From Shovel to Shelf: Part One

Maggie is currently an intern at the Northeast Region Archeology Program. She will be attending the University of Georgia for a PhD in History starting this fall. Maggie wrote the following blog post after working with documents related to the recent archeological excavations and perscribed burn at Gettysburg National Battlefield.

Why do we perform Archeology? How do we establish a methodology? What tools do we use and why? Where do all the artifacts go after they are excavated? All these questions must be asked before, during, and after any archeological project performed at the National Parks. The answers to these questions provide a glimpse into the work of the Northeast Region Archeology Program and the Northeast Museum Services Center. So join us and learn how archeology goes from shovel… to shelf!

First, we take a look at an ongoing project at Gettysburg National Military Park. This week we will discuss the Northeast Region Archeology Program’s field work at Gettysburg, and next week we will hear about what happens after the excavation ends from the Northeast Museum Services Center

Trial By Fire: Why is Archeology Performed?

In 1902, a group of tourists visiting Gettysburg’s Little Round Top stopped by Weikert Souvenir Stand and purchased sodas for their picnic lunch. The sightseers were excited to tour the location of such a famous battle, visiting for the same reasons that we go to Gettysburg National Military Park today. They browsed the stand’s “souvenirs”—bullets, personal objects, and other relics from the Battle of Little Round Top that David Weikert, a Civil War veteran and owner of the Weikert Souvenir Stand, spent his days collecting.

Weikert's Relic Stand from 1902

A photo of the Weikert’s Relic Stand from 1902

"Spoiled Rotten" Necklace

“Spoiled Rotten” charm dropped by Little Round Top visitors… or maybe a rogue archeologist?

Today, we recognize that the “souvenirs” early visitors took from Gettysburg are archeological resources integral to the history of the United States. Archeological resources are ephemeral. Once removed, they cannot be returned. Archeological resources are only as useful as the context that they provide us. A bullet is just an object. To understand the artifacts and sites, archeologists take into account all factors – location, depth, surroundings, etc. The early Gettysburg tourists mistakenly separated these resources from the American public. To protect our archeological resources, the Archeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) was passed; under ARPA, it is illegal to remove or disturb any natural, cultural, or archeological resource on federal land.

Even at the Northeast Region Archeology Program, we do not perform archeological digs for the sake of digging. Leaving artifacts in their original location protects them, and future researchers can investigate them at appropriate times. Archeology is only performed by NRAP when archeological resources are at risk or when archeology can help answer research questions that a park is asking. One such question was proposed by Gettysburg National Military Park in 2017: what is the effect of fire on archeological resources?

In the spring of 2017, Gettysburg performed a prescribed burn of Little Round Top. The controlled fire was executed in order to restore the landscape to its appearance at the time of the Civil War and remove the invasive species that had taken over the hill. Although an important move for the environmental protection and cultural landscape of the park, the effects of the burn needed to be considered. The park took efforts to protect the resources and wildlife of Little Round Top. Slow moving turtles were removed from the area (so cute!). Monuments, witness trees, cannons, and historic breastworks were all protected; furthermore, in order to determine the effects of the fire on archeological resources as well as monitor the project per section 106, Gettysburg and the Northeast Region’s Cultural Resources team decided to investigate!

There’s a Method to the Madness: Establishing and Executing a Research Plan

Clearly this site is important to the history of the United States and a striking cultural resource. The National Park Service is charged with protecting these resources, and archeologists were pumped for such an exciting project. Everyone was ready to get out in the field and work!

Before any archeological fieldwork can be conducted, however, a plan must always be established. All archeology begins with research, consultation, and planning. Countless hours of preparation go into a project before a shovel breaks ground (or a geophysical tool touches the earth). Books are read, old reports studied, calls are made, and paperwork is filled out. All of this preparation is then used to determine the best way to answer the research question(s) that the park poses.

NPS Archeologist Joel coordinating logistics and researching objects.

NPS Archeologist Joel busy coordinating logistics and researching objects excavated from Gettysburg.

In the case of the Little Round Top Project, a plan was established to determine the effect of fire on archeological resources at Gettysburg. First, a testing sample was designated. The identified project area is 52 acres; surveying the entire area would take forever. Instead, specific transects (small areas to be tested) were chosen based on a variety of reasons. 1. Transects were chosen to sample all three types of natural vegetation on the hill to identify the relationship between vegetation type, fire intensity and archaeological resources. 2. Transects were chosen to survey a variety of slopes (steepness) of the hill to determine if fire behavior in those area impacted archaeological resources. 3. Transects were laid out based on historic documentation to see if the events recorded are represented in the archeological resources.

The area was then surveyed for archeological resources. Volunteers first conducted a walk over to see if any surface artifacts could be located. Then other methods were used to locate potentially buried objects.

The focus of the project was the 2nd day of the Battle of Gettysburg, but the area saw thousands of years of occupation before the battle of Gettysburg. Pre-contact Native American artifacts were also an important factor in this investigation, as they might be affected by the fire in a different manner than Civil War artifacts. Therefore, shovel test pits were conducted to locate potential pre-contact artifacts in addition to artifacts associated with the battle.


To locate artifacts associated with the battle, NRAP and 15 volunteers used metal detectors to survey the designated transects. Although sometimes used during archeological projects, visitors are not allowed to metal detect in National Parks.  Archeologists use metal detectors only when specific research questions have been identified, a plan made, and metal detectors established as the most useful tool for the project. In the case of battlefields, metal detectors are extremely helpful; they can quickly identify artifacts associated with the battle in question and cover large areas without unnecessarily disturbing unrelated land.

Unless you are part of an official archeology project, metal detecting on National Parks is considered a violation of ARPA—it is disturbing archeological resources. Although you cannot independently metal detect on a National Park, there is a way some can get involved—volunteering! Sometimes a project needs help from outside experts. No one person can conduct a large scale archeology project. Expert and vetted professional archeologists from the Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists volunteered on the Little Round Top project! Without the wonderful volunteers, the project could not have been completed.

During the pre-burn metal detecting, Civil War artifacts were identified. The archeologists and volunteers recovered small arms ammunition from the smoothbore muskets, rifle muskets, and pistols used during the confrontation, and artillery related objects like shell fragments, case fragments, shot balls, fuses, shell plugs, canister shot, and 2 twelve pound cannon balls! How neat!

A sample of these artifacts were dug up, photographed, mapped, analyzed, and then reburied.

April 10th 2017, the prescribed burn consumed greater than 90% of grasses and thatch, 50% of vine species, and 50% of top kill of the saplings and shrubs on Little Round Top. The moment of truth—what happened to the artifacts?!?!

But What Does it Mean?: Using Archeology to Answer our Questions

After the burn, volunteers again surveyed the area for surface objects and re-metal detected the designated transects. The reburied artifacts were re-uncovered and taken to the lab to be assessed. In the lab, the artifacts were cleaned and identified. They were analyzed for cracking, sooting, and melting. Artifact weight changes, dimension changes, and color changes were also measured. Did the fire effect the artifacts? A verdict was determined.

Civil War military objects showed no signs of cracking, sooting, or melting! Archeologists concluded that they were all buried deep enough that the fire did not have an effect, even in the most intensely burned areas. The only objects harmed were modern items dropped by tourists. The project proved that burns typically do not damage Civil War military artifacts in the Northeast and uncovered a wealth of associated artifacts for Gettysburg National Military Park!

