Susan Bartholomew, Collections Specialist here at The Henry Ford, is busy cataloging objects from The Henry Ford's Collections Storage Building (CSB). A three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America Collections Stewardship project, supports conserving, rehousing, and digitizing thousands of objects currently housed in several bays of the CSB.
As the grant narrative explains, the IMLS funding supports a “critical element in a major institutional project: the consolidation of The Henry Ford's off site collections into a new location on campus.” The work “will improve the physical condition of the project artifacts through conservation treatment, rehousing, and removal to improved environments.” Finally, IMLS funding “will facilitate collections access through the creation of catalog records and digital images, available to all via The Henry Ford's digital collections.”
Occasionally Susan comes upon an artifact that needs additional explanation to accurately catalog it, such as this one. Here's what we knew upon examination:
It's 16" long, 7" wide
Has a smooth wooden handle
Is bent and welded iron
There's a ringed brass flange positioned to reduce wear where the metal is imbedded into the organic material.
The questions we then ask: What is this instrument? What purpose does it serve?
We turned to our horse experts with the Ford Barn team in Greenfield Village to help us understand its use.
A steady diet of oats, grass, and hay wears a horse’s teeth down as they age. Persistent grinding of food can leave sharp burrs or edges on the outside of their molars. Untreated, this causes pain when the horse chews, and they lose weight.
Farmers and veterinarians used this instrument (called a “gag” or speculum) to hold a horse’s mouth open as they floated the horse’s teeth to balance their bite. Floating helps a horse maintain a healthy bite in their senior years.
A person (farmer or veterinarian) would insert the “gag” into the horse’s mouth, holding it by the handle. Then, the farmer/veterinarian would pull downward on the handle which “encouraged” the horse’s mouth to open. The oval area provided a window through which to place the float (a rasp used to file down the sharp edges).
The device proved useful when treating younger horses with other dental issues, too. Today caring for aging horses still requires floating and balancing their teeth. Caregivers still use a speculum to hold the horse’s mouth open, and to keep their head steady during floating and balancing, but the instruments today have padding to reduce stress on the horse’s jaw during the procedure.
Thanks to the IMLS for providing the invaluable funding to help make this exploration of animal care possible.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. Jim Slining is Curator of Museum Collections at Tillers International.
Last year, Heavy Meta brought Canada's 30-foot long fire-breathing dragon across the U.S./Canada border to bring the heat to Maker Faire Detroit. Over the year that has passed, one thing that always irked us was the size of the dragon's wings. In the original sketch, the wings are supposed to be as tall as the head of the dragon! However, we had never been able to solve the engineering challenge this posed until now.
We are pleased to say that Detroit will be the first Maker Faire where attendees can check out our new wings! Here's how we did it.
Designing the Wings We had two design goals:
1. Safely engineer a system that would allow the wings to be raised and lowered using some kind of mechanical winch.
2. Prevent the wings from rusting.
The first and second parts are related in a way, and the choice was made early on to work with aluminum to keep the wings light, as well as prevent corrosion.
To accomplish the first goal, we looked for other places where this problem has already been solved in an elegant fashion, and we found two "homologous structures" in the engineering world. One is in hydraulic excavating equipment, and the other, much simpler example is a straight razor.
A straight razor has a little handle for the thumb called a tang. It is the perfect length and shape to apply just the right amount of leverage to the spine to open the razor. We asked ourselves, what if instead of the handle, we had a wing stem, and what if instead of one spine, there were three spines, each supporting wing mesh?
With this in mind, we got our friend Ryan Longo at the Apocalypse Metal Shop to CNC plasma cut four large pieces of steel that mimicked the look of a straight razor and tang combo.
Matt decided inside each spine would need to be a strong piece of steel, we would create an aluminum façade to go over each "dragon finger."
Cutting the Aluminum... Disaster Strikes!
Since we had made the dragon entirely out of steel, we didn't have a whole lot of experience with aluminum, but knew it was the right material for the job. We decided to try CNC plasma cutting it, even though we had never done it before. We loaded the design files into the computer, and it made a great test cut. Then, 20 minutes into the actual cut, everything went pear shaped. The torch depth sensor had failed to determine where it was located, and rammed the torch into the material, snapping the torch head in half. This was an expensive mistake.
