Jump Around! Small Mammals of the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian National Scenic Trail preserves a collection of natural history specimens that were collected by scientists during an Inventory and Monitoring project.  These specimens document the ecosystems present along the Trail and serve as a valuable research tool for scientists.  In 2017, NMSC’s intern Adam took a closer look at this collection, and shared his observations and reflections in this informative – and very funny! – blog post.  Next time you’re on the AT, take a minute to appreciate your “furry little neighbors” along the trail!  Many thanks to Adam for his thorough research and thoughtful write-up on this collection!

Ever hiked the Appalachian Trail?  Perhaps just a stretch or two?  Well, even if you haven’t, if you have ever been out in the woods, you have undoubtedly noticed that you are not alone.  Our warm-blooded, furry little neighbors are right at home and flourishing on the Appalachian Trail (colloquially known as the AT).  They are neurotic, amusing, and essential to the health of the trail.  I speak, of course, of the mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and other small mammals along the trail.

appa photo

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

In 2005, the National Park Service conducted a small mammalian inventory study along the northeastern corridor of the Appalachian Trail.   The inventory effort spanned a total of eight states – Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire – and yielded a variety of creatures spanning two orders, four families, and nine species.  The Northeast Museum Services Center assists Appalachian National Scenic Trail with managing the natural resources collection that resulted from this study.

So who/what exactly is living out there?  Far as we know, some small mammals thrive high above in the trees amid the birds, some down below in the shaded understory brushing elbows with the ferns and grasses.  Time to meet this lively cast of characters.

Let’s start with “older” of the two orders, evolutionarily speaking – the order known as the Insectivora.  Concerning the Appalachian Trail inventory, one family and two species of the Insectivora order have been identified.  The family Soricidae – shrews and moles – are represented here by two species: the Masked Shrew and the Short-tailed Shrew.  Remember, each and every one of these little creatures plays an important role in ecosystem balance.  Fossil records reveal the earliest members of the Insectivora date back to the late Cretaceous period, about 75-million years ago.  They probably spent most of their lives frantically running about and avoiding the great dominant reptiles of the Mesozoic era – the mighty dinosaurs.


Shrews eat up to 75% of their body weight every single day and have a higher metabolic rate than any other animal, even higher than the hummingbird (the heart of a shrew beats 800 times per minute).  In fact, most starve to death if deprived of nourishment for a half a day!  For this reason, they will pretty much eat anything available, but actually play an important economical role in human agriculture as destroyers of slugs and insects harmful to crops.

The second order represented along the AT is surely everyone’s favorite – Rodentia.  This group possesses the most diverse assortment of living animals and includes mice, rats, beavers, porcupines, squirrels, and those lovable little chipmunks.  Members of this order occupy every continent on the planet except for Antarctica.  Earliest appearances of the Rodentia in the fossil record date back about 50-45 million years.

Three of the four small mammal families found on the AT claim the Rodentia as their order.  The Scuiridae family are represented here by the Eastern Chipmunk.  A perennial woodland favorite, the Eastern Chipmunk can climb trees but primarily spends its life on the ground creating labyrinth-like tunnels.  Chipmunks are amazing foragers and can store up to eight pounds of food in a single burrow.  They possess a distinct way of talking with one another, often mimicking birds.  In addition, they use many gestures, including ticks and twitches, as a way of communicating which can be a real chuckle to watch.  I haven’t had an opportunity yet to tell the chipmunks that most places are now serving decaf.

Tamias striatus

Eastern chipmunk

Our next family, the jumping mice, are an energetic bunch to say the least.  These creatures live up to their name: they can leap at least six feet horizontally and two feet vertically.  This proves to be an effective evolutionary adaptation for evading capture, for the jumping mouse is at the top of the menu for many predators such as foxes, weasels, snakes, and owls.  Jumping mice consume underground fungi which contributes to maintaining tree health.  The fungi typically attach to tree roots, so by removing fungus from the roots, the tree can optimally absorb nutrients through the soil.  When not threatened and leaping utterly ridiculous distances to save their own lives, these mice get around by hopping a few inches at a time.

jumping mouse

Jumping mouse

The third and final family representing the Rodentia order is one that many people are familiar with, for better or worse.   This family – the Muridae – includes the majority of new world mice, rats, and voles.  These critters have earned quite the reputation among humans, especially when they make their way into people’s homes.  Though out on the AT, far from the hurly-burly of human existence, these creatures more or less mind their own business.  Four species of the Muridae are represented here – a mouse, two voles, and a lemming.  The White-footed Mouse, omnivorous and nocturnal, is an excellent swimmer, climber, and navigator.  From a distance of two miles, the White-footed mouse can easily find its way back to its territory. The red-backed vole sports a shiny chestnut-red coat running down its body, and is also omnivorous.  They are known to store large amounts of food.  Hawks and owls are typically first in line at this buffet.  The Meadow vole (aka field mouse) is a highly adaptable and prolific species and can be found in a variety of habitats, producing up to 11 young per litter…at 10 litters per year!  This little powerhouse of a mouse can eat more than its own body weight within a 24-hour window.  Perhaps it’s time for the Meadow vole to consider a future in the world of competitive eating.

Last but not least, the fourth member of the Muridae on the AT is the Southern Bog Lemming.  Like the other members of this family, lemmings are on every local predator’s lunch and dinner menu.  They fulfill a significant ecological role – their classic tunneling behavior helps mix the soil which allows rainwater and air to access deeper layers of the substrate.  Here, mixing vegetation with droppings increases the soil’s fertility which is good for everything and everybody.

southern bog lemming

Southern bog lemming

So, if you ever find yourself out along the northern leg of Appalachian Trail, keep an eye on the forest floor.  You never know who you might run into.  These diminutive mammals’ contributions to the ecosystem, which may seem insignificant to the everyday observer, have a lasting impact and are imperative to the health of the trail and to the overall stability of the woodlands.  We could all learn a valuable lesson from these kinetic little critters – life’s more fun when you jump around!


Gilbert, B. Miles.  Mammalian Osteology.  Missouri Archaeological Society, 1990.
Hilson, Simon.  Mammal Bones and Teeth.  Institute of Archaeology, Institute of London, 1992.

Image sources:

Appalachian National Scenic Trail:  https://www.nps.gov/appa/index.htm
Masked shrew:  http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/science/zoology/mammals/soricomorpha/s-cinereus.htm
Short-tailed shrew:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_short-tailed_shrew
Eastern chipmunk:  By Gilles Gonthier – https://www.flickr.com/photos/gillesgonthier/291562671/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1379503
Jumping mouse:  By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/preble/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=714485
Meadow vole:  http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Microtus_pennsylvanicus/
White footed mouse:  http://www.wildlifeofct.com/white-footed%20mouse.html
Southern bog lemming:  By PaulT – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4260945




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NMSC: Our Best of 2017!

2017 has been quite a year for NMSC!  We visited some amazing sites, worked with awesome park staff, processed some memorable collections, and welcomed a new director, our long-time friend and colleague Giles Parker.  This was a year of great collaboration with regional curators, park personnel, and inter-agency employees.  We had several fabulous new interns join our team this year and also hosted regional curatorial staff who shared their knowledge and expertise while here on detail.  We love what we do and we are thankful for another rewarding year working with the national parks of the Northeast Region.  Curious?  Take a look at this slide show highlighting some of our Best of 2017!


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Collections Management Goofs, or, How To Make a Registrar Quit in 10 Easy Steps

You probably didn’t become a museum professional because you really enjoy filling out forms, or filing, or writing reports, but that is the large part of what most of us spend our time doing. It’s especially true if your job description includes words like “registrar” or “collections management”. You can expect to spend time pouring over inventories, accession reports, receiving reports, property transfers, deeds of gift, loan agreements, and that’s all before we even start talking about copyright (shudder).

CopyrightNo, sorry, you have to go there.

Over the years, the staff at NMSC have seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. While we generally try to highlight the positive, sometimes you just have to teach by negative example. No curators, museum techs, parks, museums, or other institutions will be named in order to protect the well-intentioned, but rest assured that these are all situations that have really happened.