Get these Artifacts Out of My Lab!: Conclusion and Next Steps

When the Northeast Region Archeology Program performs archeology, it is always to protect the resources and/or learn more about our country’s past. During projects, NRAP always follows best practices and performs ethical archeology in the pursuit of managing and protecting our cultural resources. We research, “to identify, evaluate, document, register, and establish other basic information about cultural resources,” plan, “to ensure that this information is well integrated into management processes for making decisions and setting priorities,” and act as stewards, to ensure that our resources, “are preserved, protected, and interpreted to the public.” (Directive 28)

Archeology— it’s a process! Now you’ve gotten a glimpse into the world of NRAP— why and how we get shovels in the ground.

Fieldwork is only the first step. After all the planning, surveying, digging, and testing, what happens to the artifacts? Where do they go? How are they used? We will answer these questions and more next week when the Northeast Museum Services Center explains how these artifacts go from shovel… to shelf!

Desjardin, Thomas A. Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Dukes, Joel. Personal interview. 18 December 2018.

Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

GettysburgNPS. “Little Round Top Prescribed Fire.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Apr. 2017,

Haskell, Franklin Aretas. The Battle of Gettysburg. 1864.

Jacobs, M. Notes on the Rebel Invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania and the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2d and 3d, 1863. Times Print. House, 1909.

“NPS Office of Policy: NPS-28, Cultural Resource Management (Introduction).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – The Second Day. The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

“Successful Prescribed Burn Completed at Little Round Top (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,

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History of the Battle of Little Round Top

This post is an elaboration on the History of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg Battlefield. The original post can be found here. This post and “From Shovel to Shelf: Part One” were written by Maggie, intern at Northeast Regional Archeology Program.

A Not So Little Skirmish on Little Round Top: The Battle Explained by a Non-Military Expert

Little Round Top was the site of an important engagement at the Battle of Gettysburg. In fact, some historians consider it the deciding factor of the Battle, ensuring the Union’s eventual victory. You’ve probably read about Little Round Top in the historical novel The Killer Angels or watched a dramatic recreation of it in the film Gettysburg. Today, Little Round Top is the most visited site at Gettysburg National Military Park

Following success at Chancellorsville Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee wanted to push combat northwards. In late spring of 1863, Confederate troops marched above the Mason Dixon Line, hoping to put the Union on the defensive. General Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia from Fredericksburg, Virginia towards Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where he engaged the Union Army in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War (Jacobs, 5).

Day one of the Battle saw success for the Southern army. General Lee’s troops pushed Union General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac northward to Cemetery Hill, just two miles south of the town of Gettysburg (Haskell, 78-80). The Confederate Army had the upper hand. The second day, however, turned the tide towards the Union Army.

July 2nd 1863, at approximately 4 pm, Confederate troops started moving toward Cemetery Hill in a bid to engage Union Troops (Jacobs, 32).

Map by Hal Jespersen,

Map by Hal Jespersen,

Confederate Generals McLaw and Hood led their troops northward, towards Cemetery Hill, along the Emmitsburg Road. A group of these soldier were ordered eastward towards Little Round Top in an effort to approach Cemetery Hill from the Union’s left. If they could take Little Round Top, the Confederates would have easy access to the rear and left of the Union’s forces, effectively surrounding them.

Union Major General Sickles (a man with a scandalous reputation, even before the Battle of Gettysburg) was in charge of defending the area that included Little Round Top. He decided, however, that the land around Emmitsburg Road was more important and abandoned his post against Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s orders. Little Round Top was undefended (Eicher, 534).

Map by Hal Jespersen,

Map by Hal Jespersen,

Chief Engineer Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren was sent to assess the situation at Little Round Top. Discovering that no Union troops were defending the crucial hill and noticing the approaching Confederate troops, he quickly sent for backup. Brig. Gen. James Barnes, Col Strong Vincent, and Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain all responded (205-212).

Map by Hal Jespersen,

Map by Hal Jespersen,

The troops on both sides reached the hill at approximately the same time and immediately exchanged fire. By all accounts, it was extremely disorienting. Confederate troops walked many miles that day and were out of water (164). They repeatedly charged up the hill, trying to find a way to encircle the Union troops. The Union troops defended the hill, but they were spread thin, and running out of ammunition.

In a now famous move, Union Col. Chamberlin ordered his men to arm their bayonets and charge the Confederate troops. They no longer had any ammunition, and a downhill physical attack seemed like the only option. At the same time, Lieutenant Holman Melcher charged from the center lines. The combined attacks forced the Confederate troops to retreat (Desjardin, 69). So marked the defense of Little Round Top, a battle now ingrained in the United States’ history.

Desjardin, Thomas A. Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Dukes, Joel. Personal interview. 18 December 2018.

Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

GettysburgNPS. “Little Round Top Prescribed Fire.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Apr. 2017,

Haskell, Franklin Aretas. The Battle of Gettysburg. 1864.

Jacobs, M. Notes on the Rebel Invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania and the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2d and 3d, 1863. Times Print. House, 1909.

“NPS Office of Policy: NPS-28, Cultural Resource Management (Introduction).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – The Second Day. The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

“Successful Prescribed Burn Completed at Little Round Top (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,

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What’s That Doing There? Using Maps to Solve Artifact Mysteries at Saratoga National Historical Park


Eric Schnitzer, ranger, Saratoga NHP.

Here at NMSC, we are trained in identifying and cataloging archeological artifacts of all sorts.  We love working with curatorial staff at national parks in the Northeast Region, sharing what we know about a park’s archeology collection so that park staff can use the artifacts in exhibits, research, and interpretation.  On the other hand, we recognize that we’ll never know the ins and outs of a park’s history like the knowledgeable people on staff there!  In this post, Saratoga National Historical Park ranger Eric Schnitzer shares his impressive knowledge of the history of the battles at Saratoga, and applies what he knows to two artifacts in the park’s archeology collection.  

The following blog post written by Eric Schnitzer. 

A fun part of history is that there’s always more to discover. Sometimes, new discoveries challenge what we thought we knew about the past. Other times, new findings provide happy confirmation of the historical record.  Conversely, historical accounts and documents can help us to understand why certain artifacts are found in what might seem to be surprising or confusing locations.  Just another reason to dig into your old archeology collections with fresh eyes and a new perspective!  The two artifacts discussed in this blog post attest to the different events that occurred in one small area during the volatile fall of 1777.


This button was recovered during a recent archeological survey of the battlefield. Outwardly, the artifact is easily identified: it’s an original rank and file button from the jacket of a redcoat soldier in the British 20th Regiment of Foot. (This was a regiment that ultimately surrendered with British General Burgoyne at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.)


But it’s the location that the button was recovered from— the “Breymann Redoubt”— that was curious. Although British forces occupied that site for over two weeks between the Battles of Saratoga, no redcoats were stationed there. The only troops that inhabited the area in and around Lieutenant-Colonel Breymann’s fortified camp were Germans, American royalists, and French Canadiens (see first map). So, how could this British button have gotten there?

first map

Map of Breymann’s Redoubt, provided by author.

