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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Joshua Slocum and the Smithsonian

Announcement for a Slocum lecture at Everett House, New York (undated; NAA INV 02881600, photo lot 70, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Every now and then, maritime historians of the National Museum of American History have to
address the belief that the vessel Liberdade of renowned sailor, Joshua Slocum (1844-1908?*), is buried in storage somewhere in the Smithsonian. Slocum designed and built the boat following the wreck of the Aquidneck, his coastal trading bark, which left him, his wife and two sons stranded in South America. Using lumber and fastenings salvaged from the wreck, and local timber, he built a 35-foot-long, six-ton, sea-going canoe, beam of seven and a half feet and draft of three feet. The small cabin, covered only by a canvas tarp, was home to the Slocum family for the entire voyage of an incredible 5,500 miles. Liberdade journeyed from Brazil ending up the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., of all places, in 1888.

Slocum's model for the boat came from his memory of the Cape Ann dories of New England, modified by a photo he had on hand of a Japanese sampan. "As might be expected, when finished, she resembled both types of vessels in some degree" he wrote. He rigged the boat in the Chinese sampan style, "which is, I consider, the most convenient boat rig in the entire world.” His wife made the sails.

Liberdade, built with local help and launched on the day slaves were declared free in Brazil (hence the name) was indeed exhibited for a time at the Smithsonian. But first, after wintering in the nation’s capital (until 1889), the family made their way up to New York and then on to New England, receiving much attention all along with way for their adventure. Slocum, his career as a commercial captain over after a series of mishaps and outright disasters, wrote about the journey as a means to support his family. Slocum brought the Liberdade back to Washington, keen on self-promotion, leaving the unique vessel to be viewed, outdoors. With the pressing need for space due to rapidly growing collections and not wanting to destroy the deteriorating boat (despite the Captain’s permission), Smithsonian officials urged Slocum to return to Washington to take re-possession. In December 1906, he brought the Liberdade—beginning to rot away although the Captain intended to save the planks and rib to rebuildto a boatyard on the Potomac River. Some pieces were given away to spectators but no relic is currently identified, anywhere, including the Smithsonian collections. And no record of the last of the Liberdade is known. As it happens, there is not even a cataloged copy of Slocum’s account of the journey, The Voyage of the Liberdade (Boston, 1890) in the Smithsonian Libraries.

Collection of the author
There are, however, other tangible objects in various Smithsonian collections associated with Slocum most famously the first to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly. Links to this important figure in maritime and literary history can be readily found thanks to catalogs and online databases from sources both within and outside the Institution, with their relevant information and images. They provide a fuller picture of the Captain – or at least of this  curious and remarkable episode with a boat he made himself.

In the age of the decline of sail, Slocum left Boston in April 1895 on the Spray, a rebuilt and entirely reconfigured oyster sloop. A superb sailor and navigator, he had 46,000 miles under Spray’s keel when he completed his astounding circumnavigation in Newport, Rhode Island, and then onto his home port in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in June and early July of 1898.

Front cover of the Cullman Library's copy
From this epic voyage, Slocum penned that classic of travel literature and adventure, Sailing Alone Around the World. It is a lyrical book, and the 37-foot Spray, is a trusted companion throughout:

March 31 the fresh southeast wind had come to stay. The Spray was running under a single-reefed mainsail, a whole jib, and a flying-jib besides, set on the Vailima bamboo, while I was reading Stevenson’s delightful ‘Inland Voyage.’ The sloop was again doing her work smoothly, hardly rolling at all, but just leaping along among the white horses, a thousand gamboling porpoises keeping her company on all sides.

Title page with Professor Mason's signature
The story was initially published in serial form from September 1899 to March 1900 in The Century Magazine; the first edition of Sailing Alone Around the World came out in 1900. Having read the book only in paperback form, I was delighted to catalog the 1900 imprint in the Cullman Library (G440.S628 1900 SCNHRB). It was a presentation from the author to his friend Otis Tufton Mason (1838-1908), Curator of Ethnology at the Smithsonian, who helped to have Slocum take away the Liberdade. Unlike Slocum’s previous writings, Sailing Alone was a great success and still resonates, beloved of maritime writers and "live-aboards".