  1. Never, Ever, Ever Accession An Object You Don’t Have

This will result in many, many wild goose chases as your successor tries desperately to find the object, which old Mrs. So-and-So just never quite got around to dropping off like she promised to. If you don’t have physical custody and a signed Deed of Gift, hands off that Accession Book!

Have you ever seen an introvert panic?


2. Never, Ever, Ever Accept An Object Without Paperwork

An incredibly common scenario: Donor Dave drops off great-grandma’s quilt at the Visitor Center without so much as a by-your-leave, and suddenly you’re stuck with a big ol’ piece of inherent vice infested with who-knows-what. And worse, you can’t dispose of it because you don’t own it! But that doesn’t mean you should pop it into an acid-free box and let it take up space in your storage area. Keep that bug trap separated from your collection until you can either track down Donor Dave or run out the clock on your state’s abandoned property laws.

BlanketHelp! This blanket is going to kill me!


3. Never, Ever, Ever Accession Food

Just trust me. Don’t do it. No one wants to open up what seems to be a lovely stoneware crock and discover it is full of hardboiled eggs from the 1970s. Or what you presume used to be hardboiled eggs…



4. Make Sure Weaponry Is Disabled Before Accepting It

Again, just trust me. Before you accept any kind of firearm or ammunition, make sure a professional has a look at it. The liability issues with firearms and ammunition are complex and avoidable. Don’t be the tech who shuts down a major historical park because what you thought was a bag of rusty nails turns out to be an intact WWII pineapple grenade. Or something like that.

WeaponryWho knew we would have to include cell phones on that list?


5. Never, Ever, Ever Re-Use an Accession or Catalog Number

This is actually less of a problem in the non-federal museum world, because their accession and catalog numbers are date-based, as opposed to the NPS’ sequential numbering system. HOWEVER. Double-assigning a number is basically an unforgiveable sin, because now both of those objects will FOREVER have to carry that number, even if you fess up and give one of them a new number. Your mistake will live on in infamy, and you don’t want to be “that Curator who gave the bronze statue and the hand-made quilt the same accession number”.

TakenWell, maybe just scold you. But it’ll hurt!


6. Hire A Professional

Museum folk have colorful resumes for sure (erratic bouts of employment will do that), but we don’t know everything. Sometimes, cash-strapped though we may be, it’s best to call in a professional. Conservators go to a lot of extra chemistry classes so that your stuff doesn’t fall apart after a clumsy attempt at humidifying rolled maps that had more dirt on them than you thought turns into a busted, muddy mess. Not sure if that bone is human or cow? Don’t err on the side of laziness: you’re going to want to get the repatriation process started ASAP. And if anyone uses the phrase “do-it-yourself taxidermy”, run. Just run.

runBut faster than these guys. Like, a lot faster.


7. Always Assume You Are About To Be Hit By A Bus

Not in a morbid way. But your filing system/storage system/Rosetta Stone to Understanding Color Coded Box Labels cannot live only in your head. Because odds are good that at least ONE of us is going to meet an unexpected end (or maybe just be out of commission for a good long while), and your colleagues may not be as torn up about it as you’d like to think they would be if you leave them with a labyrinth of museum mysteries.

KickThat’ll show you not to file all of your accession paperwork!


8. Let Me Google That For You

The internet has made many aspects of museum work infinitely simpler: obscure property laws, antique oddities, extensive reference guides, and OMG PICTURES are just a search engine away. So there is no more excuse for lazy cataloging: “old couch” is not an acceptable description. A few minutes of e-stalking later, you can probably figure out where the couch was made, what kind of fabric it’s made of, a pretty narrow date range, and who knows what else. Or at least that it should be called a davenport.


Pro-tip: Don’t ask the interns for help. They’ll be super-impressed that you know how to use the internet at your advanced age.


9. Repeat After Me: There Is No Such Thing As A Permanent Loan

We’re all on board with this oxymoron, right? Good. Send that bad-boy back to its rightful owner, or re-do the loan paperwork every five years until they give in and donate it. Those are your only options. Do. Not. Lose. Touch. With. That. Donor.

TugIt’s mine now, right? No? How about now? Still no?


10. Museums Preserve Everything In Perpetuity, Including Your (My) Snark

We all love to get in a good dig now and then, especially about work. But try to remember that anything you put in writing is likely to end up in the permanent records. Sometimes jokes withstand the test of time: when a frustrated landscape architect drops off a pile of irrigation plan drawings, it’s hilarious to find Revision 37 labeled as an “irritation plan”. More often, the things that crack us up now will just seem petty, unprofessional, or even just mean ten years down the line. So resist the urge to doodle your true feelings about a donor on an accession report, write poetic labels on artifacts or catalog records, or leave pornographic surprises in your files.

ShockIt’s never a pleasant surprise.


We hope that you’ve found these collection management horror stories to be helpful and instructive, and hopefully not too familiar. When in doubt, you can always ask NMSC!

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The History of Lowell in 10 Objects: Selections from the Museum Collection at Lowell National Historical Park

A few months ago, during NMSC’s second annual March Madness Facebook campaign, over 800 people voted Lowell National Historical Park (LOWE) their favorite national park in the Northeast Region.  EIGHT HUNDRED people!  That’s a lot of love!  We watched as people from near and far cast their votes for LOWE, and as one local community group after another shared our Facebook post, encouraging their own followers to “Vote for Lowell!”  This year’s contest showed us what a powerful tool social media can be for getting the word out about the wonderful and varied parks in the Northeast Region.  It also showed us how many people appreciate, support, and value this very special park.

When LOWE emerged victorious from our March Madness competition, we visited the park to offer our congratulations and to learn more about their museum collection in preparation for the winner’s blog post.  We met some very friendly rangers at the Visitor Center, toured the Working People Exhibit at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, and were awed by the sights and sounds of the working looms in the weave room at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.  We were treated to a tour of collections storage, where former LOWE Museum Specialist Jack Herlihy and LOWE Chief of Cultural Resources Laurel Racine showed us maps and textiles related to the history of Lowell and the Boott Mills.

jess and laurel

LOWE’s Chief of Cultural Resources Laurel Racine with NMSC’s Jessica (author).

The story of Lowell National Historical Park is one of ingenuity, industry, diversity, and resilience.  We asked the curatorial staff at LOWE to choose ten objects from the park’s museum collection that best represent this story.  (You, our readers, are lucky, because they gave us eleven!)  We hope that you enjoy learning about these objects as much as we did, and we hope that this post inspires you to visit Lowell and enjoy its unique history and vibrant culture firsthand.

1792 Locks and Canals Charter

This charter signifies the incorporation of the Proprietors of Locks and Canals, a corporation founded by Boston-area businessmen in 1792 to control water rights and water power along the Merrimack River.  The Proprietors of Locks and Canals constructed the Pawtucket Canal in 1796 to skirt the Pawtucket Falls in the Merrimack River.  The water power controlled by this corporation would prove integral to the development of the textile industry along the Merrimack and hence the development of the City of Lowell.  For a company to incorporate in 1792, the governor of Massachusetts had to sign the charter.  Hence the John Hancock – literally! – at the bottom of this document.

Charter page 11

1792 charter for the Proprietors of Locks and Canals. Photo courtesy of Lowell National Historical Park.

Clock for Boston Manufacturing Company

This clock, made in Boston by Zalman Aspinwall, was purchased for the offices of the Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham, Massachusetts.  The origins of the textile industry in America can be traced back to this office and its associated mill, which was the precursor to the larger and more productive mills in the new city of Lowell.   This clock witnessed some bold ideas and some grand planning from its place on a Waltham wall!


Clock purchased for the offices of the Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham, Massachusetts. 

The Boston Manufacturing Company was founded in 1814 by Francis Cabot Lowell, who had seen power looms at work in England and wanted to copy the process in America.  With mechanical engineer Paul Moody, Lowell built his own version of a power loom, and founded a textile mill on the banks of the Charles River in Waltham.  The water power supplied by the Charles could only go so far, and when the Boston Manufacturing Company wanted to increase production, they sought out new sources of water power in nearby East Chelmsford.  As noted by Laurence Gross in his book The Course of Industrial Decline, “The thirty-foot fall in the mighty Merrimack could power ninety mills the size of Waltham’s” (p. 4).

