Earlier this week, my FIL and I visited the MN Historical Society for a behind the scenes look at the conservation departments and collections.
WOW! It was soooo cooooool!
So, here are five amazing things I learned:
1. the MNHS has a ginormous room with over 100,000 BOXES of documents. School records, census records, personal papers, election results, prison papers, county meetings, township minutes, and the list goes on and on and on. Rack upon rack upon rack of identical boxes, all catalogued and ready for whomever requests to see them. If you look at the catalog for the MNHS at www.mnhs.org, you can search for documents. Then you go to the library located at the history center, fill out a request form (It's a closed stack library, so you can't wander through and pick out books and papers. The library staff does it for you and brings it to your table in the library reading room.) If the documents you want are in the storage area, they fax it downstairs and someone hops on a forklift and goes to get the box you want. It arrives via elevator and is wheeled out to your table. How cool is that?
2. 2/3 of the MNHS building is actually underground. It goes down floors and floors. And it's all climate controlled, bug free, and secured. We got to ride down in the freight elevator, which explains how they got the fuselage of an airplane into the upstairs gallery. My FIL in the picture is standing next to the airplane in the Greatest Generation exhibit.
3. The 3-D archives (anything that isn't photograph or paper documents) are extensive. Rooms just for textiles, furniture, Indian and military artifacts. We got to see the gun that shot Dillinger when he was hiding out in St. Paul. I also learned that the MNHS has more than 3000 garments of an underwear nature.
4. In visiting the conservation lab, we met three conservationists, one for textiles, one for print media, and one for pretty much everything else. They showed us how they had reconditioned an old map that was falling to bits. They mounted it on paper and then linen to stabilize it, then seamed the broken pieces together, and added new pieces where stuff was missing. It was way cool.
5. MN has a flag that was captured during the Civil War from the State of Virginia during the Battle of Gettysburgh. It was brought it home as a trophy by the private who captured it. Virginia, through the federal department of military history has twice asked for it back. Both times our governor has said, "It's ours. We captured it fair and square. It belongs in our historical archives, and that's where it will stay." I got to see that flag on Tuesday. I stood there, leaning over the case, inspecting the bullet holes, the threadbare spots, the watermarks, and all I could think of was, "Wow, what battles this flag saw. What men died defending her, and what heroic Minnesotans gave their lives so this flag would be taken. I bet there is a novel or two worth of stories all in this one piece of cloth." They had the flag laid out in a bed of archival quality cloth that was mounded jsut right in the places where the threads were loose and scooped out where the cloth was the heaviest. It looked like it was floating on a pillow. And I agree with the Governor. It's ours. We took it fair and square. You can read a little more about the flag and the controversy by clicking HERE.
Have you been behind the scenes at a museum before? Does your state have a particular artifact whose ownership is being challenged? Do you think MN should get to keep the Confederate Flag it captured?