Photograph courtesy of The Millicent Library, Fairhaven, Massachusetts
Sailing Alone was a best seller and made the captain a celebrity. For a fee, rather sadly, Slocum had the Spray hauled up the Hudson River and Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York for the extravagant Pan-American Exposition of 1901, to capitalize on his hard-won popularity. As related to Mason, Slocum intended to refit the Liberdade with an engine for the towing to Buffalo but couldn’t manage to get to Washington in time. For this World’s Fair, a “Special Pan American Edition” of Sailing Alone was issued and his wife, Henrietta Slocum, produced a pamphlet, Sloop Spray Souvenir, with a piece of the boat’s mainsail tipped-in. Despite the dozens and dozens of printed materials from the Pan-American Exposition, Sloop Spray Souvenir is not in the Smithsonian Libraries’ collections. There is a copy of this rare title nearby though, in Georgetown University’s Special Collections archives.  

The Millicent Library's copy with a fragment of Spray's sail
Card catalog in the National Anthropological Archives
Slocum returned to Washington in early 1902 when he went to the White House to talk to President Theodore Roosevelt of his adventures. Carried back on the Spray during that trip are a few items now in the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History: stone and shell axes, one procured from a “colonial resident” in New South Wales, Australia, and another from (perhaps) New Guinea. These artifacts were probably presented by Slocum to Mason, who, along with George Brown Goode, did much to reorganize and display the collections in the then-new United States National Museum. Despite lacking much of a formal education in his native Nova Scotia, Slocum likely sensed a kindred spirit in Mason, who was born nearby, in the remote seafaring islands of Eastport, Maine (although he did not grow up there) and their shared interest in anthropology.  

Otis Tufton Mason (photo Wikimedia Commons, originally from Popular Science Monthly, vol. 74, January 1909)
Captain Slocum and Group of Gilbert Islanders (undated photograph by Merritt & Van Wagner; NAA INV 05048400, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
But another, later Smithsonian curator, Howard I. Chapelle (1901-1975), was among Slocum’s critics and suggested that Sailing Alone was ghost-written. Slocum had earlier publications, long before his fame, including Rescuing Some Natives of the Gilbert Islands in 1883 (VK1424 .G46 S63 ANTH). Although largely self-educated, Slocum was well-read (his publisher stocked a library on Spray) and it is hard to imagine that the good humor and dry wit of his descriptions, where the ocean is never portrayed with malice, could have any author other than Slocum.

Chapelle was a nautical architect and in the abstract for the catalog record on the thorny “Constellation Question” is described as “as straightforward as he is learned” (SILSRO 113108). The author of several works, including American Small Sailing Craft (1951; VM351 .C481 NMAH), Chapelle sought to show that Spray could be easily capsized and not be righted if rolled. However, he found in his analysis that she was stable in most conditions.

There are other associations of Captain Slocum’s in the Smithsonian. The Botany Department has at least one specimen from his various nautical wanderings: Encycliakingsii (C.D. Adams) Nir (Caribbean). He had presented President Roosevelt with a rare orchid before taking the President's son, Archibald, sailing on Spray from Oyster Bay, Long Island. Impressed with the child's natural nautical talent, Slocum later considering presenting Archie with the Liberdade (wherever it was at that time). And as quoted in the biography, The Hard Way Around, Slocum wrote the Smithsonian a letter of February 1901 "requesting that if and when a 'flying ship' were launched, 'I could have a second mates position on it to soar.'" With his circumnavigation, he had already helped shrink the world.