1821 Map of Lowell

In 1821, before the “Mile of Mills” sprang up along the Merrimack River, the area now known as Lowell was a predominantly rural part of East Chelmsford, sprinkled with small farms and homesteads.  That very year, Boston businessmen would travel to East Chelmsford to view the Pawtucket Falls in the Merrimack and envision the industry that could be supported by such impressive water power.  Just a couple of years after this map was drawn, the depicted area would be almost unrecognizable.

LOWE_3946_1821 map hi res 2008

1821 Map of Lowell by J. G. Hales.  Photo courtesy of Lowell National Historical Park.


Locks and Canals Plan, Kirk Boott


Kirk Boott, image found on Wikimedia Commons.

In the early 1820s, the Boston Manufacturing Company hired Kirk Boott to lead the development of land along the Merrimack River.  Boott worked with the Proprietors of Locks and Canals, selling land and water rights to allow for the establishment of several textile factories along the Merrimack.  Boott oversaw the planning of not only the mills themselves but also the surrounding canals, locks, workers’ housing, and streets.  Mrozowski, Ziesing, and Beaudry write in Living on the Boott that “the factories, street layout, and worker accommodations were constructed according to detailed plans, carefully thought out” (p. 2).  Despite its early 19th-century date, this plan has a classic and timeless quality about it.  As noted by Jack Herlihy during our site visit, these original plans “are still used today [by city planners and canal operators] for their intended purpose.”

locks and canals plan

Locks and Canals Plan by Kirk Boott.  Photo courtesy of Lowell National Historical Park.


Lowell Machine Shop Loom

This loom is attributed to the Lowell Machine Shop, which began as the machine shop for the Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham then followed textile production to the new mills in Lowell.  The Shop was distinct from the mills, having been incorporated as an independent entity in 1845. According to Lowell National Historical Park’s official website, “the shop underlay Lowell’s textile industries:  fabricating machines that turned cotton into cloth, building waterwheels, turbines, and steam engines that provided the power, and making shafts, gears, and pulleys that transferred power within the mill…  The development of such skills in the textile industry’s early machine shops was a crucial step in the American Industrial Revolution.”  In other words, without the expertise contained in the Lowell Machine Shop, and the dependable tools and machines produced there, the story of textile production in America would have been very different.


Lowell Machine Shop Loom.  At Lowell National Historical Park.

This loom is on exhibit at Lowell National Historical Park, where you can also walk through the Weave Room at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum and get a feel for what it must have been like to work in the mill at its heyday.  Loud, for starters!  During out site visit, we were amazed by the sound the working looms produced: it was deafening!  The looms on exhibit today represent only a fraction of those in place when the mill was functioning. Just imagine how crowded and noisy a day at work was for the men, women, and children tending the looms!

1855 Loom Patent Model

This loom might look a little small to you.  It’s not a mini version, it’s a patent model!  From 1790 until 1880, anyone applying for a patent with the U.S. Patent Office was required to submit a working model of his or her invention as well as supporting documents.  This model was created for that purpose in 1855 by Samuel T. Thomas of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  It is currently on display at the park’s Visitor Center on Dutton Street in downtown Lowell.  Be sure to take a look when you visit!


Loom patent model, on exhibit at Visitor Center on Dutton Street.


Front Cover of the Lowell Offering

Most people familiar with the history of Lowell have heard the term, “mill girls.”  This name refers to the many young women who came to Lowell in the early 19th century, seeking a chance to earn their own wages or an alternative to rural life.  These women worked and lived together, laboring long hours in the mills then going home to nearby boardinghouses in the evenings.  The Lowell Offering was a publication produced between 1840 and 1845 that contained writings by the “mill girls.”  In Loom and Spindle (written in 1898), former mill girl Harriet Robinson wrote of the Lowell Offering that “many of the pieces that were printed there were thought out amid the hum of the wheels, while the skillful fingers and well-trained eyes of the writers tended the loom or the frame” (p. 98).

According to Robinson, the origin of the Lowell Offering stemmed from workers’ desire to improve themselves morally and intellectually, and to prove that “intellect and intelligence might be found even among factory operatives” (p. 99-100).  The content of the Lowell Offering varied from poetry and other literary contributions, to scientific papers about astronomy or physiology, to political statements about working conditions in the mills, women’s rights, or slavery.  The magazine was distributed throughout New England and was welcomed in many communities as a source of enlightened, progressive ideas.  In his American Notes, Charles Dickens wrote admiringly of the Offering, stating that even though written after a hard day’s work, “it will compare advantageously with a great many English annuals” (p. 111).

The idyllic image on the cover of the Lowell Offering evokes everything a proper and righteous mill girl ought to have been:  the book in the young lady’s hand signals her studiousness and dedication to self-improvement; the church spire in the background indicates her faith and attendance at religious services; the beehive in her view speaks to her industriousness and selflessness.  As the 19th century progressed, the workforce in the mills shifted.  The era of the “mill girl” in Lowell was succeeded by waves of various immigrant groups, who brought to the mills their own ideas of identity and work, and who brought to the city the different cultural elements that helped make Lowell the rich and diverse community it is today.


Lowe 1257 LowellOffering Cover

Front cover of a Lowell Offering publication ca. 1845.  In the museum collection at Lowell National Historical Park.  Photo courtesy of Lowell National Historical Park.

Archeological Artifact – Kiss Me, I’m Sterilized! Pin

As a member of NMSC’s archeology team, I was thrilled to see on the LOWE staff’s list of eleven objects an “archeological artifact of your choosing.”  We love archeology because of its potential to tell the stories that are unwritten and to illuminate the lives of those who do not appear in historical documents.  Unlike their Yankee predecessors, the Irish, French-Canadian, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and other immigrants who worked in Lowell’s textile factories starting in the second half of the 19th century generally did not publish literature about their experiences in the mills.  Their voices can be heard by examining the material culture they left behind in the archeological record.

NMSC processed a large collection of archeological artifacts from LOWE in 2014.  The collection contained 19th-century ceramics, glassware, medicinal bottles, and several personal objects including a button painted with an Irish shamrock design, a simple gold wedding ring, and two mourning brooches.  One of our favorite artifacts is a pin-back button printed with the phrase “Kiss Me Kid, I’m Sterilized!” and an image of a man and woman in early 20th-century attire leaning in for a kiss.  This pin may be associated with the severe outbreak of Spanish influenza that affected Boston in 1918, which killed 141 people in one week alone that October.    Tufts Medical Center in Medford began offering vaccinations soon after the outbreak occurred.  While the imagery on this artifact is light and funny, whoever donned the pin clearly took the health scare seriously and went out of his or her way to avoid getting sick.

I find a bittersweet irony in this artifact and the story behind it.  The working conditions in the Lowell mills in the 1910s were abysmal.  Official reports noted dark, dirty rooms with filthy floors, broken windows, and temperatures that were often extremely hot or cold.  The noise levels in the weaving room were deafening.  The cotton “fly” in the air created a fire hazard and made it difficult to breathe, a hardship exacerbated by the high levels of humidity in the mills.  Workers suffered from frequent injuries and “colds, catarrh, and grippe infections,” not to mention byssinosis, or “brown lung.” (Gross p. 133-138) In light of these conditions and the refusal of management to deal with them for the sake of their employees, the idea of a mill worker seeking out a vaccination to protect his or her health seems especially poignant.

kiss me kid

“Kiss Me Kid, I’m Sterilized!” pin from the archeology collection at Lowell National Historical Park.  (Left:  artifact from LOWE collection.  Right:  image of intact example found online)


Boott Products

The Boott Mill is associated primarily with coarse goods like corduroy, canvas, and toweling.  These items are important components of the park’s museum collection because they represent the culmination of the technology, labor, and marketing exercised by the Boott Mills and its employees.  During World War II, the company focused its efforts on military products.   After the war, towels once again became a major commodity for the Boott, reaching a production level of ten million yards a year.  (Gross p. 215) These items were known for their good quality and repeatedly received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  Successful marketing strategies in the 20th century led to a wide distribution of these products, which ended up at wholesalers, chain stores, and mail-order houses.  Montgomery-Ward, Sears & Roebuck, and Woolworth’s are just some of the sellers that offered Boott towels by the mid-1900s.