Thankfully, another map provides a likely answer.  Before Burgoyne’s forces settled in and built their fortified line (including Breymann’s), the September 19 Battle of Freeman’s Farm had raged in the area. While no fighting happened at that specific spot, a British map shows us that most of the British Light Infantry Battalion deployed to that very site early in the battle. The British Light infantry battalion consisted of 10 companies (about 60 officers and men each), eight of which occupied the site (see second map).  And wouldn’t you know it, as you can see from the map’s color-coding, one of these companies was the 20th Regiment’s light infantry company.



third map

Map of British Light Infantry Companies, provided by author.

Therefore, it’s very likely that this button popped off the jacket of a soldier in the 20th Regiment of Foot’s light infantry company during the Battle of Freeman’s Farm on September 19, 1777. We are able to determine this because of the careful recovery of the button through the archeological process, artifact identification, an understanding of British Army uniform material culture, map reading, and a knowledge of British Army regulation deployment rules for companies within provisional battalions.  How cool is that!

Shell Fragment

Archeologists recently recovered some exploded shell fragments on the east-facing side of a small hill on Freeman’s Farm at Saratoga Battlefield. Given the fact that the hill was contested ground during the September 19, 1777 Battle of Freeman’s Farm, finding shell fragments there may make sense. That is, until we consider the historical record, which tells us that no shells were used in the battle.

Shells were round, hollow iron spheres that contained explosive gunpowder. The hole used to pour the gunpowder inside was plugged with a fuse which, when lit, would burn down and explode the powder inside, breaking apart the iron shell and blasting the iron fragments in all directions. (If you’re thinking that this sounds like the classic Warner Bros. cartoon bomb, you’re not off the mark!) While small grenades based upon this principle were sometimes used during the Revolutionary War, militaries primarily used artillery—howitzers and mortars—to jettison shells toward enemy positions.


So, if no howitzers or mortars were used at Freeman’s Farm in the September 19 battle, how is it that these fragments were found embedded in one of the farm’s hillsides?

Visitors to Saratoga NHP often remark how confusing the battlefield is. The primary reason for this is history: much of the two battles of Saratoga were fought on the very same ground. After the battle of September 19, the British built an enormous fort called the Light Infantry Redoubt right on top of Freeman’s Farm. The fort had eight artillery pieces, including two howitzers.

Shell map

Map showing British Light Infantry Redoubt and location of howitzers, provided by author.

American troops under the command of General Benedict Arnold attacked this redoubt during the October 7 Battle of Bemus Heights. Coming from the southwest, the Americans swept over the aforementioned hill and captured it. They pressed forth in an attempt to take the Light Infantry Redoubt, but to no avail. One British Ensign later recalled how “in this attack we were fully convinced of what essential service our artillery was,” at keeping the Americans at bay.  So, it seems likely that these shell pieces were shot from howitzers by British artillerymen in the October 7 Battle of Bemus Heights.

These two artifacts from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park offer an important reminder of the close relationship between archeology and history.  Archeological finds contribute to our understanding of history, and history provides the context for understanding archeological finds.  The shell fragment and button referenced in this post are just objects without the context in which they were found.  That is why professional archeologists are careful to record provenience information during systematic excavations.  As stewards of federal archeology collections, it is our responsibility to remind our readers that removing artifacts from federal land without the proper permit is not only destructive to history, it is also illegal.  (Information about the Archeological Resources Protection Act – ARPA – can be found here.)   Please, help us preserve America’s history by heeding this important regulation.

The Visitor Center at Saratoga Battlefield, Saratoga National Historical Park is open 362 days a year.  Visit the park’s website for more information including hours of operation for the other locations at SARA.  


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Tracking Down Some History: Lowell NHP’s Trolley Project in the Archives

Seasonal museum technician Katie has been working in the archeology and archives programs at NMSC for the past 6 months.  She has helped us wash, label, and rehouse archeological artifacts.  She has also worked on processing archival collections, including records from Lowell National Historical Park (LOWE).  Katie wrote the following blog post after working with documents related to the trolleys at LOWE.  


Katie (author), seasonal museum technician at NMSC.

As I have been cataloging the records for Lowell National Historical Park (LOWE), I learned that LOWE was the first urban national park established by the National Park Service. I noticed that as an urban park, LOWE faced unique challenges because of the layout of the park. Usually national parks are in one location, but LOWE is spread out across many locations throughout the city of Lowell. I did not fully comprehend this until I visited the park and walked from the Visitor Center to the Boott Mill Museum. I walked by restaurants, shops, and housing that had no connection the park.

I also noticed railroad tracks that were laid out across the city. I learned later that the railroad tracks had been part of the Boston and Maine Railroad when Lowell was a bustling industrial city. Now those same railroad tracks are used by LOWE to operate trolleys during the spring and summer to carry visitors to and from the Visitor Center and the Boott Mills Museum.  In LOWE’s early years in the 1980s, trolleys were not easy to come by, as buses had taken their place in the world of transportation.  The park worked with a construction company to create three replicas based on historic images of original New England-style trolleys.*  

LOWE trolley

Trolley at Lowell NHP.  (NPS photo)


LOWE put a lot of time and effort into figuring out how the trolleys would work. Below are some photographs that I found in the pre-park planning records that show the consideration being put into the trolley project.

trolley restoration 2

trolley restoration 1

Unrestored and partially restored trolley (top); restored trolleys (bottom).  Photos from archival collection at Lowell NHP.

The tolleys have become one of the most popular attractions at Lowell. Make sure to check the park’s website to see when the trolleys will start running this year! Enjoy this video about the trolleys created by LOWE staff:  (Please note, this link will direct you to YouTube.)

LOWE trolley 2

LOWE staff and visitors on board trolley.  (NPS photo)


As the weather warms up, be sure to add a visit to Lowell NHP to your spring and summer bucket list!  Many thanks to Katie for this look into one of the park’s great features!

Many thanks to John Petillo, volunteer at the Lowell National Streetcar Museum / Seashore Trolley Museum, for clarifying the details related to the construction of the replica trolleys in the 1980s.  Thanks for reading and for sharing your knowledge, John!


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What’s Behind the Walls? Misfits and Magic in the Museum Collection

It seems that most parks we work with here in the Northeast Region have a few items in their museum collections that were “found under the floorboards during reconstruction,” or “discovered in the wall during rehab work,” or “found behind the chimney during restoration.”  These objects are usually dirty, broken, or torn.  Their provenance typically consists of cryptic notes scribbled at the time of discovery.  They’re often problematic for collections managers, who aren’t sure how to accession or catalog them.  They’re the misfits of the museum collection, and this blog post is dedicated to them.

first photo

Concealed objects from museum collections at Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters NHS, Saratoga NHP, Adams NHP, and Minute Man NHP


Nothing makes me roll up my curatorial sleeves faster than an object found in a wall.  For one thing, there’s something exciting about finding an object that wasn’t meant to be found.  (This is why I went into archeology, after all.)  Just the words “discover” or “unearth” carry a certain appeal.  Holding a found object is like being privy to a hundreds-years-old secret.  What could be more delicious?

People lose things all the time.  Clumsiness or carelessness could certainly account for many of the objects that turn up under floorboards or in eaves of old houses.  A penny, a straight pin, or a button – sure!  But what about a boot, or a bottle?  Either of those things would have a harder time slipping through the cracks.  Some of the items we find behind the walls were not unintentionally lost, but rather, intentionally concealed for ritual purposes, or, magic.  Shoes, bottles, and other items were concealed within the fabric of homes and other structures to ward off witches and evil spirits and to ensure good luck.