Return to the CNC Table
While the torch was being repaired at the other shop, we decided to give it a shot at our own shop, which has a CNC router. With a ton of help from Alex Borins, we were able to cut out and rivet together the necessary pieces of aluminum to sheath the "dragon fingers." We were also able to repurpose some of the original wing mesh by cutting it in triangles and riveting it to the fingers.
Making the Fingers Move
Matt realized that if the wing was going to need to fold, the fingers would have to be slightly offset so each finger would slot inside each other. We also agonized for quite a bit about how to exert the downward force on the tang to make the fingers pivot upward, and decided the best tool for the job was also one of the simplest: a hand winch. This allows just about anybody to easily crank the wings up and down and makes the dragon kind of like a giant mechanical puppet. We love the effect of the slowly rising wings, and the sound is like a medieval drawbridge!
The Big Picture
We can't wait to show you our brand new wings at The Henry Ford.
Kevin Bracken is Co-Lead of Heavy Meta Entertainment.
In the early years of World War I hundreds of thousands of Belgian refugees fled to England to escape their war torn country. Lord Perry, of Ford of England, worked with Henry Ford to establish a home for these refugees to help get them on their feet while they found work and homes of their own in England. For this purpose, Perry leased Oughtrington Hall in Cheshire, England with money donated from Henry and Clara Ford to house up to 100 refugees at a time.
The idea of helping the refugees appears to have been discussed in person between Perry and the Fords in October 1914 while Perry was visiting the states. On returning to England, Perry wrote Clara Ford in December of 1914, saying he’d secured Oughtrington Hall for $35.00 per month, with the landlord giving the rent money to the Belgian Refugee Fund. By December 29, 1914 the first group of refugees had arrived consisting of “six better class adults, 14 better class children and 3 nurses for the children; one wounded Belgian Officer and his wife; 7 discharged Belgian soldiers (these men have been wounded and are sufficiently recovered from their wounds to be discharged from Hospital, but not well enough to rejoin the Army; they cannot go back to their homes in Belgium because they have been destroyed); 4 working class married couples with 5 young children, 3 elderly single men.” The first group of refugees was picked by Perry and included those he considered “the better class” and those of the “working class.” Perry envisioned the wealthy refugees overseeing the children and the working class, and the working class performing the housekeeping, and cooking. The “servant class,” however, rebelled at this notion and Perry was soon writing to Clara noting the working class, “imagine themselves guests and see no reason why they should not be treated as guests with a consequence that they expect to be waited on etc.” Perry compromised by proposing they be paid a servants wage for their labor which would be payable after they left the house to return to Belgium or other employment. The number of refugees in the house continued to grow quickly, by February 1915 there were 93 refugees in the house and in March, 110.
To oversee the group’s needs, Perry appointed a former Ford Motor Company agent in Brussels, Vandermissen as he was the only one in the original group who could speak English. The initial group of refugees battled outbreaks of many contagious diseases, including a scarlet fever and small pox scare. Perry was unable to find a Belgian doctor for some time, so he had to hire local doctors and even use the Manchester plant doctor to see to the refugees needs, however the language gap proved a problem. Eventually, a Belgian doctor was hired, and a surgery and doctor’s office were set up on the grounds. A chapel was built, and a Belgian priest was brought in to see to the refugees’ spiritual needs. Oughtrington Hall was one of the few refugee homes that could house large families and there were always many children in the hall. A nursery and school were established, and the indoor tennis court was heated with a stove to provide a play area for the children. The refugees also raised and sold pigs and cows on the 30 acres attached to the hall.