Army-Navy E Award Pennant and Poster

The Army-Navy E Award was an honor presented to companies during World War II that achieved excellence in production of war equipment.  Viewing these important objects, which, as you can see from the photos, are beautifully preserved, was a highlight of our site visit.  During World War II, the Boott Mill focused on producing goods for the war effort, primarily canvas for the navy.  Earned by only 5% of the more than 85,000 companies involved in producing materials for the US effort, the E Award was granted to the Boott Mill every year during World War II.  According to the park’s former Museum
Specialist Jack Herlihy, historic photographs show Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers at the Boott Mills with mill employees wearing E Award pins.  Nourse was sponsored several pieces of legislation designed to support our armed forces.  Jack also told us while visiting LOWE that this E Award pennant once flew at the counting house of the Boott Mill.  Walking through the courtyard today, it’s easy to picture these proud, bright colors flying overhead.

e award

E Award pennant from the museum collection at Lowell National Historical Park.


E Award poster from the museum collection at Lowell National Historical Park.

Cambodian Dance Costume Helmet

In Mill Power:  the Origin and Impact of Lowell National Historical Park, Paul Marion describes the dynamic changes in Lowell’s population during the last twenty years of the 20th century, when “some 17,000 refugees from Southeast Asia, most of them Cambodians, along with many Vietnamese and Laotians, resettled in the mill city” (p. 31).  The Cambodian population has enriched Lowell in many significant ways, adding specific elements of their traditional culture to an already diverse city.  This headpiece signifies the Cambodian refugees’ heritage and their cultural contributions to modern-day Lowell.

This object is not a historic piece; it was purchased by Lowell National Historical Park as a representative item for exhibit purposes.  The helmet is one element of a costume worn during a traditional Cambodian dance performed regularly in Lowell by the Angkor Dance Troupe.  As expressed on the group’s website, the troupe was formed in 1986 when “Tim Thou and a group of Cambodian refugees with a passion for Khmer performing arts came together in Lowell, Massachusetts with the sole purpose to revive a culture once almost lost.”  This headpiece is an important piece in Lowell National Historical Park’s museum collection because it represents a part of Lowell’s history that is not related to – but equally as worthy of interpretation and preservation as – the story of the textile mills.


Helmet from traditional Cambodian dance costume. In the museum collection at Lowell National Historical Park.

cambodian dance

Image of Angkor Dance Troupe, found online at Massachusetts Cultural Council’s website.



In Mill Power:  The Origin and Impact of Lowell National Historical Park, Paul Marion writes about the creation of Lowell and the ideals that it was founded on:  “Lowell was the American imagination at work…a declaration of industrial independence.”  (Marion p. 7)  Lowell’s history is characterized by growth, decline, and rebirth, as the city continuously sought to keep up with America’s changing economy.  The story of Lowell’s people reflects the story of America:  a population as diverse as it is hardworking, strong, and proud.  Without the European immigrants who powered the mills in the 19th century, and the Cambodian refugees of today who infuse the city with their vibrant culture, Lowell as we know it would not exist.

Patrick Mogan, who dedicated his career to revitalizing Lowell in the 20th century and was instrumental in the formation of Lowell National Historical Park, often said:  “A city that has no past cannot have a future.” (Marion p. 159)  History provides us with a sense of belonging that instills pride in our local places and stories. Lowell National Historical Park helps to ensure that Lowell’s inspiring history will be preserved and passed on for years to come.

We hope that you enjoyed learning about these objects from the museum collection at Lowell National Historical Park!  It was our pleasure sharing them with you.  We offer our most sincere thanks to LOWE’s former Museum Specialist Jack Herlihy and LOWE’s Chief of Cultural Resources Laurel Racine for taking the time to meet with us and share their extensive knowledge about the park’s museum collection.  Summer’s not over yet!  Add a visit to this one-of-a-kind park to your bucket list this year!


Angkor Dance Troupe, official website:  http://www.angkordance.org/

Gross, Laurence F.  The Course of Industrial Decline:  The Boott Cotton Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1835-1955.  Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Herlihy, Jack, personal communication, May 18, 2017.

Lowell National Historical Park, official website:  https://www.nps.gov/lowe/index.htm

Marion, Paul.  Mill Power:  The Origin and Impact of Lowell National Historical Park.  ew York:  Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.

Mrozowski, Stephen A., Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary C. Beaudry.  Living on the Boott:  Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses, Lowell, Massachusetts.  Amherst:  University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

Racine, Laurel, personal communication, May 18, 2017.

Robinson, Harriet H.  Loom and Spindle:  Or Life Amongst the Early Mill Girls.  Carlisle, MA:  Applewood Books, 1898.



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Back to Class! Tips from Winterthur’s “Ceramics Up Close” Conference

Sharpen your pencils and put your thinking caps on… we’re going back to class!  Here at NMSC, we try to attend conferences and workshops on a fairly regular basis in order to keep abreast of the latest research and network with other museum professionals.  Last month, I attended the 2017 Ceramics Up Close conference at Winterthur, which allowed me to get an in-depth, hands-on look at some of the remarkable ceramics in Winterthur’s collection (ALL of which are digitized on their online database!).  There is truly no better way to learn about these objects than to see them up close, front and back, and discuss them firsthand with experts.  The tips I learned at this conference will help me to better catalog and date the ceramics we encounter in NPS archeology collections.  We hope they will help you, too!  If you work with historic ceramics (or pieces of them, like we do), or just enjoy them, for that matter, then this blog post is for you!


NMSC’s Jessica (author) at Winterthur’s 2017 Ceramics Up Close conference.


Is it Chinese export porcelain, or an English imitation?

In the 18th century, English porcelain factories like Bow, Caughley, and Spode produced soft paste porcelain to try to imitate the hugely popular hard paste variety coming out of China.  (There’s a great online exhibit about Spode – and the Chinese export it was inspired by – accessible via Winterthur’s website.)  Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference!  Here’s a helpful tip I learned:  the Chinese never printed on their wares, while the English did.  If it looks like blue and white Chinese export but it’s printed, it’s probably English.

final for blog

Left:  Chinese export porcelain plate, handpainted, Winterthur collection.  Right:  Spode soft paste porcelain plate, printed, Winterthur collection.

Is it slip cast, or press molded?

Slip casting was a popular method of producing fine stoneware vessels in the mid-18th century.  It was not often used with earthenware, and was less common after the 18th century.  The fairly complicated process of slip casting resulted in the molded decoration being echoed in relief on the interior of the vessel.  If you can feel or see the reverse decoration on the inside of the piece, it was slip cast, and most likely dates to before 1800.  If the interior is smooth, it was probably press molded.

teapot 1740-1760

Slip-cast white salt-glazed stoneware teapot in the museum collection at Winterthur.

Is it majolica, or is it faience?

(We’ve noticed some differences in opinion throughout the field as to exactly how you define and identify these tin-glazed wares.  The tips offered here represent what I learned at this conference.  If you have a different opinion, we encourage you to share it with us!) 

I learned at this conference that majolica vessels were sometimes finished with less expensive lead glaze on the back (like the vessel shown here), while faience was usually completely tin-glazed.  Also, majolica pieces may exhibit “crows feet” – marks from the separators used to create space between vessels during firing.

tin enamel with lead glazed back

Tin-glazed plate with lead-glazed back from museum collection at Winterthur.

crows feet

Close-up showing “crows feet” on above vessel.

How old is that tin-glazed vessel? Where was it made?

We learned at this conference that manganese wasn’t used until about 1650.  In a nutshell, if you see manganese, it’s mostly likely about 1650 or later.  We also learned that Portuguese tin-glazed vessels often have this pin-pricked look to their glaze.  If you see a bunch of tiny holes like this in the glaze, there’s a good chance it’s Portuguese.

portugal plate front

Tin-glazed plate with manganese outline from museum collection at Winterthur.  Portugal, ca. 1650-1675.

portuguese plate pin pricks

Back of the above plate, showing pin-prick-type holes in the glaze.