Shoes were among the most commonly concealed items, owing in part to their intimate connection to the wearer.  They have been the subject of countless traditions and superstitions throughout history.  (Think of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, or Cinderella’s glass ones.)  One of my personal favorites is pictured in the 1881 painting below, which shows wedding guests throwing shoes at a newly married couple for good luck.  Ouch!  Shoes were expensive and hard to come by, especially for people of modest means.  Everyday shoes were worn to tatters, patched, and worn some more.  Have you ever noticed that as you wear them, your shoes take on the shape of your feet?  Pull off a pair of well-loved boots and you’ll see your feet echoed in them.  As shoe scholar June Swann so eloquently pointed out, shoes retain the shape – “the essence” – of the wearer (Swann 1996, p. 56).  It’s no coincidence that you rarely find a barely-worn concealed shoe.



better or worse highlights

For Better, For Worse, William Powell Frith, 1881.  (Highlight added by author)

That’s all well and good, but what about the witches?  Research conducted by yours truly several years ago identified a few distinct incentives for concealing footwear, including a builder’s good luck charm deposited during construction (or reconstruction), a mourning tradition (often associated with the death of a child), and a form of white magic intended to ward off witches and evil spirits.  crooked chimney pub croppedWhen serving the latter purpose, concealments were often positioned near vulnerable openings in a home – a doorway, window, or especially chimney– where people believed witches and evil spirits could easily enter.  Some chimneys in old houses have witch’s bends or witch’s crooks; they were deliberately built at a slant to prevent easy access by witches.  (Who wants to come to the Crooked Chimney Pub with me right now?!)  Swedish folklore tells of Easter Witches getting caught in people’s chimneys and prescribes burning certain woods to keep them out.  It turns out Santa isn’t the only one who uses the chimney…

witch and santa

Dating a concealed shoe can be helpful in determining the motive behind the concealment.  If the shoe dates to the time of a building’s construction or repairs, for example, a builder’s good luck charm seems a likely explanation.  If a small shoe dates to the time of a child’s untimely death in the home, perhaps it was concealed as an act of mourning.   If a shoe dates to the time of an epidemic or crisis in the family or community (and was found near an opening like a chimney), an antidote to witchcraft is quite possible.

Adams National Historical Park

This little boot was discovered with several other shoes and boots near the chimney flue of the John Adams Birthplace, part of the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.  It’s a Wellington boot dating to the 1820s, and has the name “George Curtis” penned inside its lining.  Shoemaker Adam Curtis and his family – including little George – lived in the house from 1821 to 1829.  The chimney location, shoemaker association, and dates that the Curtises occupied the house make this an interesting case with a few possibilities.  Were the shoes meant to protect the house against witches?  Were they meant as a time capsule, marking the end of the family’s work and residence there?  If only we could ask!


John Adams Birthplace (NPS photo); Wellington boot, ca. 1820s (photo by author)


Saratoga National Historical Park

Multiple shoes have been discovered within the fabric and around the foundation of the Schuyler House, part of Saratoga National Historical Park in Schuylerville, New York.  Because of this slipper’s hand-stitching, long, sharply pointed toe, and narrow waist, we can date this shoe to the turn of the 19th century, about 1795-1805.   Philip Schuyler II (grandson of the Revolutionary War hero General Schuyler) remodeled the house and moved in with his bride Grace around 1811.  Pointy-toed shoes was going out of fashion by 1811, to be replaced by a more subtle, oval toe.  Perhaps the young, stylish, newly married Grace Schuyler supplied her old, outdated slipper for good luck during the remodel?


Schuyler House, Saratoga National Historical Park (photo by author); shoe ca. 1795-1805 (photo courtesy of Sartoga NHP)


Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historical Park

This ladies’ slipper was found near the sill of the front archway at Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site.  Its squared oval toe, heelless sole, and square vamp indicate a date of 1820s-1830s.  We cannot say who this slipper belonged to, but its location near the front archway/doorway suggests that it may have been concealed to protect a vulnerable entry point in the house.  LONG’s Museum Technician Kate Hanson Plass pointed out that the date of this shoe does not correspond to any major construction or repair of the house, implying that whoever concealed this slipper did so deliberately and with no small effort.


Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historical Park (NPS photo); shoe ca. 1820-s1830s (photo courtesy of LONG staff)

Minute Man National Historical Park

These two shoes were discovered under the floorboards and between closet partitions (respectively) in the Maid’s Room at the Wayside, part of Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Massachusetts.  This room may have been used by the Alcott family as the girls’ room during their residence in the house from 1845-1852, and was used next as a maid’s room when the Hawthornes lived in the house during the 1850s and 60s.  The squared toes and lack of heel on both shoes indicate of date of 1830s, which means they were most likely worn and/or deposited by an earlier resident.  We’d love to know more about who may have been staying in or working on the room in those years.  Was the help at the Wayside in the 1830s particularly superstitious?  Sometimes the best questions are the hardest to answer!


The Wayside, Minute Man National Historical Park ( NPS photo); shoes ca. 1830s, (NPS photos)

So, what should you do if you uncover a concealed object during restoration?*  Document, document, document!  Take lots of notes and lots of pictures.  Your walls are like an above-ground archeological site, and like an archeological artifact, a concealed object loses its significance if disassociated from its found location.  And most importantly, remember to keep an open mind.  What may look like a dirty old shoe, might have quite a story to tell.  Your misfit could be magic!

*NPS folks out there, if you’re unsure of what to do with objects found in the walls, give us a call!

For further information:  Costello, Jessica.  Tracing the Footsteps of Ritual:  Concealed Footwear in America.  Historical Archaeology 48 (3).
Image of Swedish Easter Witch found:
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From the Archives: Pete Seeger Advocates for Protection of the Upper Delaware River

While recently cataloging archival records from Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, NMSC’s Holly came across a fascinating exchange of letters.  The following blog post was written by Holly Hendricks.  

What can you discover hidden within park resource management records? Possibly the significant figures in the development of a park? In the early 1980s, Pete Seeger learned of a growing controversy with the protection of the Upper Delaware River and thus became a hidden part of creating Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River as a unit of the National Park Service.

Pete with Clearwater by Dona Crawford

Photo by Dona Crawford, courtesy of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.

Pete Seeger (1919-2014), best known as a beloved folksinger, left an incomparable mark on American music. After a brief stint at Harvard, he rose to fame performing with American folk group the Weavers, selling millions of albums worldwide. As a solo performer and storyteller, he found a dedicated following among youth with anti-war concerts and inspiring other performers such as the The Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Bob Dylan.

Also a lifelong activist for a vast array of humanitarian and environmental causes, Seeger inspired generations of communities, schoolchildren, visitors and government officials to clean up the filthy, polluted Hudson River through the educational voyages of the environmental sloop Clearwater*.  Seeger noted, “My job is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right, it may help to save the planet.”

In 1948 Seeger and his wife Toshi bought land along the Hudson River in Beacon, NY, just above the Tappan Zee Bridge, and began building a log home there.  As the pollution in the Hudson grew unchecked during ensuing decades, the distraught family saw raw sewage and toxic chemicals filling the waters, fish suffocating from lack of oxygen, and water color regularly matching the automotive paint being applied in nearby manufacturing plants.

In 1966, Seeger vowed to build a wooden boat to bring people together to reclaim the Hudson River through music and activism. With much help from friends and supporters, and funds raised by holding concerts, in 1969 the historic 106-foot replica of a Dutch sailing vessel left her Maine shipyard to travel through New York City to her permanent home in the Hudson River.  The sloop Clearwater is a sailing environmental classroom and a symbol of hope capable of instilling pride and neighborly connections among riverfront communities.