Frontispiece of Sailing Alone (Cullman Library copy)
Illustrations in this first edition are by Thomas Fogarty and George Varian
Slocum never flew and his story does not end well. Black clouds and legal troubles followed him through life; sadness and despair could only be managed at sea. Trying to settle in a house and farm on Martha’s Vineyard after his circumnavigation, Slocum was soon restless and embarked on shorter solo trips. Inevitably, he set off again in 1908, both he and Spray deteriorating, with the intention of sailing to South America to find the source of the Amazon. Neither was seen again.

Julia Blakely
Smithsonian Libraries

*Slocum's death date is often cited as 1909, when he was legally declared dead. See Geoffrey Wolff's The Hard Way Around (New York, 2010; p. 212) for why the date should be 1908.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"If the world is still here and round and beautiful"

Lee Hays liked to write letters. He tended to be a homebody, but after he lost both legs to diabetes, he was stuck at home more often. Long, thoughtful letters were his way of being a part of the world, and his correspondents responded in kind. His resulting papers, now being digitized here at the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, are thus rich and dense with perfectly encapsulated life moments.

One such cluster of letters are copies of those sent to the Murtaugh family, who seem to be his neighbors in upstate New York. A few of the letters, written to the younger Murtaughs, caught my eye in particular because of the uniquely wonderful way Lee had of speaking to younger people: with respect, interest and humor. They are full of advice that is honest and kind--never preachy or judgmental.

Lee Hays is often remembered for his work in music, especially his contributions to The Weavers, but it's his powerful grasp of language that always gets me. Since it's back-to-school season and some of you may be getting ready to either hit the books or assign said books, let Lee drop some knowledge on you: he has quite a bit to share.

Poem for Lee Murtagh, August 1973. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_004. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Bruce Murtagh, 1977. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_005. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Tony Murtaugh, 8 August 1978. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_008. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Lee Hays to Bruce Murtaugh, November 1980. Lee Hays Papers, Hays_01_01_070_010. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

Cecilia Peterson, Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere. And Latino studies too!

As a curator of Latino Studies at the Anacostia Community Museum, I am often asked where my work fits within the museum’s initiatives.  The answer is: EVERYWHERE. 

Here is one example.

One of the Smithsonian’s signature initiatives, Waterways, has its roots right here in the Urban Waterways project at the Anacostia Community Museum. Urban Waterways has made profound and multifarious connections (geographic, fresh/salt water, culture/science, nature/built environment, and many more).

Rowers compete during the Stonewall Regatta held Sunday June 3, 2012 at the Anacostia Community Boathouse and sponsored by DC Strokes Rowing Club. here they row under the Pennsylvania Avenue/John Phillips Bridge on the Anacostia River.  Reclaming the Edge Exhibition Records, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.  Photograph by Susana Raab

When I started at ACM, I was immediately tasked with planning a small exhibition. Reclaiming the Edge was in the main gallery and it sparked an idea: Bridging the Americas. My exhibition is not about the Panama Canal per se, but the history and culture of Panama, the migration patterns of Panamanians to the U.S., and the unique urban identity called “Zonians” have everything to do with the Canal. I am building an archival collection through photo documentation in D.C. and Panama and by conducting oral history interviews with Panamanian and Zonian D.C.area residents.  Bridging the Americas connects the Washington D.C. area to Panama, a country famous for its urban waterway. In the exhibition there will be a breakout section about the Panama Canal, a powerful geographic/cultural/commercial/political urban waterway. Moreover, it connects me to the current museum work.

Bridge of the Americas, Pacific side of the Panama Canal, August 2014.  Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

Various Smithsonian units have holdings that relate to the Panama Canal, such as photos of celebrity Canal visitors, political buttons, and of course, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is located in Panama.
However, the framework of Urban Waterways is a new perspective on Panama and one with with global implications.

I had the opportunity to travel to Panama last month for the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal and to see the current Panama Canal expansion project.

100th anniversary of the Panama Canal sign, Gatun Observation Center, Panama. Atlantic side of the Panama Canal, August 2014. Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

Panama Canal expansion in progress, August 2014. Gatun Observation Center, Panama, Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Bridging the Americas Research Project, Anacostia Community Museum. Photograph by Susana Raab.