Is that stoneware from Germany, or somewhere else?

German potters separated their vessels from the wheel by cutting them off at the base with cheese wire, resulting in rough, somewhat parallel ridges on the base like the ones seen here.  English and Dutch potters removed their vessels from the wheel by simply lifting or pulling them off.  Instead of the ridges, you’d see what might be described as pucker marks on the bases of these vessels, or they may look fairly smooth.  If you see ridges like this on the base, it’s probably German.

stoneware base

Base of a stoneware vessel in the museum collection at Winterthur.  Note the ridges created when the vessel was cut from the wheel.

Is that Chinese porcelain or Japanese porcelain?

Both Chinese and Japanese 18th-century porcelain was sometimes decorated in this specific color palette of burnt orange, gold, and blue, sometimes referred to as the “Imari palette.”  How do you tell if a vessel like this is Chinese or Japanese porcelain?  The Japanese decoration was often “busier,” as seen in the difference between these two plates.  Also, Japanese ceramics show evidence of the kiln furniture that separated one piece from another during firing.  (Look closely; click on the photo to enlarge it a bit.  See the three circular marks on the back of the first plate?)  You will not see these marks on Chinese porcelain.  So, if it’s “busy” and has marks in the glaze from kiln furniture, it’s probably Japanese rather than Chinese porcelain.

japanese kiln marksboth

Japanese plate with “Imari palette” from museum collection at Winterthur.  Kiln furniture marks evident on back of plate.

chinese imari front and back

Chinese plate with “Imari palette” from museum collection at Winterthur.


These are just a few of the tips I came away with from this fantastic conference.  During our work with NPS archeology collections, we regularly come across familiar friends like feather-edged pearlware plates, transfer-printed whiteware teacups, and lead-glazed redware jars.  We also see our fair share of vessel forms and decorative techniques that throw us for a loop!  These challenges are what make our jobs fun and exciting.  Taking advantage of learning experiences like this helps us stay up to date in the field, hone our cataloging skills, and better understand the wonderful world of historic ceramics.


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Hack-Attack: Museum Hack and the National Park Service

Have you heard of Museum Hack? If not, the first thing you should know is that their company motto is “Museums are f***ing awesome.” If you go to their website, the first text you see is “This isn’t your Grandma’s museum tour” along with a video of people laughing in a museum. LAUGHING. Intrigued, I kept reading and discovered that Museum Hack brings small groups of people into large museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and leads tours geared toward people between the ages of 21-35, but welcomes other ages as well, including families. Museum Hack’s tours run roughly two hours and have general themes such as “Political Scandal” or “Big Gay Met Tour” and are anything but boring. They are currently offering tours in New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco and do so in cooperation with the museum with a portion of the ticket cost being used to pay for museum admission. Museum Hack is a business that is for profit, but is also benefitting non-profits by attracting people who might not ordinarily walk through the doors.  During the tour, guests are invited to participate by taking photos (in accordance with museum policy), telling stories, playing games, working as a team, and being silly. This approach is heavy on the entertainment, but also lets visitors take away the stories and information they actively learned during the tour.


Nikki, blog author and NMSC Museum Technician, in her natural habitat (a beautiful historic mansion in Newport!) taking a #museumselfie.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a training by Museum Hack at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site in Woodstock, VT. This training was mostly geared toward the interpretation and cultural resource staff at the park, but because of my interest in working with cultural resources and millennial-geared programming, I was also invited to attend. Let me tell you, I could not have had a better, nor more informative, time at this training.

The Museum Hack training was well structured and they taught us ways to engage, entertain, and educate museum visitors of a specific demographic that the National Park Service and many other cultural institutions are trying to attract: millennials. As a millennial myself, I am quite invested in learning and finding successful ways of getting people my age, into the parks. This training helped me think more critically about what we’re doing now and what we can do in the future to meet this goal. Currently, many National Park Sites (especially those with cultural history) offer an hour-long ranger guided tour. This format works for many people who are already visiting NPS sites, but leaves out a large group that either does not learn well with this format, or simply are looking for a shorter time commitment or something that works better with their schedule. If the National Park Service is committed to getting younger and more diverse groups into its parks, NPS staff need to think differently about how they’re bringing the information to the public. Some ways we can accomplish this:

  • Speak to visitors in a way they can relate to and won’t feel alienated by
    • This isn’t new information but it’s important; read your audience! If you’re leading a tour of professors and academics in the museum or related field, then it might be appropriate to incorporate words that may only have meaning within the field. However, the large majority of your visitors are there to see the site, learn a little, and have an experience. Remember that visitors are there for the cool stories they couldn’t find out about elsewhere, that’s why they decided to physically come to your site. Read your audience and speak to them in a respectful but casual way. This can be facilitated dialog, asking people to look something up on their phone, or simply making a joke (my personal favorite being a bad pun).

Exploring fallout shelters with NPS and Museum Hack staff at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Site! Who doesn’t love a cozy fallout shelter? Photo courtesy of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Instagram @marshbillingsnps.

  • Museums, History, and Art can be FUN.
    • You read that right, fun. Museum Hack focuses heavily on entertaining the visitor with education being a bonus. Though many interpreters worry about tours being more entertainment and not enough learning, there is a way to strike a balance. Often times we forget we’re telling stories that we’ve heard many times before, but are brand new to our visitors. When you’re passionate and lively while telling those stories, people have more fun. I also can’t emphasize enough the importance of breaking up the tour with opportunities to laugh. Of course this isn’t always appropriate, especially when talking about controversial issues or hard topics in history, but if you’re telling a story, make that story come to life! If your tour group looks bored, change up your tour and re-engage them! Museum Hack often breaks up stretches of talking with games and other challenges to get people moving and involved. One of my favorite examples of this is asking the tour group at the beginning of the tour to think about a nick-name for Augustus St. Gaudens using only his initials. Even if your visitor is losing interest in something you’re saying, there’s a good chance that they’ll stay engaged with the challenge you assigned them at the beginning of the tour. Or, play a game! Challenge them to pick an object they could use in case of a zombie apocalypse and have them share it with the group. Really make the visitor feel like the tour is one-of-a-kind since they’re a part of it.

Silly poses and photos mimicking beautiful artwork are *encouraged* on Museum Hack tours! Photo courtesy of Museum Hack.


  • Think outside the box.
    • So maybe you’re not going to start a revolution in the museum world by getting a bunch of millennials on your hour-long guided tour, even with the new tools in your tool kit. Why not think outside the box, or in our case, outside the house? Last summer I attended a yoga event in the backyard of a historic house. The event was wildly successful with well over 100 people in attendance, most of them in the “millennial” age range. Though yoga is not necessarily part of the museum’s mission, it is an easy entry point for people who wouldn’t normally visit a historic house museum. The museum also offered tours which some event attendees went on, and made a point to advertise their other more mission-connected programming to everyone at the event. Yoga and other outdoor activities are in demand for many millennials and many (including this one) enjoy doing these activities at new places, especially outdoors. Could yoga or another outdoor activity be the key to getting younger people into your park or site?

Now comes the hard part, sitting down and figuring out who your audience is and who you want it to be. Is one of the groups you want to attract millennials? Then embrace some of this advice and go out and market your institution as a fun place for that crowd! There are many museums in the Boston area that are doing just this with their “after hours” events including Boston Children’s Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Peabody-Essex Museum, and the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, just to name a few. The important part is to think about your new audience’s time (when are they free? Likely not at 11am during the week) and the thing that sets your institution apart from the many other activities out there for this age group (food and drinks being a HUGE plus!). The skills I learned from Museum Hack are valuable skills for attracting people in the age group 21-35, but are obviously not entirely suitable for every audience. These tools I learned will help us in the National Park Service build our audience, but certainly are not the entire focus. It’s all about balance, keeping our current audience happy wile cultivating new audiences to propel us into the next century of the National Park Service.


