From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

For a long time, the Smithsonian Institution has called itself “The Nation’s Attic.” The name conjures up its role as America’s memory. Storerooms hold bits and pieces of the lives of Americans, famous and less celebrated.

Three artifacts from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania: Bottom left, This fluted projectile point of Onondaga chert, created approximately 13,000 years ago, was found at the Shoop site in Dauphin County; Bottom right, Sgt. Joseph White, who served in C Company of the 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, wore this blue wool kepi with a leather visor during the Civil War; Top, A product of material shortages caused by rationing during World War II, the wedding dress of Marie Walborn of Millersburg was created by a local seamstress using German parachute silk sent home by Marie’s fiancé Warren Willard while he was serving in the Army in Europe. Photos, PHMC

Three artifacts from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania: Bottom left, This fluted projectile point of Onondaga chert, created approximately 13,000 years ago, was found at the Shoop site in Dauphin County; Bottom right, Sgt. Joseph White, who served in C Company of the 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, wore this blue wool kepi with a leather visor during the Civil War; Top, A product of material shortages caused by rationing during World War II, the wedding dress of Marie Walborn of Millersburg was created by a local seamstress using German parachute silk sent home by Marie’s fiancé Warren Willard while he was serving in the Army in Europe.
Photos, PHMC

That metaphor also works for us here at PHMC. We consider ourselves to be like a Pennsylvania version of the Smithsonian museums, capturing the broad history of the commonwealth and, in the process, caring for a lot of artifacts we use to tell that story. We have an extraordinary range of notable objects: fluted projectile points that are 13,000 years old, passenger pigeon specimens, a flag from the Whiskey Rebellion, two locks of George Washington’s hair, Civil War drums, steam engines, Pennsylvania’s moon rock, N.C. Wyeth’s original painting for the cover of The Deerslayer, and more.

But our job is to tell the story of all of Pennsylvania, not just the famous parts, and in our collection you will find many everyday objects too: dishes, furniture, toys and clothes. This is the stuff of everyday lives, but each artifact has multiple stories behind it that answer significant questions: Who made it? Who used it? Who wore it? What were the messages it conveyed?

Some of our earliest collections were ordinary objects that told extraordinary stories. Our first artifacts started arriving at the state even before our agency was established. Often these were donations of bits and pieces saved by Civil War veterans, some of which are on display in the State Museum’s Civil War gallery today.

In our collections you will find a cap worn by a soldier who lived through the Battle of Gettysburg. You will also find a pair of work boots that belonged to a breaker boy in the anthracite coal region, a dinner bucket carried by an oil worker, and a wedding dress made from a World War II parachute. Pennsylvanians kept these items as important keepsakes, and the objects have found their way into the collective memory of the state — the collections we steward on behalf of the commonwealth. Each of these tells us something about Pennsylvania history in a very relatable way.

Now, we are bringing these collections out of the attic, into our online museum database, which went live recently. In this virtual museum you will find not just information but photos and stories of these artifacts. You can explore the growing digital collection at phmc.pa.gov. We think this database is an exciting way to open up our attic for Pennsylvanians and others to rummage around. You never know what you will find!

Andrea Lowery
Executive Director, PHMC