Through the efforts of friends and associates in the non-profit Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc., numerous dockside concerts, on-board educational classroom activities and educational river trips have raised money and awareness about the plight of the river, supporting passage of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, regulating pollutant discharge and requiring sewage treatment.

In 1983 Seeger learned that another New York river had become the subject of significant controversy.  The Upper Delaware River Protection Act of 1978 officially designated the Upper Delaware River as a component of the Wild and Scenic Rivers system, creating the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River as a unit of the National Park Service.

upde aerial

Aerial view of Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River.  NPS photo.

While the act protected the river in many important ways, ensuring its future as a “wild and free-flowing river,” abutting landowners grew increasingly anxious about federal intervention, property rights and values, and restrictions on their own river use.

Responding to a request for comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Upper Delaware, Seeger emphasized the importance of National Park Service stewardship and cautious planning:

Seeger letter top

As a Hudson River abutter and landowner, he argued for both protection of the resource and enlistment of local landowners as allies:

seeger letter bottom

Superintendent John Hutzky appreciated Seeger’s measured response at a time when many commenters fearfully demanded deauthorization of the Upper Delaware as a National Wild and Scenic River.  Hutzky thanked Seeger and acknowledged the important work done by Clearwater, noting that the shallow depth of the Upper Delaware precluded an actual visit from the sloop:


Everyone who enjoys New York’s clean, beautiful and swimmable rivers today can thank Pete Seeger and many others who envisioned and fought for clean waters for future generations.

In 2018, archivists at the Northeast Museum Services Center are processing and cataloging the park resource management records that contain the correspondences with Seeger. While many of the long-standing park staff know about the significance of Seeger’s role in protecting the riverway, the NMSC archives team identified the materials as the 40th anniversary approached in April 2018 and found that this story was not widely known.


Archival documents from the collection of the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, a unit of the National Park Service.

*For information on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater:  (please note, this is not a NPS website)



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Hamilton, Hamlet, and Philip II: Maintaining Lifestyle and Legacy at the Schuyler House

“Take Philip Schuyler, the man is loaded!”  So sings Aaron Burr on Broadway in the pop culture phenomenon Hamilton.  The Philip Schuyler referenced in the play is General Philip Schuyler, one of four Major Generals of the Continental Army under George Washington during the American Revolution.  Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, General Schuyler’s second daughter.  And, Burr was not wrong –  Schuyler was not only a Revolutionary hero, but also a prominent, successful, and wealthy landowner in late 18th-century Albany County, New York.  His country home (once part of his vast estate at Saratoga) is now preserved and open to the public as part of Saratoga National Historical Park (SARA) in Schuylerville, New York.

schuyler loc cropped

General Philip Schuyler.  Painted by J. Trumbull, engraved by T. Kelly.  Image:  Library of Congress.

In 2013, NMSC archeologists rehoused a large collection of artifacts recovered during systematic excavations at the Schuyler House.  This collection was truly swoon-worthy (and swoon we did!):  beautiful, nearly complete ceramic vessels; matching sets of 200-year old wineglasses; goffering irons and carrier pigeon messages.  Some of the objects date to the time of General Philip Schuyler’s residence, but many others date to the time of his grandson, Philip Schuyler II.

When Saratoga National Historical Park emerged victorious in our second annual Museum Madness competition this past March, NMSC staff traveled to Saratoga to meet with park curator Christine Valosin and discuss featuring the SARA museum collection on our social media platforms.  Compared to his renowned grandfather, not much has been written about Philip Schuyler II.  When Christine suggested a blog post about him and the artifacts associated with him from the Schuyler House archeology collection, we jumped at the chance to revisit some old and beautiful friends.


NMSC’s Jessica (author) with SARA curator Christine Valosin.  NMSC photo.

Today, the Schuyler House sits amidst idyllic, shady grounds.  When we visited this past May, it was a lush, quiet place, with trees blowing in the breeze and the quiet rush of Fish Creek in the background.  The stillness of the place, however, is in some ways a bit misleading.  In traveling the Northeast you’ve probably seen the roadside signs pointing out that “History Happened Here.”  This place deserves one with italics, exclamation points, and flashing lights (don’t worry, we’re not proposing such a thing).  The story of the Schuyler House – or, the three Schuyler Houses – is remarkable.  The story of Philip Schuyler II and the artifacts he left behind can only be understood through the lens of history, tradition, and family legacy that accompanies this special place.


Schuyler House at Saratoga National Historical Park.  NMSC photo.


The Schuyler House and Legacy

The first Schuyler House was built around 1720 by Johannes Schuyler and burned to the ground during a French and Indian attack in 1745, killing Johannes’s son Philip Schuyler (uncle of the Revolutionary War general) and several other local residents who had taken refuge there.

Upon inheriting the property, Philip Schuyler (the future Revolutionary War general) built a mansion on the site where the current house stands today.  He established saw, grist, and flax mills on the estate, which buzzed for years with successful industry and commerce.  Schuyler and his ventures were well-regarded in the community.  One local resident called him “the oracle of our neighborhood.” (Brandow 261)   Just prior to his surrender to the Army of the United States in October of 1777, British General Burgoyne spent a few nights in Schuyler’s Saratoga house, wining and dining by candlelight while his troops bunked on the cold ground outside.  A few days later he ordered it and the surrounding outbuildings and fields burned to the ground.

The current Schuyler House was built by General Philip Schuyler in 1777, almost immediately after the destruction of his 1767 home.  It was completed in about a month, a testament to the resilience and determination of the Revolutionary spirit.  By 1787, General Schuyler’s eldest son and heir, John Bradstreet Schuyler (a Schuyler “brother” who did not make it into the play) was living in the house with his wife.  John died in the house in 1795, when his young son Philip Schuyler II was only seven years old.  After spending his boyhood away at school and college, Philip II chose to return to his ancestral homeland to raise his own children and carry on his family’s legacy of patriotism, industry, and hospitality.  These three themes are represented in the archeological record of the Schuyler House.

Philip II

Philip II followed in his grandfather’s enterprising and industrial footsteps when he took over the family estate in the early 19th century.  He lived with his family at the Schuyler House from 1811 until 1837.  He ran grist, saw, and wool fulling mills on Fish Creek, established a large cotton mill, operated a successful whiskey distillery and a large working farm, and promoted the construction of the Champlain Canal to carry manufactured goods from Schuylerville to New York.  (He was busy!)  Early 19th-century artifacts found near the Schuyler House indicate that Philip II’s commercial success allowed him and his family to live in comfort and high style.

According to historian John Brandow, “Philip Schuyler, 2d, and his charming wife maintained an ancient family reputation for hospitality.”  (304)  Brandow describes a constant stream of guests to the house, including President Martin Van Buren, a personal friend of Philip II.  Saratoga Springs was quickly becoming a popular destination for 19th-century Americans who wished to soak in the pleasant and rejuvenating springs.  Many visitors did not consider their trip complete without a stopover at the Schuyler House.  Brandow again:  “Dinner parties were frequently given here by the Schuylers at the then-fashionable hour of three or four o’clock.”  (307)  Complete sets of fine dishes and glassware found archeologically at the Schuyler House attest to the couple’s tradition of elegant entertaining.

philip schuyer 2 brandow p

Philip Schuyer II.  Image:  Brandow, The Story of Old Saratoga, p. 305.