Perry and his wife, Katie, spent countless hours arranging for the lease, administrating the house, and seeing to the needs of the refugees. They donated much of their own furniture and clothing, “Katie and I have both taken all of our clothes, excepting those that we are actually wearing – both suits and under-clothes – and used them for fitting out some of these poor people.” Perry also requested the Fords send their second-hand clothing to the refugees as well “if it is not too much trouble, it would be nice to receive from you any old clothes of Edsel’s or Mr. Ford’s which could be spared…Such clothes would be of much better quality than we can think of buying, and would further more save money,” a request the Fords followed through with (although only one woman in the hall could fit into Clara’s shoes). However, not all the refugees’ needs were met immediately. When the boiler went out in 1915, Perry refused to pay for a new one as they were only renting, demanding the landlord replace the unit, but it took the landlord sometime to make up his mind and “meanwhile the poor Belgians are very cold.” The money the Fords provided not only furnished the house, and provided food, but also bought clothing, toiletries, and basic items for the refugees (many of whom had left the country with no extra clothes or personal possessions) as well as provided the refugees with pocket money from $0.50 - $1.00 each per week. Perry also purchased subscriptions for magazines and rented a piano and gramophone (asking Edsel Ford to send along any old records). Because the first refugees moved in around Christmas the Perry’s purchased a Christmas tree, decorations, and small gifts for the children.
By 1918, because of war rationing, Perry was forced to reduce the number of refugees in the home and stop taking in new refugees; he proposed to the Fords to gradually start winding up the project and close down Oughtrington Hall. The chapel, priest, and doctor had all left by this time and Perry stated only families with children were left. Perry wrote Clara, “I feel that the conditions under which you have, for so long, rendered help to Belgian Refugees in this country, have materially changed; so much so, that it is probably true to say that there are no Belgian refugees in the same sense that there were three years ago.” He went on to add most of the refugees had found work and had become part of community, the others he believed should be taken care of by the government. Over the three years of operation a constant flow of hundreds of refugees came and went through Oughtrington Hall, the number of refugees fluctuated but appears to have stayed around 100 for the most part. Many found jobs, some at the Ford Manchester plant, and moved into homes of their own, or a relative in Belgium sent them money so they could establish their own residence. In July 1918, Perry transferred administration of the hall to the Manchester Belgian Refugees Committee along with the furniture and all equipment in the house. Kathy Makas is a Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.
Only at Motor Muster! The 1st Michigan Fife & Drum Corps passes a 1955 Buick Special Riviera.
Another summer means another car show season. Here at The Henry Ford, that means another Motor Muster. Our 2018 event goes down as one of the most exciting in recent memory, with a host of new activities and experiences – and more than a few great cars, too. Some 700 automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, bikes and military vehicles filled Greenfield Village with the sights and sounds of mid-20th century motoring.
Chevrolet’s long-running small-block V-8 – under the hoods of the 1957 Bel Air and Corvette seen here – is a perfect example of an iconic engine.
Our theme this year broke with tradition. Rather than feature one particular make or model, we celebrated “Iconic Engines of Detroit’s Big Three.” Our profiled power plants included Ford’s flathead V-8, which brought horsepower to the masses from 1932-1953; Chevrolet’s small-block V-8, which remained in production, in one form or another, from 1955-2003; and Chrysler’s celebrated hemispherical combustion head engines, first marketed under the “FirePower” name before gaining the better known – and still used – “Hemi” moniker. The broader theme allowed us to make the most of a visit from the Early Ford V-8 Club of America, as well as a consortium of dedicated Mopar owners and fans.
Moving under its own power for the first time in several years, The Henry Ford’s 1956 Chrysler 300-B recalled NASCAR’s early days.
Each of these iconic engines was on view in our special display tent across from Town Hall. From The Henry Ford’s own collection came a 60-horsepower variant of the Ford V-8. Our Chrysler 300-B, from the Carl Kiekhaefer team that dominated NASCAR’s 1956 Grand National series, not only sat in the tent but also wowed crowds with Hemi-powered noise during our Saturday afternoon racing Pass-in-Review presentation. We rounded out the tent’s Big Three display with a small-block-powered 1955 Chevy Bel Air courtesy of show participant John Dargel.
The Ford V-8 was an especially appropriate choice for Motor Muster. Some of the engine’s early design work was done by a small group of engineers working out of Thomas Edison’s Fort Myers Laboratory in Greenfield Village. The lab provided the team with privacy and freedom from distraction – and maybe even a little inspiration.
Tether cars peaked in popularity in the years surrounding World War II, though newer models – like this 1990s example – continue to be built by enthusiasts.
We added a small-scale surprise to the tent this year. Throughout the weekend, visitors could watch our conservators at work on a gasoline-powered tether car. These miniature racers competed against the clock while tethered to a central pivot, or against each other on scaled-down board tracks. The featured car was one of dozens acquired by The Henry Ford from the E-Z Spindizzy Foundation in 2013.
