Collections Blog

Pass Christian, Harrison County, MS. Tuesday, September 27, 2005. Looking north, from U.S. Highway 90, at ruins of three-story building. Call Number: PI/2005.0024, Item 85 (MDAH)

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the greatest natural disaster the United States has ever experienced. On August 29, 2005, the storm exploded into Mississippi, killing hundreds of people and forever changing the state’s cultural landscape. Hurricane Katrina devastated the historical fabric of the Gulf Coast and cut a swath of destruction 150 miles inland. Museums, libraries, government records, and historic buildings were all badly damaged.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has been involved in recovery operations since the day after the hurricane made landfall. This blog series will explore the department’s role in recovery efforts and MDAH collections that document the storm.

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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.

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

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.


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.

Looking north toward Hancock Bank building and what was Beach Boulevard in Bay St. Louis. Call Number: PI/2005.0024, Hurricane Katrina photographs (MDAH)

Looking north toward Hancock Bank building and what was Beach Boulevard in Bay St. Louis. Call Number: PI/2005.0024, item 50, Hurricane Katrina photographs (MDAH)

Pieces of Paradise: Rebuilding Bay St. Louis

Call no.: Disk 0003

Format: DVD

Run time: 40 minutes

This documentary about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city of Bay St. Louis was created by a group of students in a video production class at Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio. The film features Bay St. Louis residents and students at Bay High School and focuses on the devastation caused by the hurricane. In making the documentary, the Ohio students sought to bring the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina home to North Canton by telling the stories of area residents, especially their Bay High School peers. Their approach worked: Hoover High School successfully raised over $14,000 for the Bay-Waveland School District, with part of the proceeds coming from documentary sales. The DVD was donated by former Mississippi Historical Society board member Jack Rogers.


To find out more about this disk, search our online catalogue for disk 0003. 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.


As of October 2014, this documentary is available to view online at

Pieces of Paradise: Rebuilding Bay St. Louis from Tom Wilson on Vimeo.


Showers, Al. “Ohio Students Premier their Documentary on Katrina in Bay St. Louis.” WLOX-13, n.d. Accessed on October 3, 2014,

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