The Collection

At risk of sounding corny here, the Schuyler House archeology collection knocked our socks off when we worked on it in 2013.  We typically process fragments of things, and wonder at what and where the rest of those things may be.  This collection was full of complete and nearly complete vessels.  We rehoused sets of blue and white Chinese export porcelain plates, purple transfer-printed toilet sets complete with soap dishes, and oh so many beautiful chamber pots!  In total, the collection includes over 10,000 artifacts that we packed carefully into 76 archival boxes.  Some of the material dates to the time of General Philip Schuyler, some to the Strover family that lived in the house after it passed out of the Schuylers’ hands in the late 1830s, and some to the time of Philip Schuyler II, his wife Grace, and their children.  These artifacts reflect the traditional family themes of patriotism, industrial and commercial success, and hospitality carried on by Philip II during his time in the house.


Early 19th-century artifacts from SARA archeology collection.  All photos by Norm Eggert for NMSC.


Dishes and Glassware

One of my favorite objects in the collection is a pearlware saucer with a transfer-printed design called “Lafayette at Franklin’s Tomb,” in which the Marquis de Lafayette visits the grave of Benjamin Franklin.  Lafayette came to America from France to fight with the colonists during the Revolutionary War.  Early 19th-century Americans were fiercely proud of their new nation and its heroes (including adopted founding father Lafayette!), and had the goods to prove it.  Patriotic symbols, scenes, and maxims were popular themes on dishes and other household items.  This saucer, and the pitcher in the collection that bears the same pattern, date to the time of his grand tour of America in 1824-1825.  The Marquis visited the Schuyler House in 1825.  Picture this:  Lafayette (at that point the sole surviving Major General of the Revolutionary War) sitting in the late General Schuyler’s parlor, shaking hands with his grandson, and sipping tea from a pearlware saucer.


The Schuyler House archeology collection includes several sets of fine teaware, dinnerware, and glassware.  This elegant porcelain teacup and matching saucer, for example, is among several of its kind.  We found this exact cup shape (look at the handles) in the 1820 shape book for the Spode factory, which was at that time known for its new and desirable bone china.  One of these vessels bears a four-digit number on its base, which we believe to be a pattern number.  It was common practice in Spode’s early days to mark pieces with only a pattern number, if at all.  If these pieces are Spode porcelain, the gilding along the edges is most likely real gold.  We read that Spode actually had a gold safe on site!  Make no mistake about it folks, this is fancy stuff.


This set of wineglasses from the Schuyler House collection dates to ca. 1780-1820, which fits perfectly with Philip II’s occupation of the house.  American painter Henry Sargent painted “The Dinner Party” in 1821, right around the time Philip and Grace were hosting their own mid-afternoon gatherings.  If you look closely, you can see wineglasses similar to these on the table and in the hands of the guests.


Gaming Pieces

The prosperity of the Philip Schuyler II family was not confined to the table.  Archeologists found dominoes and what we believe to be a backgammon playing piece, indicating that Philip II may have enjoyed leisure games with his family and/or guests.  Backgammon was popular among people of means in late 18th– and early 19th-America; Thomas Jefferson’s account books make reference to his own wins and losses in the 1770s.


Mrs. Schuyler

Several artifacts suggest that lady of the house Grace Hunter Schuyler enjoyed the latest fashions as well as domestic pursuits considered appropriate for her sex and high class.  The delicate sewing scissors were most likely used for sewing and embroidery, which every 19th-century lady loved, of course!  After much contemplation, we hypothesize that the rectangular buckle may be from a dress like the one pictured below.  In the 1820-30ss, fashionable women often wore dresses with sashes or belts ornamented with buckles in the front.  This buckle is brass; we wonder whether Mrs. Schuyler may have had others of gold or silver for special occasions?


Children’s Objects

This family portrait painted at the Schuyler House in 1824 pictures Philip and Grace Schuyler with five of their young daughters.  In this tranquil scene that denotes affluence and security, the young ladies’ dresses are trimmed with lace, and one reads a book while her sister plays the piano.  These little girls are visible in the archeological record as well, where early 19th-century miniature teasets and children’s dishes attest to their growing up with fashionable toys and the time and space to play with them.  (If you love this kitten plate as much as we do, read more about it in our 2012 blog post!)


Architectural Objects

Several wallpaper samples recovered at the Schuyler House date to the time of Philip II’s occupation.  According to research conducted by park curator Christine Valosin, he and his wife installed new wallpaper in their country home pretty frequently (about every five years or so!).  Historian John Brandow notes that Philip and Grace had new paper installed in the parlor in preparation for the marriage of his daughter, Ruth, in 1836.  The archeology collection includes this fragment of a pressed glass curtain pin.  Similar examples in the museum collection at Winterthur are dated to ca. 1825-1850.  This object could date to the time of the Strover family, who moved in after the Schuylers, but it could also represent Philip II’s effort to spruce up his parlor before his daughter’s wedding day.


Take Philip Schuyler II, the man was loaded!

Artifacts excavated at the Schuyler House suggest that Philip Schuyler II maintained the wealthy lifestyle of his grandfather while striving to sustain his family’s ideals of Revolutionary pride, industrial and commercial success, and social hospitality.  Philip II lost his estate when economic panic hit in 1837.  Historian John Brandow wrote in 1900 that when the Schuylers left Schuylerville, “we have ever since had ‘Hamlet’ with Hamlet left out.”  (310)  The property had been in the family for 135 years, and the legacy of the Schuylers was forever ingrained in the landscape, character, history of the area.  One of his daughters described Philip II weeping when he returned years later as a visitor instead of an owner.

One could argue that Hamlet without Hamlet (or Hamilton without Hamilton) would be a different story, but one full of interesting and worthy characters just the same.  The archeological record at the Schuyler House documents the lives of many individuals and families of various races, backgrounds, and economic means.  This collection has the potential to reveal information about black slaves working on the estate, laborers working in the mills and along the canal, domestic servants working behind the scenes to maintain the Schuylers’ fine quality of life, British and American soldiers during the American Revolution, and Native Americans inhabiting the area before and alongside the earliest Schuylers.  The story of Philip Schuyler II and his wife and children is but one of many stories waiting to be explored.

For information on visiting Saratoga National Historical Park, please call the Visitor Center at 518-670-2985 or check our website at or on Facebook and Twitter: @SaratogaNHP



Hamilton, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

Brandow, John Henry.  The Story of Old Saratoga and History of Schuylerville.  Albany:  Brandow Printing Company, 1900.

Chaffers, William.  Marks and Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain.  Los Angeles:  Borden Publishing Company, 14th edition.

Chernow, Ron.  Alexander Hamilton.  Penguin Books, 2005.

McCann, Jennifer.  Completion Report, Archeology Backlog Cataloging, Saratoga National Historical Park, 2013.

Spode Shape Book, 1820.  Spode Exhibition Online.

Starbuck, David R.  The Schuyler House.  In The Saratoga Campaign:  Uncovering an Embattled Landscape.  William A. Griswold and Donald W. Linebaugh, eds.  University Press of New England, 2016.