Scenes from the World War II home front came to life at our small-town War Bond drive.
Building on the “historical vignette” concept that debuted at last year’s Old Car Festival, this year’s Motor Muster included period settings for each decade represented by the cars in the show. For the 1930s, we staged a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the McGuffey School. For the 1940s, we reenacted a home front War Bond drive, circa 1943, along Washington Boulevard. (In keeping with the theme, Spam sandwiches were available for lunch!)
The 1951 General Motors Le Sabre concept car, on loan courtesy of our friends at GM, was a highlight of the “FuturaFair” auto show vignette. GM also provided the 1958 Firebird III.
The 1950s were represented by a Motorama-style auto show in the Village Pavilion. Our “FuturaFair” display included three of that decade’s notable concept cars: the 1951 GM Le Sabre, the 1953 Ford X-100, and the 1958 GM Firebird III. At the Scotch Settlement School, a happy group of revelers enjoyed a suburban-style picnic set in the 1960s. And the Spirit of ’76 reigned at the foot of the Ackley Covered Bridge, where the 1st Michigan Fife & Drum Corps and the Plymouth Fife & Drum Corps performed Bicentennial-themed concerts throughout the weekend.
Badminton kept our Bicentennial vignette lively, while mid-1970s AMC wagons and cars provided atmosphere.
If just looking at cars wasn’t enough, visitors could learn about them either by watching our narrated Pass-in-Review programs at the Main Street grandstand, or by sitting in on one of several presentations in the Village Pavilion. Topics included everything from Ford factory paint methods to the lasting impact of the Chevrolet Corvair. Of course, you could also learn simply by asking the owners about their cars. They enjoy sharing share their stories: where they found the car, why they bought it, and why they love the hobby.
It was another magical weekend filled with good friends, good food, and hundreds of vintage vehicles. And for our 2018 Motor Muster award recipients, it was a winning weekend as well. What better way to welcome another summer?
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
National Automobile Show Official Program, 1956. THF206474
A big city auto show is a magical place. Automakers turn heads and grab headlines with futuristic concept cars and the latest production models. Suppliers and aftermarket vendors mount elaborate displays promoting everything from gearboxes to floor mats. For the public, it’s a chance to do some serious research on that next big car purchase, or to simply dream while gazing at sports cars, luxury sedans and special edition trucks.
Program, "70th Annual Chicago Auto Show," February 25 through March 5, 1978. THF108058
Auto shows are part trade show and part show business, but they’ve been a part of the automotive industry from the beginning. We’ve put together a new Expert Set featuring programs and posters drawn from the past century. See how much has changed – and how much hasn’t – in selling the American automobile.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Topps "World on Wheels" Series Collecting Card, circa 1951 General Motors Le Sabre Experimental Car, circa 1954. THF207260
Nothing stirs the imagination like a concept car. These dream vehicles offer a tantalizing glimpse into the future with dramatic styling features and sophisticated technologies that may (or may not) be right around the corner for us everyday drivers. Most concept cars never make it into regular production, though two notable examples – the Chevrolet Corvette and the Dodge Viper – did make the leap from fantasy to reality. (Sadly, my favorite concept car – the 1986 Corvette Indy – did not.)
Concept cars are, by nature, ephemeral things. Once they’ve toured enough auto shows and generated enough buzz, they often get scrapped. One, the 1955 Lincoln Futura, went on to even greater glory after it was rebuilt into the Batmobile for the 1966-68 Batman television series. Other lucky vehicles found homes in museums.
The Henry Ford has several concept cars in its collection, ranging from the sheltering Cornell-Liberty Safety Car to the shimmering Chrysler Turbine. We’ve pulled together cars, models and promotional materials in a new Expert Set celebrating these fantastic dream machines. Take a look and wish away!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Button – “Kennedy for President in ‘68.” THF157665
The primaries were well underway when Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy decided to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on March 16, 1968. Public opinions were polarized about his decision. Some were thankful that Bobby was honoring the memory of his brother John, slain five years earlier and still being mourned. Others appreciated the effort but thought he had dragged his feet too long. Still others felt that he was not Presidential material.