Has your museum or institution tried anything new to get a different audience in the doors? What worked? What didn’t work? We’d love to hear more!

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It’s Not Easy Being Beautiful: the Beauty Industry in the Archeological Record

“How do I look?”  We’ve all said it.  Despite our knowledge that beauty is skin deep and that it’s what inside that matters, we all take measures to look our best.  Americans today are bombarded with advertisements for whiter teeth, younger looking skin, and shinier, healthier hair.  It turns out this is nothing new; throughout history, men and women have used various products and instruments to try to attain certain ideals of beauty.  Luckily for us, vestiges of these efforts turn up in the archeological record, and we can study them to better understand the mindsets of early Americans and the societal pressures and expectations they were faced with.  In this blog post, we highlight some of the artifacts we’ve come across in our lab that represent past Americans’ quest to be beautiful.

Before we begin, we must point out that most of the artifacts in this post were likely used by white women and represent 19th-century white Americans’ standards of beauty, which favored pale skin and European features instead of embracing the different types of beauty present in America’s diverse population.  (For further reading, check out Kathy Peiss’s fascinating book Hope in a Jar:  The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, which includes a thorough discussion of race in the context of 19th– and 20th-century cosmetics.)  In the latter part of the 20th century, the beauty industry finally took a multicultural turn.  Vogue magazine proclaimed: “Everybody’s all-American…The face of American beauty has changed to reflect the nation’s ethnic diversity.”  (Peiss p.263)  Archeology has the potential to reveal true, inclusive histories if we pay attention and do our research.  We’d love to hear about excavations that have yielded beauty products intended for or used by ALL Americans.


2016 Advertisement for L’Oreal True Match makeup.  Found online.


Wig Curler

This clay wig curler from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park is unique among the artifacts featured in this post in that it represents a fashion exclusive to men:  18th-century periwigs (also known as a perukes).  Wigs became popular among 17th-century French and English aristocrats when King Louis XIV began wearing them to hide his thinning hair.  The trend quickly spread throughout the general population, and remained fashionable until after the French and American Revolutions, when people began to favor more natural styles.  Wigs were made of human hair (the most expensive variety), goat hair, horsehair, or vegetable fibers, the most extravagant full-bottomed styles cascading down past the shoulders.  In the 18th century, wigs were powdered and sometimes even scented.  Women powdered their own hair, and added faux hair to their coiffures, but wigs were a male phenomenon.  In A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, Ivor Noel Hume described how wig curlers were used:  “The curls of a new wig, or of one being dressed, were rolled in strips of damp paper around the clay curlers, the weight of which served to pull the hair downward against the block over which the wig was seated.”  (p. 322)


Clay wig curlers from the archeology collection at Minute Man National Historical Park (coin for scale).  Photo by Norm Eggert for NMSC.


Image of 18th-century wig-making from Diderot’s Encyclopedia. Image available through Wikimedia Commons.


Cosmetic Jar

In Face Paint:  the Story of Makeup, Lisa Eldridge states: “for a long time in the history of cosmetics throughout Europe and the Far East, the prevailing trend was, if not exactly the same, then a variation on one central theme:  pale skin.”  (p. 38)  In the aristocratic courts of 17th– and 18th-century Europe, men and women wore powder and rouge to attain the popular look of a white face with red cheeks and lips.


The Marquise de Pompadour, ca. 1750.  Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Charles E. Dunlap

After the French and American Revolutions of the late 18th century, a more natural look prevailed.  In the 19th century, a painted face (rouge on the cheeks or lips, kohl-darkened eyes) was associated with wantonness, vice, and prostitution.  Women were supposed to stay inside, at home, away from the stresses of public life and the exertions of outdoor activity.  A pale complexion symbolized this idea of a woman’s proper place.  For the American Victorian woman, the ideal was an unpainted, unblemished, pure white, natural complexion.  Of course, perfect porcelain skin is not natural, and women went to great measures to try to achieve it.

19th-century society frowned upon face paint, but cosmetics that claimed to improve the health of one’s skin and preserve a perfect complexion were considered acceptable.  Many women used skin-whitening creams in addition to powder meant to soak up sweat and reduce shine.  Perfumers often crossed over into cosmetic production, one being Guerlain, a French perfumery founded by Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain in 1828.  In 1857, Guerlain introduced Blanc de Perle, a skin-whitening cream.  This earthenware cosmetic pot from the archeology collection at Gateway National Recreation Area marked “Guerlain, 15 Rue de la Paix” probably dates to the late 19th century and most likely contained a skin cream intended to preserve and enhance a lady’s pale complexion.


Guerlain cosmetic jar from the archeology collection at Gateway National Recreation Area.  Photo by Norm Eggert for NMSC.


Powder Jar

In addition to skin-whitening creams, 19th-century American women also used powder to achieve the perfect complexion expected of them.  Face powders were commonly made of ground starch, rice, or chalk, and were sometimes scented or lightly tinted pink or blue.  This powder jar from the archeology collection at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA) dates to the 1930s, when a pure white complexion was no longer the given standard of beauty, but women still used powder to absorb sweat and to make their skin look soft and clear.   During the 1930s, glass companies produced powder jars in stylish shapes and colors, hoping to entice consumers during tough financial times.  This gorgeous art deco example is called the “obelisk” shape.  Other surviving examples are marked “Taussaunt Glass” on the underside of the base, but this one from DEWA is unmarked.



As women moved increasingly into the public sphere around the turn of the 20th century, they needed their hygiene and beauty regimens to be able to move with them.  Loose powder and big puffs were not conducive to women on the go.  Carl Weeks invented long-wearing face powder – an adhesive mixture of dry cold cream and talc – in 1910.  He packaged his product in portable, closeable cases, allowing women to carry their powder with them and apply it anywhere.  (Hence the evolution of the “powder room,” a space outside of the home where women could freshen their appearance.)  Produced in stylish designs reminiscent of elegant French hatboxes or modern novelties like the telephone, compacts were not only functional, but also became a fashion accessory that women were proud to show off in public.

This compact (left) is from the archeology collection at Lowell National Historical Park and was found during a 1986 excavation of the Boott Mills.  In the early 20th century, the boardinghouses at the Boott Mills housed mill employees and their families.  The buildings were torn down in 1934 and replaced by parking lots and coal yards.  This compact is rather simple compared to some of the fancy designs available in the 1920s and 30s.  We love to think of the hard-working woman who owned it, working long hours in a crowded factory, or toiling day in and day out as a busy homemaker, all while claiming her role as a fashionable, 20th-century woman.


Early 20th-century compact from the archeology collection at Lowell National Historical Park (left, photo by Norm Eggert for NMSC), and a collection of ca. 1940s-50s novelty compacts pictured in “Face Paint:  the Story of Makeup” by Lisa Eldridge (right).


Lipstick experienced a similar transformation in the early 20th century from cumbersome pots and brushes to sleek, modern-looking cartridges that were portable, easy to use, and pleasing to the eye.  This early 20th-century Avon lipstick cartridge was excavated by the City of Boston Archaeology Program at the site of the Industrial School for Girls, which opened in 1859.  This lipstick, discovered at an institution that was created to instill morality and manners in young girls, surely has a fascinating story to tell.  (Anyone looking for a research project?)


Early 20th-century lipstick cartridge excavated at the site of the Industrial School for Girls, Boston.  City of Boston Archaeology Program.


Parasol Tip

Here in the NMSC archeology lab, we’re no strangers to the cataloging term “indeterminate metal object.”  Small, metal objects can be some of the most difficult to identify during processing.  Certain types of metal do not fare well in the archeological record (particularly ferrous metals), reducing to unrecognizable clumps or bits.  Other metal objects can be difficult to identify because they represent a small portion of a larger, composite item that did not survive intact.  Case in point:  this little copper alloy cone-shaped artifact from the archeological collection at Petersburg National Battlefield.  When our wonderful 2014 intern Meredith encountered this item during cataloging, we were stumped.  Another indeterminate metal object.  After some careful research, however, Meredith figured it out:  a parasol tip!  This object is one of what would have been several tips that attached the cover of a parasol to its frame.