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“Everything is Lafayette:” A Pearlware Saucer from Saratoga

When it comes to America’s founding fathers, I’ve always been a fan of Benjamin Franklin.  Despite his momentous achievements in early American politics, when I think of Franklin, I think first of fun and colorful history:  He discovered electricity with a kite!  He invented bifocals, and the glass harmonica!  He was popular with the French ladies!  He has, for some reason, always seemed uniquely relatable and human to me.  I agree with biographer Walter Isaacson’s assessment that Franklin “seems made of flesh rather than of marble…and he turns to us from history’s stage with eyes that twinkle from behind those newfangled spectacles.”  (p. 2)

franklin portrait gallery

Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Siffred Duplessis, 1785, National Portrait Gallery

Perhaps that’s why this saucer from the archeology collection at Saratoga National Historical Park has always been one of my favorite artifacts that I’ve come across at work.  It passed through our lab during a rehousing project back in 2013, and is one of many gorgeous and surprisingly intact ceramic vessels that were excavated from the Schuyler House property at Saratoga NHP.  It features a transfer-printed design of an elegant, early 19th-century figure seated before Franklin’s tomb.  The back of the saucer has a maker’s mark for Enoch Wood, a prolific 19th-century Staffordshire potter.  As I started to research this piece – which I thought would make a nice Facebook post on the anniversary of Franklin’s death on April 17 – I found a lot of really cool history attached to this saucer and its connection to other Revolutionary War figures.  And this, readers, is how blog posts are born!


Pearlware saucer (SARA 3376) from archeology collection at Saratoga NHP.  Photo by Norm Eggert for NMSC.

Those of you who love historic ceramics may recognize the above print as “Lafayette at Franklin’s Tomb.”   Enoch Wood was one of several English potters who catered to Americans’ fierce sense of patriotism in the early 19th century by producing transfer-printed dishes designed specifically for the American market.  The nation’s early heroes were popular themes on plates, teacups, and pitchers.


Now, we hope you’ll humor us with a game of Can You Spot the Differences?  (Or, in this case, difference?)  At first glance, these two saucers from the museum collection at Winterthur look nearly identical.  Both are Enoch Wood pieces, pearlware with a cobalt transfer-printed design reminiscent of that on the saucer from SARA.  Actually, only one of them is like the one found at the Schuyler House; the other has a slight but significant difference.  Click on the photo to enlarge; do you see it?


Pearlware saucers in the museum collection at Winterthur.

In the photo on the right, the tomb reads “Washington,” not “Franklin.”  Wood, in a stroke of marketing genius, produced two hugely popular designs by simply changing the name on the tomb.

In case you’re wondering, Franklin’s and Washington’s burials are not even remotely similar, and neither resembles the urn pictured in Wood’s transfer-printed design.  These inaccuracies, and the fact that Franklin’s name seems interchangeable with Washington’s in this print, lead me to believe that the central figure here is not the entombed, but rather, his visitor – the Marquis de Lafayette.


Franklin’s burial at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia; Washington’s Old Tomb at Mount Vernon.  (photo credits below)


Lafayette came to America from France to fight with the colonists against the British during the American Revolution.   He became a hero to Americans as he fought beside General George Washington and helped defeat General Cornwallis at Yorktown.  In her book about Lafayette in America, Anne C. Loveland states that he functioned as a “father figure to his adopted country:  a symbol of wisdom, authority, and benevolence, and above all, of the birth of the nation at the time of the Revolution.” (p. 83)

marquis de lafayette court versailles

Marquis de Lafayette, Joseph Désiré -Court, 1834, Musée National du Château de Versailles

In 1824, President James Monroe invited Lafayette to tour America as “the Nation’s Guest.”  By this time, Lafayette was known to be the last surviving Major-General of the American Revolution.  Americans in every state feted him with balls, parades, and general pomp and circumstance.  Throughout the thirteen months that he spent touring the nation, Americans were swept up in what can only be described as “Lafayette Mania.”  Material culture followed suit, hence the production of tea and tablewares decorated with Lafayette-themed prints like the saucer from the Schuyler House.

la fayatte welcoming parade NYC Fritsch 1844, NY public library digital collections

La Fayette Welcoming Parade, Fritsch, New York City, 1844.  New York Public Library Digital Collections

As it turns out, the dishes were only the tip of the iceberg!  Lafayette’s likeness was everywhere:  on plates, pitchers, glassware, washbasins, saltcellars, ribbons, gloves, cameos, engravings…the list goes on.  According to an 1824 article in the Saturday Evening Post, “Everything is Lafayette, whether it be on our heads or under our feet.  We wrap our bodies in Lafayette coats during the day, and repose between Lafayette blankets at night.”

(As I was reading about this, I thought of Beatlemania in the 1960s, or my own devoted accumulation of New Kids on the Block paraphernalia in the early 1990s…)

Museums across America preserve vestiges of the Lafayette craze.  I found gloves with Lafayette’s image in the collections at the MET, the Smithsonian, the New York Historical Society, Historic Deerfield, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and the Alice Miner Museum in upstate New York.  I read that the collection at Old Sturbridge Village has children’s shoes with Lafayette stencils on them (be still, my heart!).   The Marquis de Lafayette Collection at Lafayette College includes “more than eight hundred pieces related to Lafayette’s life, many of which are commemorative objects dating from his 1824-25 tour,” like commemorative doilies and a clothing brush with the bristles dyed to spell “Lafayette – 1825.”  (Lafayette College Special Collections website)

collage 2

Lafayette-themed material from various museum collections.  (photo credits below)

The Franklin saucer in the SARA collection is associated with Philip Schuyler II’s (1788-1865) occupation of the Schuyler House at Saratoga (Schuylerville), NY.  If only we could ask Mr. Schuyler about this piece and what it meant to him and his family.  Surely, as the grandson of a Revolutionary War general, Lafayette and his visit in the 1820s held special significance for him.  According to park curator Christine Valosin, Lafayette paid a visit to the Schuyler House during his American tour in 1825.  Did Mrs. Schuyler serve tea in her Lafayette wares during his visit?  Did the Schuylers buy the set afterwards as a commemorative gesture?  Either way, the significance of this pattern at this place gives me goosebumps.  Tying the piece to a nation-wide material culture phenomenon is equally as exciting.  For a couple of years, Lafayette inundated American pop culture.  The saucer from the Schuyler House represents this brief and fascinating time in American material culture history.


Schuyler House at Saratoga, NPS photo.




Isaacson, Walter.  Benjamin Franklin:  An American Life.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2004.

Loveland, Anne C.  Emblem of Liberty:  the Image of Lafayette in the American Mind.  Louisiana State University Press, 1971.

Magid, Barbara H.  “Commemorative Wares in George Washington’s Hometown.”  In Ceramics in America 2006.  Ed., Robert Hunter.  Note – diary entry found in this article.

Tales from the collection at The Alice T. Miner Museum.  Everything Is Lafayette: The Last General’s American Tour, 1824-25.

Valosin, Christine.  Electronic communication, April 2018.

•Diary entry mentioned in Magid’s article in Ceramics in America.

•Newspaper article mentioned in Alice T. Miner Museum blog.

Additional photo credits:

•Franklin’s burial:  Wikimedia Commons/BernerAchim

•Lafayette material:  fan: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; single glove and tumbler: Metropolitan Museum of Art; pair of gloves: Historic Deerfield; pipe and plate: Lafayette College, Marquis de Lafayette Special Collections.