Bobby’s immediate popularity was undeniable—especially with voters who were economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, Catholic, and young. Before long, he was dominating the Democratic race, winning primary after primary.
Then, on June 5, soon after defeating Eugene McCarthy in the California Democratic primary, Bobby Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He died the next day. In a testament to his impact on people from all walks of life, thousands of mourners lined the railroad tracks on June 8 to watch his funeral train pass from New York to Washington, D.C.
According to American journalist and political commentator Chris Matthews in his 2017 book Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, the memory of Bobby Kennedy endures not only because it is filled with grand “what ifs” but also because he “stood for the desire to right wrongs that greatly mattered then and which continue to matter every bit as much in the 21st century—in fact, now more than ever.”
Recently, The Henry Ford acquired a collection of published materials from donors Mike and Darlene Cook that commemorated the life and legacy of Robert Kennedy. Michael Cook had been deeply affected by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, then shocked by the successive assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. In collecting these materials at the time they were published, he was trying to come to terms with the questions, “What was happening in our country? How could these assassination attempts happen in our country?”
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is a place of wonder and inspiration, and this past March and April, it was my privilege to work with staff behind the scenes. My name is Jamison Van Andel, and I am an 11th-grade student at Henry Ford Academy. As part of the school’s curriculum, students are expected to complete a six-week internship with a local organization. While searching for an internship placement, I contacted The Henry Ford in hopes that a curator would be willing to work with me. A history aficionado, I had fallen in love with The Henry Ford and was overwhelmingly curious about the work that goes into a curator’s day-to-day experience.
Dr. Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication and Information Technology, responded with a project. The Mathematica exhibit, a recent addition to the museum floor, was in need of some background research to improve its representation of diverse mathematicians. I was thrilled to tackle the challenge.
Going into my first week of work, I imagined that curators worked in secluded offices, reading and researching various subjects individually. In actuality, curatorial research is a highly collaborative process. As I met several curators, it became clear that they all bounce ideas off each other as they conduct research.
As I completed more and more research, Dr. Gallerneaux introduced me to the art of writing narratives-- capsules of information about an object or topic, in 60 words or less. A delicate exercise, narrative writing requires the author to communicate lots of information on in a terse, but erudite fashion. I found this was especially difficult when I had spent a great deal of time with a subject, because every discovery of my research seemed incredibly meaningful in my eyes.
I’m quite fond of the following narrative, largely because Artur Avila was a fun character to research, but also due to the fact that I believe I was able to capture the cultural significance of his achievements as well as their mathematical implications:
Along with his easygoing persona, Artur Avila is known for his remarkable ability to clarify very complex material. Avila, a Fields Medalist in 2014, holds citizenship in both his native Brazil and France. He has become an ambassador for Brazilian mathematicians, working in the dynamical systems field that analyzes the correlation between time and geometrical position of a point.
Later, I composed a narrative about the International Mathematical Olympiad after noting that several of the mathematicians I researched had participated in it. This was an entertaining exercise for me, as many of the Olympiad competitors are close to my own age. Curators often face the challenge of making subjects compelling for all museum guests, and it helps to have several connection points within an exhibit that pertain to different groups. In this case, a narrative about teenage mathematicians might serve as common ground with current-day students.
The International Mathematical Olympiad is the premier contest for high school mathematicians. Held yearly in different countries, the Olympiad invites six-person teams from over 100 countries to participate. Each student individually constructs answers to six problems, with content ranging from complicated algebra to number theory. Winners may receive a gold, silver, or bronze medal as well as an honorable mention.
Besides the research and narrative writing, I was able to attend several curatorial meetings. One particular gathering, a Collections Committee meeting, was especially entertaining. Twice a month, the curatorial team meets to determine what artifacts are to be added to the collection. Humorous, engaging, and thought-provoking, the meeting was the epitome of curatorial work at The Henry Ford. I left with a concrete idea of the qualities an artifact must have in order to fit into a museum’s mission.
After compiling a portfolio of 20 narratives, I arranged them in a digital platform that serves as a prototype for a future digital project that will support the interpretation of the Mathematicaexhibit. The capstone project of my internship, it presents the narratives in an interactive way for guests to experience, similar to many of the digital resources currently on the museum floor. For now, the finished narratives will be stored in the museum’s database for future implementation, with the eventual goal that guests will be able to interact with this information.
