater appreciation of Welty through her artifacts, we not only learn about an intriguing literary legend; we also understand her era, the city of Jackson, and the spirit of the South, encapsulated in a humble home on Pinehurst Street.

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150 Years Ago: Battle of Nashville

On December 16, 2014, in Artifacts, by Amanda
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The Mississippi Civil War Sesquicentennial continues and in the coming months we will be highlighting Museum Division collections related to 1864 and the Civil War. Special thanks to Nan Prince, assistant director of collections, for writing this series.

Flag of the Forty-Fourth Mississippi Infantry. Accession number: 1968.51.1 (MDAH Museum Division collection)

Flag of the Forty-Fourth Mississippi Infantry. Accession number: 1968.51.1 (MDAH Museum Division collection)

The Battle of Nashville was fought on December 15–16, 1864, between Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee and the federal force under Major General George H. Thomas. Hood began the Franklin-Nashville campaign in the fall of 1864, in an attempt to disrupt General Sherman’s supply line and draw him out of Georgia. A series of engagements led up to the Battle of Nashville, including the Battle of Franklin on November 30, which resulted in a devastating loss of over six thousand Confederate casualties. Thomas’s army soundly defeated Hood’s battered troops during the Battle of Nashville, forcing the Confederates to retreat to Tupelo, where Hood resigned his post.

This 2nd National Pattern flag of the Second Mississippi Infantry was captured at the Battle of Brentwood Hills near Nashville on December 16, 1864. Writing to Major J. Hough of the Army of the Tennessee, Lt. Col. J. H. Stibbs of the Twelfth Iowa Infantry described the capture of the flag: “The large one belonged to a Mississippi regiment, I think the Forty-fourth, and was captured by Corpl. Luther Kaltenbach, F Company, Twelfth Iowa Infantry. The color-bearer had been shot down, and as my regiment advanced Corporal Kaltenbach ran forward and picked up the flag.” The flag was returned to the state of Mississippi by the War Department in 1905.

Sources:

http://www.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/tn038.htm

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 45, Pt. 1, p. 464

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Chloe Edwards, MDAH Electronic Records archivist, brings us this post in an ongoing series celebrating Electronic Records Day and Archives Month. The series features items from the MDAH disk collection.

 

Glass fragment from window of Beth Israel synagogue, which was bombed in 1967. Accession Number: 1984.55.11 (Museum Division Collection)

Glass fragment from window of Beth Israel synagogue, which was bombed in 1967. Accession Number: 1984.55.11 (Museum Division Collection)

A  Frightening Time: The Jackson Jewish Community, Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, and the Civil Rights Movement

Call no.: Disk 0041

Format: DVD

Run time: 13 minutes

Although Rabbi Perry Nussbaum retired as the leader of Jackson’s Beth Israel Congregation in 1973, he remains very much present in the memory of the community for his outspoken role in the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the active involvement of many Northern Jews on civil rights issues, the Jackson Jewish community was far more reticent, largely because its members were fearful of drawing the attention of the local Ku Klux Klan. Rabbi Nussbaum, however, harbored no such concerns, although he restrained his activism to sermonizing on segregation until 1961, when the Freedom Riders, many of whom were Jewish, arrived in Jackson.

After the Freedom Riders were sent to the state penitentiary, Rabbi Nussbaum attempted to organize Mississippi’s rabbis to visit the inmates. When they refused, Rabbi Nussbaum began making weekly visits to Parchman alone, at his own expense, and without the knowledge of his congregation. He led a brief service and took down riders’ names and addresses so that he could write to their parents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, assuring them that their children were incarcerated, but alive and well.

As the movement grew more heated, the rabbi became more outspoken. In 1964, Nussbaum helped organize an interracial group of ministers that raised funds to rebuild churches bombed by white supremacist groups. He also presided over an interracial dedication ceremony for the synagogue’s new building in the late fall of 1967, which proved to be the final straw for the local Klan—the synagogue was bombed on September 18, 1967. Three days after the bombing of the temple, the Greater Jackson Clergy Alliance held an interracial, interreligious Walk of Penance as an expression of sorrow and solidarity with the Jackson Jewish community. Two months later, Rabbi Nussbaum’s home was bombed, although both he and his wife escaped injury (shown above). Nussbaum felt strongly that anti-Semitism, not his outspoken activism, was the reason for both attacks and sought to leave Jackson. He was unable to find another post, however, and remained at Beth Israel until his retirement in 1973. In the course of nineteen years at the synagogue, he also reintroduced elements of traditional Jewish worship and established an adult education program. Nussbaum died of cancer in San Diego, California, in 1987.

The documentary A Frightening Time, produced by Jackson’s Institute for Southern Jewish Life, discusses the bombing of Beth Israel through interviews with older congregants, and also includes archival footage of the Walk of Penance and Rabbi Nussbaum. The documentary was produced as part of the fortieth anniversary commemoration of the bombings and was shown as part of the program.

MORE INFORMATION:

To find out more about this disk, search our online catalogue for disk 0041. To browse the disk collection, navigate to the advanced search page, check the “Electronic Records” box, and type “disk” into the keyword search bar.

All catalogued disks are available to view or listen to in the Media Room; patrons should request disks from media staff using the four digit call number.

VIEWING NOTES:

Although the documentary appears to have a running time of twenty minutes, the film ends at approximately 00:13:00.

References:

“Congregation Beth Israel.” Accessed October 6, 2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_Beth_Israel_%28Jackson,_Mississippi%29

“Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Dies; Activist in South during 1960s Racial Unrest.” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1987. Accessed October 6, 2014, http://articles.latimes.com/1987-04-13/news/mn-496_1_rabbi-perry-nussbaum

Rockoff, Stuart. “Nussbaum, Perry.” Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed October 6, 2014 at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0015_0_14986.html

Image: http://www.isjl.org/mississippi-jackson-beth-israel-encyclopedia.html

Caption: Rabbi and Mrs. Nussbaum in their home after the bombing.

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Andrew Marschalk’s Uniform Coat

On August 13, 2014, in Artifacts, by Amanda
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Nan Prince, assistant director of collections, brings us this post about interesting artifacts in the Museum Division collection.

Andrew Marschalk's uniform coat. Accession number: 1992.14.1 (Museum Division collection, MDAH)

Andrew Marschalk’s uniform coat. Accession number: 1992.14.1 (Museum Division collection, MDAH)

This Mississippi Territorial Militia uniform coat was worn by Andrew Marschalk, who was a newspaper publisher in Natchez. Marschalk was a major in the Mississippi Territorial Militia from 1809 to 1811 and became a colonel in 1811. The uniform was handed down through his family and donated to the Department of Archives and History in 1992, by his great-great-great-grandson.

Reverse of Andrew Marschalk's uniform coat. Accession number: 1992.14.1 (Museum Division collection, MDAH)

Reverse of Andrew Marschalk’s uniform coat. Accession number: 1992.14.1 (Museum Division collection, MDAH)

In preparation for its display in the new Museum of Mississippi History, this jacket was recently conserved.

Andrew Marschalk, Hall of Fame portrait. Accession number: 1978.10.1 (Museum Division collection, MDAH)

Andrew Marschalk, Hall of Fame portrait. Accession number: 1978.10.1 (Museum Division collection, MDAH)

Marschalk is a member of the Mississippi Hall of Fame and his portrait, pictured above, is currently on display in the Old Capitol Museum.

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