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Breathe Deeply: Sponges in Bottles at the Abiel Smith School

We’ve all heard of a message in a bottle, but what about a sponge in a bottle?  When we first came across a couple of them in the archeology collection from the Abiel Smith School site in Boston, we were a bit puzzled.  Were they sponge stoppers that sank down into the bottles?  Some sort of natural history specimens?  A little brainstorming and a bit of research revealed a more likely explanation, which led us to the strangely fascinating world of anesthesia history.  Now here’s a rabbit hole worth exploring!

There are two bottles with sponges in the Smith School collection.  Both are small medicinal-type bottles.  One is aqua glass, blown into a 2-part mold with a rolled-out finish and open pontil mark on the base.  The other is colorless glass, blown into a 3-part mold with a flared finish and sand/disk pontil mark.  These diagnostic traits date both bottles to the first half of the 19th century.  The pieces of natural sponge stuck inside indicate that they may have been used for inhaling ether or chloroform vapors.  Without getting too scientific here, allow us to explain.



Despite any romantic notions of the pre-industrial era, some things have undoubtedly gotten easier and more comfortable as we’ve progressed through history.  Case in point – surgery.  Consider the poor fellow in this aquatint from 1793, who is tied to a chair and restrained by several comrades as he undergoes the amputation of his leg.  The look on his face says it all:  pain, fear, horror.  At the time, efforts to control pain during surgical procedures included opium, alcohol, herbal extracts, and knocks to the head, all uncontrolled and unreliable techniques.

Five_surgeons_participating_in_the_amputation_Wellcome_L0034242   Rowlandson Wikimedia Commons.jpg
Five Surgeons Participating in the Amputation, Rowlandson, 1793.  Wellcome Library, London.


The anesthetic qualities of ether were discovered over several years by several individuals.  The first successful public demonstration of the use of ether during surgery was performed in 1846 by William Morton at what is now known as the Ether Dome in Massachusetts General Hospital – just a half-mile away from the Abiel Smith School.  On that notable day at the Ether Dome, Morton’s patient escaped the pain of surgery by inhaling the fumes from an ether-soaked sponge contained in a vaporizer.

First Operation Under Ether, by Robert C. Hinckley.  Boston Medical
Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.


The vaporizer used during this famous procedure was created specifically for anesthesia:  a glass globe with two necks as pictured below.  As the use of ether (and quickly after, chloroform) became widespread, doctors invented more elaborate inhalers that could better control the concentration of ether delivered to the patient.  (Note the comfy-looking contraption modeled by this 19th-century lady.)  Despite the more sophisticated design of these medical devices, a sponge in a bottle could produce the same basic outcome of anesthetizing a patient, and was surely less expensive and easier to obtain.



According to a helpful anesthesia textbook we consulted, when ether or chloroform was placed in a closed container, some of the liquid molecules would evaporate to become vapor.  The bottle-sponge combination acted as a vaporizer by turning liquid ether or chloroform into vapor that a patient could inhale.  The sponge absorbed the liquid and the vapors evaporated off the sponge.  The sponge was also effective in containing the liquid so that patients were not accidentally inhaling liquid ether or chloroform.

The Abiel Smith School was an all-black school that opened in Boston in 1835 and closed as a segregated school in 1855 upon the integration of the city’s public schools.  The building continued being used as an integrated school until 1881 and had other uses afterwards, but the date of these bottles correspond perfectly to the school years.  You’re probably wondering what anesthesia was doing in a school setting, right?  Writing, arithmetic, and… surgery?

smith school


Abiel Smith School.  Photo-Museum of Afro-American History.



Not necessarily.  Even before it was used in surgery, ether was known as a potent pain reliever.  It was also prescribed for colic, diarrhea, cramps, dizziness, cholera, and faintings.  One 19th-century apothecary named Dr. Thomas Ritter, whose complete medicine chest is in the collection at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, wrote of ether:  “This medicine ought to be in every medicine chest, and every family.”  Although ether could be administered in a few different ways, Dr. Ritter specifically suggested inhaling it to relieve asthma.  (Eggleston, 2014)


Bottle of ether, 19th century.  Science Museum Group, London.

The collection at the National Museum of Australia includes a 19th-century medicine chest complete with several bottles of medicine, including ether.  According to the museum’s website, such chests were in common use in the 1800s and “…were advertised for the use of ‘clergymen, private families, heads of schools…among others.’”  If heads of schools purchased these chests, then maybe finding evidence of ether at school sites is not that surprising?

chest nma

Medicine chest, National Museum of Australia.


Finding it at an all-black 19th-century school, however, begs other questions and adds another layer of historical importance.  One of our research assistants is currently studying the medicinal bottles recovered archeologically from the Smith School site.  She is investigating whether black students might have received some degree of medical treatment at school because mainstream health care was unavailable to them in racially segregated 19th-century Boston.  We do know that several medicinal bottles in the collection date to the time of the school.  Among the questions she’s addressing is who may have supplied and administered these medicines.  I can’t wait to see what she finds!

In addition to the bottles with the sponges inside, there is one more artifact from the Smith School archeology collection that supports the idea that medical treatment at the school may have included ether inhalation.  We have identified this thin, hollow, glass object as a pipette.  How would one get ether from a storage bottle in the medicine kit to a small inhaler-bottle for treatment?  A pipette like this would have done the job nicely.

1996.1.2532 Pipette-Scale.JPG

Pipette fragment from Abiel Smith School archeology collection.  NPS photo.


One thing we love about working with archeology collections is that they never cease to stump, surprise, and educate us.  I’ve been working with archeology collections from National Park Service sites for about fifteen years, and this was my first sponge in a bottle.  Coming across these objects inspired me to look into the various ways children, adults, or both may have been managing pain or discomfort at the Abiel Smith School over a hundred and fifty years ago.  Artifacts like these bring stories of people and places alive like nothing else can.  We are lucky to be privy to these stories, and honored to share them with you.

The Abiel Smith School located at 46 Joy Street in Boston, now a National Historic Landmark and part of Boston African American NHS, is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10AM to 4PM.



Eggleston, Lori.  A Look Inside an Old Medicine Chest.  September 11, 2014.  Found online at:

Eger, Edmond I, II, Lawrence J. Saidman, and Rod N. Westhorpe, eds.  The Wondrous Story of Anesthesia.  New York:  Springer, 2014.

Parker, Steve.  Kill or Cure:  An Illustrated History of Medicine.  London:  DK Publishing, 2013.

Snow, John.  On the Inhalation of the Vapour of Ether.  First published London, John Churchill, 1847.  Accessed online at Wood Library Museum website.

The Ancestors of Inhalational Anesthesia:  the Soporific Sponges (XIth – XVIIth Centuries).  Anesthesiology 2000; 93: 265-9.

The Spasms of Hydrophobia Temporarily Relieved by the Inhalation of the Vapour of Sulphuric Ether.  The Lancet, July 3, 1847.

Woodworth, Glenn, Shannon Sayers-Rana, Jeffrey Kirsch.  The Anesthesia Technician and Technologist’s Manual.  Philadelphia Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2012.

Wood Library Museum of Anesthesiology Website.

Science Museum Group London website:

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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:
Masked shrew:
Short-tailed shrew:
Eastern chipmunk:  By Gilles Gonthier –, CC BY 2.0,
Jumping mouse:  By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service –, Public Domain,
Meadow vole:
White footed mouse:
Southern bog lemming:  By PaulT – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,




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