An absolutely unforgettable experience, the internship gave me an extensive, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a world-class museum. The intentionality with which everything was done was remarkable to someone who often only sees the finished product. It was an honor to work beside the masterminds responsible for making The Henry Ford the wonderful, inspirational place that it is.
Jamison Van Andel is an 11th Grade student at Henry Ford Academy.
The Logan County Courthouse, a fixture on the Village Green in Greenfield Village, will has reached the milestone of having been here in Dearborn for as many years as it was in Postville, Illinois - 89 years.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village, which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Lincoln epitomized Ford’s view of the “self-made man,” and he made a significant effort to collect as many objects as possible associated with him. By the late 1920s, Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
It has taken nearly all the 89 years to achieve this, but an original feature, long absent from the courtroom is making a return. The bar now stands again. Using the original set of spindles, we have re-created our interpretation of what the rail, or the bar, that divided the courtroom may have looked like in the1840s. By referencing images of other early 19th century courtrooms, and studying architectural features represented in Greenfield Village, a typical design was created.
The stories associated with the Logan County Courthouse are fascinating. As it turns out, the story of how the original spindles from the original bar finally made their way back into the courthouse is fascinating as well.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s. There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them, but very few of these were the real thing. For Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Lincoln seemed unlikely.
But, by the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in very run-down condition, described by some as “derelict.” It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for taking over the care of the building. Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Ford’s intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over.
This image shows the state of the building when it was first seen by Henry Ford’s staff in late August of 1929. Not visible in the large shed attached to the rear of the building. THF238386
The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as stating that, “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination. By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people."
Henry had made his case and the courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln. Immediately following the final negotiations, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed to purchase the land. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die on September 19, just as the last bits of the old courthouse were being loaded for their journey to Greenfield Village.
Reconstruction, which included the fabrication of many of the first-floor details and a new stone chimney and fireplaces, began immediately. In roughly a month’s time, the building was ready for the grand opening of Greenfield Village on October 21, 1929.
Nine years later, in 1938, Eugene Amberg sent a letter to Ford describing an interesting discovery. Mr. Amberg was a native of what was now Lincoln, Illinois and worked as a railroad ticket agent. He had a great interest in the local history and was a collector of local artifacts. As he writes in the letter dated February 8, 1938:
Several years ago, you purchased the Old Postville Court House here in Lincoln, Ills from Mrs. T Beach. At the time the Court House was made into a dwelling the railing that separated the judges desk from the main court room was torn out by my father (John Amberg) who was doing the remodeling, this he stored in the attic of his home, recently my mother died and while cleaning out the attic we came across these spindles, which are the original 28 spindles that the hand railing rested upon. The hand railing was of walnut, out of which was carved some arm rests that are now on some of the pews in St. Mary’s, a church here.
Would appreciate a line from you as to whether or not you would be interested in these spindles, have had numerous offers for them, inasmuch as they are part of the original court house I feel they should be with it, in your Dearborn Village.
Dated February 7, 1938, this is the initial letter from Gene Amberg to Henry Ford offering the 28 original spindles for sale. Despite several letters back and forth, a price could not be settled upon, and the transaction never took place. THF288006
This drawing was sent by Gene Amberg, as a follow-up to his first letter offering the spindles for sale. The artist, Mary Katherine, was Gene’s 14 year old daughter. THF288012
Negotiations evidently faltered, as a price was not agreed upon, and the spindles were never sent. Fast forward 71 years to 2009 when an email arrived from Carol Moore and her brother, Dennis Cunningham, the grandchildren of Eugene Amberg. They had no idea that their grandfather had begun this process, and were amazed when we produced the original correspondence from our archival collection. As it turns out, their story was almost identical to Eugene’s. As Carol wrote their mother, “Patricia Amberg Cunningham died March 1, 2008. While cleaning her house in Delavan, Illinois to prepare for sale, we found 28 old wooden spindles and a newspaper article believed to be from the Lincoln Courier indicating that the spindles are from the original Postville Courthouse in Lincoln, Illinois. It is our desire to donate them to the original Postville Courthouse.”
