Connecticut Historical Society currently has a crowd-sourced exhibition of 50 Objects/50 Stories. Community members provided the uncurated objects, and they are on display through the end of the year. Here’s what stood out for me.
I know sailors had a lot of time on their hands to whittle, create intricate sailor’s valentines out of shells, and carve ivory. I hadn’t seen anything though that combined that past-time with a game. This carved walrus tusk has a cribbage board for decoration. Clever way to provide endless hours of fun, created around 1905vby Harry, a native of Hudson Bay.
Sailors also brought nutmeg back from their travels, and Connecticut became known as the Nutmeg State. This nutmeg, actually carved wood from the Charter Oak, references a hoodwink pulled by Yankee peddlers. No problem huckstering the fake nut apparently. And there’s the other link to the state’s history. The Charter Oak, a huge, 400-year-old oak in Hartford, was hollow and apparently served as a hiding place for the state’s charter, preserving a measure of independence for the colony. Due to a storm in 1856, it fell, and remnants show up in intriguing ways like this fake nutmeg.
Although I hadn’t thought about it before, now it makes sense. During World War II, at war with Japan, silk wasn’t available to make parachutes. But nylon was (sorry, ladies, there goes your hosiery). Pioneer Parachute Company, still in business in Connecticut providing parachutes to NASA, developed a ‘ripstop’ nylon for parachutes, first tested when Adelaide Gray jumped from a plane in 1942. You go, girl!
Those courageous women.
I was part of the ERA push, modeled by my politically-active, lawyer aunt who fought for the ERA in Texas. Sigh. What I don’t remember was a suit like this, apparently worn by supporters, along with the banner, in Connecticut.
I’m pretty fascinated by all things buttons, inheriting a jar of buttons my mother saved from her seamstress mama. Waterbury was the historical center for button manufacture here, and I love this centennial display of U.S. Button Company’s brass buttons from 1876. Just gorgeous.
You know I love the quirky. In Windsor, the springtime shad run (that’s a fish, folks) is now celebrated with the Shad Derby, complete with passing this derby hat on each year to a new festival chairperson. A tradition since 1970. Museum-worthy? Apparently yes!
Yes, that ritual-oddity quirk is part of the Yankee personality, and so is Yankee ingenuity. In 1821, Sophia Woodhouse patented this Leghorn Bonnet, woven from reeds collected from the Connecticut River. Women like Maria Francis continued to make the hat to supplement household incomes. The bonnet is famous enough to be the subject of a satirical poem, also on display at CHS.
In the mid 1800s, the West Hartford School for the Deaf and Dumb used these teaching scrolls as a foundation for learning concrete cooking and farming words. Students would link pictures to the words, later adding more complex, abstract ideas and written paragraphs. Considered innovative, I think reading learning may be taught the same way now for the hearing, too.
Stephen Walkley, Jr, a Southington soldier in the Civil War, was issued this piece of hardtack in 1864. That it’s intact today suggests a couple of things. One, it was so awful, Walkley likely ate anything but, and two, it was made to last. Flour, water, and salt was all it took to make hardtack, used since 1588 by the Spanish Armada. Civil War soldiers were lucky enough to be issued hardtack dating from the Mexican War 13 years earlier (I guess that’s better than centuries-old hardtack). Hopefully this piece isn’t infested with any weevil larvae!
A different kind of war was fought in the Tobacco sheds in the Connecticut River Valley. Women would ruin their fingers sewing cigar leaves together, until this sewing machine was invented. Working in the tobacco sheds was apparently a local rite of passage. Glad I missed that one.