Sunday, September 27, 2009

News----Philly's Civil War Museum To Exhibit Artifacts at GNMP

Civil War Museum's Artifacts To Be Displayed Elsewhere, Edward Colimore, Philadelphia Inquirer, Septmeber 26, 2009.

They're stored in crates, bubble wrap, and archival boxes, locked away and awaiting their fate at an undisclosed Philadelphia storage facility. Under the packaging are wool uniforms and glistening swords worn by great generals of the Civil War, men who helped preserve the Union. Next to them are muskets, sidearms, and flags carried into desperate battles that determined the nation's fate. Since the closing of the Civil War Museum on Pine Street more than a year ago, at least 3,000 artifacts have been unseen by the public.

Now come plans to put them on display again at other institutions in Philadelphia and Gettysburg while the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia seeks funding for a new home in the city, museum president and chief executive officer Sharon Smith said. The collection would be exhibited and cared for over the next three years at the Gettysburg National Park Visitors Center, the National Constitution Center, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia, according to an interim plan.

Some of the historic treasures also would be in a traveling exhibit visiting sites in Pennsylvania and across the country during the 150th anniversary of the war. With no money for a building and no desire to leave Philadelphia, museum officials proposed the plan, which is expected to be approved in an order issued soon by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus. "This is the best 'plan B' we could imagine because the collection will be taken care of and seen in different venues, and the museum board can concentrate on building a museum in Philadelphia," Smith said.

The board set the goal of opening the new museum by 2014, "but that's the outer edge," she added. "We hope to have it before then." Smith said the board would spend the next six to eight months revising its plans to increase public and private support for the museum and would identify a new location in an existing building in Philadelphia.

The Civil War institution's move follows the Rendell administration's refusal to provide $8 million to $10 million in promised capital funding. That prompted the loss of the museum's planned new location at the historic First Bank of the United States in the heart of Independence National Historical Park. Museum officials sought funding from the legislature, but with so many competing interests across the state, their pleas didn't receive the needed support. By July, Smith spoke of being forced to make preparations to move the collection within weeks if financial support couldn't be found. "Since we couldn't get funding to build a museum and we lost the First Bank," Smith said, "a new plan was needed if we are going to reach our ultimate goal."

Given all the possibilities, "the dissolution of the collection or permanent relocation outside of the city or state, this keeps the dream alive for a Civil War museum in Philadelphia," said Gary Steuer, the city's chief cultural officer. "This is an interim step that allows the collection to be kept intact and conserved to the highest standards with strong partners that have the capacity to place some of the collection in front of the public."

Steuer, who also serves as director of the city's office of arts, culture, and the creative economy, said the museum must now look for a combination of public and private financial support while waiting for the economy to pick up. The plan "is not my first choice," said State Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr. (D., Phila.) of West Philadelphia. "But it is a reasonable choice given the circumstances we find ourselves in. "Everyone was influenced by the downturn in the economy," he added, while laying much of the blame on Harrisburg. "It's frustrating that the political leadership is lacking. I do very much put that responsibility on the governor . . . possibly a new governor might help."

In the meantime, "the collection will go to Gettysburg for care in their state-of-the-art facility and for exhibition," Smith said. "Artifacts related to abolition and the U.S. Colored Troops will be exhibited at the African American Museum in a new exhibit they will develop." Artifacts from the collection also "will be used by the National Constitution Center for a 150th anniversary exhibit that will open here in Philadelphia and then travel in the commonwealth and nationally."

The Civil War Museum will work with the Gettysburg Foundation, which operates the Gettysburg National Park Visitors Center, and the National Constitution Center to choose the artifacts to be displayed in the center's exhibition as well as its traveling exhibition. "For us, the [Philadelphia Civil War Museum's] 'plan B' is our 'plan A,' " said Steve Frank, vice president of education and exhibits at the Constitution Center. "We're able to collaborate to develop a world-class exhibition." That exhibition will remain in Philadelphia for at least nine months before traveling," Smith said.

Dru Neil, a spokeswoman at the Gettysburg Foundation, said the organization would talk with the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia "about potential arrangements" for the collection. Nothing definite has been planned. An official at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, who declined to be named, said the museum "is happy to help in any way we can" but no arrangements have been made so far to receive artifacts. Former Union officers established the Civil War Museum in 1888, and with their families donated artifacts and memorabilia over the years until a house was bought in 1922 in the 1800 block of Pine Street to display the collection.

The collection, now in storage, includes items connected with the great heroes of the war along with others specifically connected to Philadelphia. There are blue wool frocks once worn by generals including Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Gordon Meade; Confederate President Jefferson Davis' ornate smoking jacket, taken when he was captured in 1865; and plaster casts of Abraham Lincoln's face and hands. "This collection begs for display, interpretation, and public scrutiny," said Andy Waskie, a Civil War historian, author, and Temple University professor who serves on the board of the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library in the city's Frankford section.

"Given the fast-approaching sesquicentennial of the Civil War era, it is even more essential that this museum be preserved and open to the public and its collections available to inspire and educate." Philadelphia has "a unique opportunity" to tell the story of America, Roebuck said. "We tend to focus on the Revolution, but the Revolution became a reality when the principles were affirmed by the Civil War," he said. "We can tell both of those stories in Philadelphia. There are few other places like that."

Text Souce: Philadelphia Inquirer, September 26, 2009

Images's Source: Museum of the Civil War, Philadelphia, PA

Top Image: Stuffed head of Old Baldy, Gen. George G. Meade’s battle horse. Old Baldy served with Gen. Meade from 1861 to 1864, when he was retired due to his wounds. Old Baldy died of natural causes on a farm just outside Philadelphia in 1882.

Middle Image
: The smoking jacket of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The smoking jacket was made for Davis by a slave in his household. The jacket was captured with the rest of Davis’ baggage on May 10, 1865, as he attempt to escape to Texas in order to carry on the Confederate war effort there.

Bottom Image: Battle log with artillery shell lodged in it from the Battle of Gettysburg. This log was cut from a tree of the western slope of Big Round Top in Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, a shell from Reilly's North Carolina Battery fired at Union forces defending Little Round Top lodged in this tree. The tree fell in a storm in 1906, and the section was cut and preserved as a war relic.

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