She was very familiar with Greenfield Village, and had visited the courthouse here. Jim McCabe, the Buildings Curator at the time, gladly accepted the donation.
Clipping from the Lincoln Courier ca. 1934, noting the 28 spindles from the “old Postville courthouse” in the possession of Gene Amberg. THF288016, THF288017
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and the county offices moved to a new courthouse. After a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter.
Understanding the local history helps to also understand the changes that took place to the building. It explains how and why portions of the building were altered, parts removed, and eventually separated.
By the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior. The most significant of these was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, it was lifted off its original limestone foundation, and the original single limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation were created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves.
This is the earliest known photograph of the Logan County Courthouse taken some time between 1850 and 1880. This photograph shows the building in its second location, 80 feet forward from its original foundation, at the crest of a small rise. The original window and door configuration remain intact. The original single stone chimney, now restored to the left side of the building, has been replaced by two internal brick chimneys designed for cast-iron heating stoves. Though not visible in the photograph, the building now sits on a new brick foundation and cellar. The items sitting near the doorway speak to the building’s new life as a store. THF132074
By 1880, the old courthouse had been converted from a commercial building into a private dwelling, and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed. Later, a porch was added to the front entrance, and a shed addition was added to the rear. Photographs taken in September of 1929 during the dismantling, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build.
This post 1880 view of the Logan County Courthouse shows its transformation into a two- family dwelling. Note the single doorway is now two, the second now taking the place of a former window opening. THF238350
This image shows further remodeling of the front of the building. This photo ca.1900 shows the addition of recessed covered porch with some decorative posts and millwork. This is the iteration in which the building was found when it was sold to Henry Ford in September of 1929. THF238348
These three images show the re-modeled interior of what was the original courtroom, now serving as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor. These photos were taken by Henry Ford’s staff just prior to the dismantling of the building in September of 1929. THF238580
The sub-divided first floor courtroom. THF238600
View of the cellar entrance under the stairway in the sub-divided courtroom. THF238598
We have no evidence that tells us what if any interior changes Mr. Kahn may have made when he relocated the building around 1850. The earliest photograph we have of the building shows it in its new location, but except for its new brick chimneys, it retains what appears to be its original door and window configuration. We can only assume that Mr. Kahn had kept the rail in place, which may have proved useful in the building’s new configuration as a store and post office. No photographs of the original courtroom exist and extensive changes made first in 1880, and then when the building was dismantled and reconstructed in Greenfield Village, further comprised any original evidence.
This view of the dismantled second floor shows matching trim and chair rail connected directly to the studs indicating this as the originally installed woodwork from 1840. The wall partition studs are also notched to meet the ceiling joists, showing that they are also part of the original framing configuration of the second floor. All the trim work, including the doors were made of walnut. THF285571
Based on the evidence we do have about these changes, it is very likely that at the time of the building’s conversion into a private dwelling, around 1880, the decorative hand-turned spindles and walnut hand rail would have been salvaged as the first floor of the building was sub-divided into a duplex. As stated in the family history, the walnut top rail was re-purposed and used in St. Mary’s Catholic Church (which burned in 1976), and the spindles saved for a future project.
Analysis of the original spindles showed that they were poplar, a wood commonly used for turning and as a secondary wood in the mid-19th century. Based on what we knew, we decided to use a combination of woods for the reconstruction of the bar rail. Walnut was used for the top rail and column caps, and the remainder of was done in poplar. Though refinished in 1929, the original walnut trim throughout the building was used as a guide for the color and sheen of the final finish. Reproduction hardware, again based on the existing hardware, mainly on the second floor, was used to mount the center gate.
Mose Nowland, conservation team volunteer at The Henry Ford, works on the design rendering for the bar. (Photo by Jim Johnson)
Mose Nowland and other members of The Henry Ford Conservation Team with the newly installed bar. (Photo by Bill Pagel)
The design of the physical installation of the rail and gate was robust. Each of the support columns is supported within by a steel post that runs through the floor joists and into the cellar floor. With over a half million guests visiting Greenfield Village each year, we thought this important. The design also offers some degree of protection to the original spindles that are centered within the top and bottom rail. This is a permanent installation, and we wanted to be sure it would stand up to the test of time.