Copper alloy parasol (or umbrella) tip from the archeology collection at Petersburg National Battlefield. Photo by Norm Eggert for NMSC.



Parasol from the museum collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (left) and folded parasol from the museum collection at Colonial Williamsburg (right).  Arrows point to tip portion.  Images found online, see References.

Parasols and umbrellas were used by men and women in 18th-century America, and had become essential staples of fine ladies’ dress by the 19th century.  Their primary purpose was shielding one’s face from the sun to preserve the pale skin that was considered the aesthetic ideal in Victorian times.  Ironically, some fashion trends made their use impractical, causing women to carry them closed as a purely decorative accessory instead of a functional one.


Nail Polish

Nail polish as we know it is a fairly modern thing.  Until the 20th century, beautiful nails meant nails that were clean, shiny, free of blemishes, and shaped appropriately.  (I cringe as a catch a glimpse of my own nails right now…hey, I got the clean part down.)  In Victorian times, clean, soft hands and fingernails were another way to show status.  As Ruth Goodman points out in How to Be a Victorian, manual labor like scrubbing floors and washing laundry did a job on women’s hands, and “a pair of soft, lily-white hands with perfectly manicured nails was often a badge of idleness.”  (p. 107)  Women used lemon to bleach their nails, and would buff them soft and shiny with a leather buffer.  Nail polish was available by the early 20th century, but was transparent or light, translucent pink until Revlon introduced colored polish, and the trend of matching one’s lipstick and nail polish, in the 1930s.

This bottle of Miraglo nail polish from the archeology collection at Roger Williams National Memorial (ROWI) dates to about the 1930s.  (We can’t find much information about Miraglo; what can you tell us about this company?)  The cap for this bottle imitates a popular fashion in nails in the 1930s:  the “moon manicure,” in which the half-moon at the base of the fingernail (and often the tip portion as well) was left unpainted.


While I was working on this blog post in our lab one day, I was listening to a series of StoryCorps podcasts offered by NPR.  I had just decided to include the bottle of nail polish from ROWI when I heard an episode of StoryCorps that changed the way I will look at nail polish for the rest of my life.  The story was told by Mary Ellen Noone, whose great-grandmother grew up on an Alabama plantation in the early 1900s.  Mary Ellen recounts a story her great-grandmother, Pinky, told her when she was young.  Pinky was black, and worked for a white woman in Lowndes County, Alabama, washing and ironing her clothes.  One day, Pinky found that her employer had discarded a bottle of nail polish, and took the bottle out of the trash to bring home with her.  I can only imagine how modern and pretty she must have felt, walking into church days later with beautiful, polished nails.  She then visited a general store, where the white store owner accused her of trying to act like a white woman by painting her nails.  The abuse Pinky suffered at his hands was devastating to listen to.  Mary Ellen concluded her story by sharing, “I still have that anger inside of me that someone would have that control over one person just because they wanted to feel like a woman.”

This story continues to haunt me, and I will never look at a bottle of nail polish the same way.  I am so thankful to Mary Ellen Noone for sharing this story, and for reminding all of us that for so many Americans throughout history, something as simple as a bottle of nail polish represented pain, hardship, inequity, and injustice.  These are the stories that we must seek out, and share, if we are to come to a full understanding of our nation’s past.

In Hope in a Jar:  the Making of America’s Beauty Culture, Kathy Peiss writes, “the public debate over cosmetics today veers noisily between the poles of victimization and self-invention, between the prison of beauty and the play of makeup.”  (p. 268-9)   Some people decry makeup as a means through which women are objectified and held to unattainable physical standards.  Others applaud makeup as a tool women can use to reflect their individual styles and personalities.  Whatever criticisms it faces, the beauty industry in America has allowed women the opportunity to express themselves and to feel good about their appearance.  It has also empowered many women by creating jobs and opportunities for economic advancement and self-sufficiency.  (Think of your local Avon or Mary Kay representative!)  The inspiring story of Sara Breedlove Walker is a perfect example:  an African-American woman who was born into poverty and became a successful businesswoman and philanthropist by starting her own line of beauty products (Mme. C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company) specifically for black women in the early 20th century.  Walker’s business created jobs for African-American women and sent the message to black women that they too deserved to look and feel beautiful.


1903 photograph of Sarah Breedlove Walker.  Found online (wikipedia).

However you feel about the beauty industry, I leave you with this thought-provoking sentiment, expressed by Lisa Eldridge in Face Paint:  the Story of Makeup: “Ultimately, nothing empowers a woman more than the right to a good education, and the freedom to wear a red lip and a smoky eye… or not.”  (p. 227)


Eldridge, Lisa.  Face Paint:  the Story of Makeup.  New York:  Abrams Image, 2015.

Goodman, Ruth.  How to be a Victorian:  A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life.  New York:  Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013.

Goodman, Ruth.  How to be a Tudor:  A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life.  New York:  Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2015.

Hume, Ivor Noel.  A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.

Lasky, Kathryn.  Vision of Beauty:  the Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker.  Cambridge:  Candlewick Press, 2000.

Laver, James.  Costume and Fashion:  A Concise History.  New York:  Thames and Hudson, 1969.

Mrozowski, Stephen A., Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary C. Beaudry.  Living on the Boott:  Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses, Lowell, Massachusetts.  Amherst:  University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

Peiss, Kathy.  Hope in a Jar:  The Making of America’s Beauty Culture.  New York:  Metropolitan Books, 1998.

Whitmyer, Margaret and Kenn.  Bedroom and Bathroom Glassware of the Depression Years.  Collector Books, 1989.








Parasol images:  http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/101670?sortBy=Relevance&ft=parasol&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=8, http://mountvernonmidden.org/wordpress/?p=840

The episode of StoryCorps referenced in this post can be found at https://storycorps.org/listen/mary-ellen-noone/  and originally aired March 21, 2008, on NPR’s Morning Edition.


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NMSC: Our Best of 2016!

2016 marked the 100th birthday of America’s National Park Service.  For those of us here at the Northeast Museum Services Center (NMSC), it’s been a productive and fulfilling year.  Once again, we were privileged to work on a variety of projects at national parks across the Northeast Region.  We worked hands-on with some amazing historic structures and objects during the cleaning and reinstallation of the Wayside at Minute Man National Historical Park and the reinstallation of Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.  We processed archival and archeological collections from several sites, including Women’s Rights National Historical Park and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  We assisted Northeast Region parks like Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site with developing planning documents that will help them to manage their museum collections.  And we worked with parks and their partners to create beautiful and educational exhibits, like Bierstadt:  Nature and National Identity, which ran from June through September at the New Bedford Art Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

As 2016 draws to a close, we are honored to share with you some of our favorite memories and proudest accomplishments from this year.  Some of the photos featured here depict our staff and projects we’ve worked on this past year.  Others depict some of the major achievements of our friends and colleagues at various national parks in the Northeast Region.  (For more information, scroll to the bottom of this post.)  It’s been a great year for the National Park Service, the Northeast Region, and NMSC, and we look forward to the challenges, opportunities, and rewards of 2017!

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For more information on these projects and parks, see the following links:

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Prehistoric Pottery at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Throughout the past year NMSC has been working on processing a large archeology collection from Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  This collection contains a significant amount of prehistoric material, including some great examples of pottery dating to the Woodland Period.  While at NMSC, Josh Bradford researched and processed a large portion of this collection.  In this post, Josh summarizes the types of prehistoric ceramics found in the DEWA collection.

[The following blog post written by Josh Bradford.]

We write a lot about historic ceramics on this blog because we love them and come across so many of them. Recently, however, we had a large amount of Native American prehistoric pottery come through the lab, and I thought it presented the perfect opportunity for a closer look at the basics of some of these beautiful and interesting prehistoric ceramics.

All of the prehistoric pottery discussed here comes from two neighboring archeological sites in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which straddles the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Border along the Delaware River. The area encompassing the sites has had continuous Native American habitation, mostly the Lenape and their ancestors, for over 10,000 years, and was designated the Minisink Historic District or Minisink Archeological Site, a National Landmark, in 1993. Fortunately, the ceramics from these sites provide a good example of the progression and types of ceramics all throughout the Eastern Woodlands.