As water covers 75% of the earth, the waterways initiative has been a fluid connector (pun intended). I want to capitalize on my expertise and also build meaningful links to the existing work of the Museum.
So where does Latino Studies fit at Anacostia? EVERYWHERE!

Ariana A. Curtis, Ph.D.
Curator (Latino Studies)
Anacostia Community Museum

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fascinating Fasteners

Micro spatula and archival bond paper with stainless steel paper clip (photo courtesy Alison Oswald)
One of my favorite archival tools is the stainless steel micro spatula. This durable, light-weight tool is invaluable for quickly and safely removing staples and other fasteners found in archival collections. Fasteners, such as staples, paper clips, brads (small tapered nails), grommets, and straight pins are found throughout archival collections. They were used by the creators of the documents to maintain the order and relationship deemed important at the time. Consequently, these fasteners play an important role in archives. An archivist must respect and retain these relationships when organizing and preparing a collection for research use to ensure historical integrity and context. Unfortunately, these all-important fasteners can cause physical damage to the documents such as tearing, puncturing, and staining from rusted metal. Metal fasteners can also be sharp, cutting archivists and breaking against brittle paper, causing even more damage. To reduce the risk of further damage to the materials, archivists remove these fasteners and keep relevant items together using a stainless steel paperclip secured over a small strip of archival bond paper. In some cases where a paper clip will not work, a small folder made of archival bond paper can maintain the order.  Sometimes, we leave non-rusty staples in place provided that environmental conditions are not conducive to rust. In some cases, fasteners are embedded so deeply that they can’t be removed.

2. Advertisement and price list for Rockwell-Barnes Company, manufacturer of fasteners, undated. (AC0060-0002300)
3. Sample card for McGill’s patent fasteners, Holmes, Booth & Haydens, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Office Equipment series, undated.  (AC0060-0002305-01) (front)
 4.  Verso of card above  (AC0060-0002305-02)
Most fasteners I encounter while processing are the standard paper clip, sometimes known as the “Owl” or “Fay.” Although I have yet to encounter one in a collection, I recently found information about some really fabulous fasteners manufactured by Holmes, Booth & Haydens, a Waterbury, Connecticut manufacturer involved in casting, rolling and drawing brass and copper in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.  I am especially fond of McGill’s No. 3, S-Ring (a turtle). This sample card which features the “McGill Fastener” was used by salesmen as a point-of purchase ad in a stationery store. I was intrigued by these fasteners and began to wonder if I would remove an example if I found one while processing? Would I hesitate, micro spatula in midair?  Best practice dictates I remove it, but I would save this novelty.

Like many things, these fasteners have a fascinating story. George W. McGill (1843-1917), an inventor and patent attorney (how convenient!), invented the first of many metal fasteners in 1866. McGill held over fifty patents, all relating to fasteners.  An improvement in metallic paper-fasteners (US 56,587) was McGill’s first patent, issued on January 24, 1866.  Several legal cases were based on this 1866 patent and subsequent patents for improvements to fasteners. Holmes, Booth & Haydens, had, under contract, the sole right to manufacture the McGill fasteners. But others in the fastening business were interested too so the trade was fraught with litigation surrounding the McGill patents.

In 1891, McGill sued (McGill Fastener Company vs. Universal Paper Fastener) for infringement upon his patent of 1875 for an improvement in metallic paper-fasteners (US 162,183) and his 1886 patent for the regular flathead “T” paper fastener (US 337,182). These two shank fasteners, with the head covered by a metal cap and bent at right angles, formed a button-like head that was applied in a variety of ways. The courts decided in favor of the Universal Paper Fastener Company, citing the McGill patents void and “want of novelty” and therefore there was no infringement. Despite this legal setback McGill would not be deterred.