Views of the newly re-created bar at the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village. (Photos by Jim Johnson)
A huge thank you to Mary Fahey and Dennis Morrison for stewarding the project. Also to Mose Nowlin, our extraordinary volunteer with The Henry Ford’s Conservation Team, who lead the charge in creating the design, and produced beautifully detailed drawings. Ken Gesek, one of our Historic Buildings Carpenters, built the rail, Cuong Nguyen and Tamsen Brown, with the help of rest of THF Conservation Team, oversaw the restoration of the original spindles. Tamsen also developed the formula to match the stain and finish to the existing woodwork in the courthouse. Jason Cagle, from the Painting Staff, skillfully applied the finish. Many other people worked to move the project forward as well.
This true team effort resulted in the original spindles finally being reunited with the Logan County Courthouse after an absence of nearly 140 years.
Logan County Courthouse as it appears today in Greenfield Village. (Photo by Jim Johnson)
Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes and General Manager, Special Events & Creative Programs, at The Henry Ford.
Logan County Courthouse Spindle Accession File, 2009.111, items 1-28, Archival Collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
Logan County Courthouse Building Files including original correspondences, records, photographs prior to dismantling in September of 1929, photographs of dismantling process, September 1929, reconstruction photographs, Greenfield Village, September 1929, 19th century photographic images, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
The Herald, vol. 5 n.3, The Edison Institute Press, March 4, 1938.
Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1840 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1850 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
Stringer, Lawrence B, The History of Logan County, Illinois, A Record of its Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Pioneer Press, Chicago, 1911.
“The Story of the Purchase of the Logan County Courthouse and its Removal to Greenfield Village by Mr. Henry Ford, as told in the columns of the Lincoln Evening Courier, 8/19/29-10/21/29”, compiled by Thomas I. Starr, Aug 1931. Logan County Courthouse Building Files, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
In October 2017, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation was awarded another Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant, allowing us to continue working to catalog, conserve, package, and rehouse over 3,000 items out of our Collections Storage Building. We've had the opportunity to work with some very interesting objects for this grant, from agricultural equipment to advertisement signs. There is a wide array of objects passing through the labs, visible to the public through the windows at the back of the museum.
This spring we treated many batteries made by Thomas Edison. Most of these originated from the late 19th century and varied in condition and composition. These early battery types consist of metal plates that were immersed in an electrolyte solution to generate electricity. The batteries themselves were stable and safe to handle because they contained no electrolyte. The batteries with unknown compositions sparked our curiosity (pun intended), since we needed to know what they were made of so that we could properly conserve them.
Sometimes while working in the lab, we need specialized equipment that we may not have on site. Fortunately, museums often work collaboratively to help each other find solutions. In this case, we collaborated with Conservation Scientist Christina Bisulca and the well-equipped analytical conservation lab at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA had the right tool for the job - a high-powered optical microscope and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer. An XRF spectrometer is essential to conservators because it is used to identify metals. It uses an X-ray beam to produce enough energy to excite electrons within the atoms of metal elements. When that energy is released, a specific signal is registered within the XRF spectrometer and the metal is identified.
The DIA’s XRF spectrometer analyzing the central core of one of the batteries. (Photo courtesy of Misty Grumbley.)
At the beginning of March, we brought several batteries to test at the DIA, including an Edison-Lalande battery, a Samson battery, and an Edison S-Type battery. The Edison S-type battery was particularly interesting, since we were not able to find any similar batteries to compare it to, and could not confirm the materials used through research alone.
With the help of the analytical equipment, we confirmed that the Samson battery was a carbon-zinc battery, and we looked at some interesting corrosion products – which are still in need of further analysis. We established that the Lalande battery is a copper-zinc cell, and we discovered that the Edison S-Type has zinc plates, making it likely an early copper-zinc cell. With the composition determined, the collection of batteries was properly treated, photographed, packaged, and rehoused.
Performing analysis of Edison-Lalande battery with the optical microscope. (Photo courtesy of Misty Grumbley.)
You can learn more about XRF spectrometry here. Thank you to Dr. Christina Bisulca at the DIA! As always, please watch our Facebook Live broadcast the first Friday of every month to see the ongoing work in the conservation lab.
Misty Grumbley is a Conservation Specialist on the IMLS-funded grant project at The Henry Ford.