Map found on Minisink Valley Historical Society’s website.

Although the area contains sites stretching from pre-Archaic (>10,000 BP) to beyond Contact, and these two specific sites also contain Archaic artifacts and historic artifacts, when discussing prehistoric pottery it important to focus on the Woodland Period (or Eastern Woodland Period), which is commonly defined as beginning around 3,000 years ago. This is important because one of the main characteristics that define the Woodland Period is the introduction or invention of Pottery and its wide-spread use! Before the Woodland Period stone bowls and basket containers were used. Luckily, the two sites contain a wide range of prehistoric pottery from each of the three parts into which the Woodland period is broken: Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, and Late Woodland.

Early Woodland

 Early Woodland ceramics first began being produced around 3,000 years ago. As with most new technologies, prehistoric pottery became finer and more complex over time (although there are always exceptions). Figuring out which Woodland period each sherd of pottery comes from is done by examining its temper, thickness, and surface decoration. Of course, in the rare case of a whole vessel, the vessel shape can reveal the time period; Early Woodland pots often had flat bottoms and resembled the stone vessels from earlier periods. The temper, which was added to the clay to prevent the pot from breaking when fired, used during the Early Woodland was usually a course grit, which was crushed locally-available stone often mixed with sand or shell. On sherds, such as the one below on the left, it’s easy to see the grit in the broken edges. Early Woodland ceramics were also usually thick-walled. Finally, and often most revealing, is the decoration on the surface, typically the exterior. Early Woodland ceramics often had plain exteriors or were pressed with a net (such as the one below, although hard to see) or piece of fabric all over their surface. They were also frequently impressed with a cord-wrapped stick to make basic designs.


Middle Woodland

During the Middle Woodland period, from about 2,000 to 1000 years ago, Native Americans began experimenting with new tempers, designs, and vessel shapes, and ceramics became even more wide spread. While many of the same Early Woodland materials were used for temper, the grit was less course, and the stone or shell, sometimes used alone, often came from farther away through travel or trade networks (extensive trade networks are one of the defining features of the Middle Woodland). Vessel walls also became thinner and finer, and vessel shapes began to resemble what many think of as a classic rounded, tapered bottom prehistoric pot. Finally, exterior surface designs became elaborate, with incising, punctating, cord-wrapped stick impressing, and many other techniques becoming common, as does decoration of the pot’s rim. Additionally, in the Middle Woodland, regional and cultural commonalities in pottery design, temper use, and vessel shape become evident, and Archaeologists have identified different types or wares of pottery.


Late Woodland

 Finally, the Late Woodland, which ran from about 1000 years ago to contact with Europeans, brought intricate and elaborate, collared pottery. Again, temper became even more fine, and the materials used came from farther away, which allowed even thinner vessel walls. For the Late Woodland, vessel shape and design becomes even more important. Vessels with rounded shoulders and flared lips became common.  Additionally, and most defining of Late Woodland Pottery is the addition of a highly-decorated collar to the lip of the pot, parts of which can be seen in the pictures below.  While decoration techniques remained the same as earlier periods, they became much more elaborate on both the collar and the exterior surface of the pot, and occasionally zoomorphic designs were used. Cultural and regional wares also become more established and defined.


The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has extensive Native American history, and the collection we’ve been working on contains artifacts of all types, time periods, cultures, and peoples. It is fortunate, however, that looking at just one type of artifact—in this case, prehistoric pottery—can reveal so much about each archaeological site or stratum within the site, especially the times periods they represent.  Although this is just the very basics of prehistoric pottery in the Eastern Woodlands and the periods within it, it does provide a simple example of how archaeologists can date sites and strata and provides and a good overview of Eastern Woodland Pottery.



Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum. Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/index.htm

Kerber, Jordan E., ed. A Lasting Impression: Coastal, Lithic, and Ceramic Research in New England Archaeology. Praeger: Westport, Connecticut, 2002.

Louis Berger & Associates, Inc. Archaeological Survey of the Milford Transect, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. East Orange, New Jersey, 1995.

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Pennsylvania Archaeology. http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/archaeology/native-american/early-middle-woodland-period.html

Southeast Archaeology Center. Southeastern Prehistory, Middle Woodland Period. https://www.nps.gov/seac/hnc/outline/04-woodland/index-2.htm

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Furnishing Hampton: Development of Historic Furnishings Reports at Hampton National Historic Site

This fall, NMSC’s former Senior Curator Laurel Racine accepted a new position as Chief of Cultural Resources at Lowell National Historical Park (LOWE).  Although we miss her terribly, we are excited about this new opportunity for Laurel and look forward to hearing about all of the great things she’s doing at LOWE! 

Laurel Racine, Chief of Cultural Resources at Lowell National Historical Park, teaching young visitors from New Bedford about collections management at LOWE.

Laurel Racine, Chief of Cultural Resources at Lowell National Historical Park (LOWE), teaching young visitors from New Bedford about collections management at LOWE.

While here at NMSC, Laurel worked with parks to develop Historic Furnishings Reports (HFRs).  She wrote the following blog post about the HFRs currently in development at Hampton National Historic Site (HAMP).

[The following post written by Laurel Racine]

New research is underway at Hampton National Historic Site (HAMP)!  NMSC has hired contractors Hardy-Heck-Moore and Volz O’Connell Hutson Architects from Austin, TX, to research and write Historic Furnishings Reports for the children’s bedchamber, guest bedchamber, kitchen, great hall, and stair halls.  A Historic Furnishings Report (HFR) includes the history of a structure’s use and documents the type and placement of furnishings to accurately portray a period of significance.   

To date Hampton has HFRs for the Master Bedchamber (1993), Dining Room (1994), Music Room (1994), Drawing Room (2006),  and Parlour (draft HFR 2009, 2015).  The current project will complete the documentation of all rooms open to the public, including two bedchambers, kitchen and halls.  Over 95 percent of the furnishings on display in Hampton’s period rooms are original to the house and Ridgely family. The historically accurate interiors are recreated through the generous support of Historic Hampton, Inc. (HHI), the site’s primary partner. HHI raises private funds to underwrite reproduction of curtains, upholstery, carpets, and wallpapers as well as funding object conservation.

Interior of Hampton National Historic Site.

Interior of Hampton National Historic Site.

Established in 1948 for its architectural merit, Hampton NHS is one of America’s best-preserved estates and includes Hampton Mansion; numerous outbuildings; a farm site with elaborate dairy, barns, and standing slave quarters; and formal terraced gardens and other significant landscape features.  It is a 63-acre remnant of a 24,000-acre industrial and agricultural estate amassed and stewarded by seven generations of the Ridgely family during more than 200 years of America’s development as a nation, from before the Revolutionary War until after World War II.  The centerpiece of the park is the 24,000 square foot Hampton Mansion, constructed 1783-1790.  This five-part Georgian house was one of the largest in this country when completed.  Hampton is located in Towson, Maryland, about 13 miles north of downtown Baltimore.

Hampton National Historic Site

Hampton National Historic Site

The sheer volume of objects and documentary evidence available to inform Hampton’s HFRs makes it challenging to read, analyze, and synthesize so much good information.  In addition to its 45,000 extant collection items, Hampton’s history is documented in the copious archival holdings at the park, the manuscript collections of the Maryland Historical Society, and the Maryland State Archives.  These fascinating records include diaries, cookbooks, photographs, account books, bills, receipts, inventories, and correspondence.   A historic Furnishings Report concentrates  these resources in one place to assist the park in managing its furnished exhibits and museum collection.  A significant draft of the current project was submitted earlier this year, so we look forward to reporting some findings in the near future.

In the meantime, you can experience Hampton Mansion on-line as a virtual museum exhibit and in interior street views and an object gallery available through Google Cultural Institute.

Screen shot from HAMP's virtual museum exhibit.

Screen shot from HAMP’s virtual museum exhibit.

Screen shot from Google Cultural Institute.

Screen shot from Google Cultural Institute.


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