In 1893, he went back to court in Lawrence vs. McGill.  McGill accused Benjamin Lawrence of the B. Lawrence Stationery Company of manufacturing fasteners like McGill’s patents of 1866 for a metallic fastener  (US 56,587) and 1883 for a staple fastener (US 285,640) and selling them at half the cost.  Lawrence argued that McGill’s patent was invalid because it was invented in England and that even if the patent was valid, it had expired. McGill sent a circular notice to the trade warning other companies against selling the infringed fastener. That circular caused the courts to consider a companion libel case—did McGill’s have the right to issue the circular claiming that B. Lawrence Stationery was infringing? Did McGill blackmail Lawrence by offering money to cease manufacturing?

McGill stated in his testimony, “I am the pioneer in this fastener line in this country. When I brought out my first device in 1866 I had faith and confidence in the business, and devoted my time, energy and money to its development. I spent $25,000 in making improvements which it took years to make and complete. I studied the needs of the business community, kept in touch with the march of improvement, worked hard to find out precisely what the trade needed, and invented new devices for growing needs and various uses.”

5. Advertisement for McGill’s Patent Fasteners, manufactured by Holmes, Booth & Haydens, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Office Equipment series, undated.  (AC0060-0002303)
And, in 1901, Holmes, Booth & Haydens vs. McGill appeared on the docket again. McGill brought four lawsuits (thankfully, they were consolidated into one lawsuit) against Holmes, Booth & Haydens for liability for royalties from 1895 to 1896. The suit was settled in favor of McGill, who recovered $20,315.96 worth of royalties. Metal fasteners were certainly profitable for McGill!
To learn more about our collections, visit the Archives Center.

The American Stationer, Volume, 28, 1890, pages 277, 958.
The American Stationer, Volume, 31, 1892, pages 695 and 745.
The American Stationer, Volume, 33, 1893, pages 202-204.
American Stationer and Office Outfitter, October 13, 1917.
Federal Reporter, Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit Courts of Appeals and Circuit and District Courts of the United States, Volume 48, 1892.
United States Court of Appeals Reports, Volume 47, 1901, pages 296-302.

Alison Oswald

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Garden Time: The Beauty of Floral Clocks

Floral clocks are an exciting and innovative garden design element that began to be featured in outdoor public spaces at the turn of the twentieth century.  Though “Floral clocks” can refer to Carl Linnaeus’ design which places flowers in a clocklike pattern to open and close according to the hour, the floral clocks referred to here are large functioning time pieces placed amongst richly colored and contrasting “carpet plants” in elaborate, often geometric patterns in a garden bed.
The Archives of American Gardens’ includes photographic prints Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens' floral clock.  The idea for the floral clock’s design is credited to Edinburgh Parks Superintendent, John McHattie who arranged to have clock makers Ritchie & Son install the mechanism for the clock in 1903.

When the clock began to operate on June 10, 1903, it had only an hour hand; in 1904 a minute hand was added.  The Prince Street Gardens’ floral clock was unique for not only having a twelve foot dial, but also for having florally worked out hands.  The hands of the clock were created from long, shallow troughs of sheet meal, and planted with flowers.  The Princes Street Gardens’ floral clock was not only a work of ingenuity for masterfully combining the technology of clock making with the art of planting design, but also for the engineering that took to install it on a forty degree incline.

Floral Clock at Princes Street Gardens
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Company Collection

At the turn of the twentieth century, floral clocks became feature at world fairs and public parks. In America there were floral clocks displayed on the slope of the Agricultural hill at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Water Works Park in Detroit Michigan featured a water powered floral clock and by 1948, America was home to the world’s largest floral clock in Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland, which still operates today.

Stereograph of the Great Floral Clock in front of the Agricultural Building at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Historic Gardens Stereograph Collection
Floral clocks have their place as a trend or fad in gardening history and are wonderful examples of the use of technology in the garden.  The ability of landscape architects, gardeners, and clock makers to collaborate on such beautiful and yet demanding pieces is what makes the floral clock so special.  

Jessica Brode
Smithsonian Gardens