ArchivesFest 2020

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

It’s time once again for ArchivesFest, a fun contest featuring interesting items from area museums and libraries, in celebration of October as National Archives month.  Contestants were invited to nominate items in these categories:

Curators Pick

Funniest Item

Oddest Item

Oldest Item

Not every contestant will have an item in each category….that’s OK, but we do promise some beautiful and interesting items for you to enjoy.  With no further ado, let’s meet the contestants and their artifacts.

Located in Shawneetown, IL, the historical society and John Marshall Museum nominated this1800s four poster barn loom.  Historian Christy Short says this of her nomination for Curator’s Choice: “Its size alone is amazing as well as the number of moving parts. I am in awe of the skill and creativity of the weaver’s craft that enabled them to create beautiful works of art that were also useful, functional, and durable.”

The USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc., located on Evansville’s riverfront, contributed two items. The first, in the Funniest category, is this Curt Teich & Co. Sailor’s Prayer Postcard from 1941.  It’s a novelty postcard featuring a cartoon image of a sailor sleeping and snoring heavily in a hammock aboard a ship.  The LST museum nominator Andrew Schade says, “Both the cartoon and the poem poke fun at the experiences of sailors and provide a humorous glimpse into their lives aboard ship. The final stanza offers an abrupt shift in tone, similar to the final verse of Allan Sherman’s 1963 song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”

Chcago: Curt Teich, [1941]. “C.T. Art-Colortone.” “U.S. Navy Comics.” 1B-H527 / USN-11

Curator’s Choice is this set of 3 small glass bottles “intended to hold holy water or holy oils, meant to act as a good luck charm for the L-144 HS Syros [formerly and currently LST-325] while in service with the Hellenic (Greek) Navy.  The LST-325 served in the Hellenic Navy as L-144 Syros from 1964 until approximately 1999 when it was obtained by the USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc. for restoration and return to the United States as a museum ship. 

The first bottle is decorated with a print showing the Panagía Evangelístria, or “Our Lady of Tinos” temple located on Tinos Island as well as painted- or drawn-on red and blue flowers and a pink ribbon.

The second bottle is decorated with a print showing the virgin Mary and child as well as painted- or drawn-on yellow and red flowers and a pink ribbon. The final bottle is decorated with a print showing the virgin Mary and child as well as a blue ribbon.  The bottle contained cotton which was likely soaked in oils or holy water.”

“This set of items does not particularly fall into any of the other categories but offers a wonderfully unique expression of the LST-325’s “dual citizenship” thanks to her service with both the U.S. and Hellenic Navies.  The items also offer a colorful and eye-catching reminder of the practices that can bridge cultures and peoples, such as superstitions of sailors looking to bring their ship good luck.”

The Audubon Museum, John James Audubon State Park, Henderson, KY selected 4 items for the Curator’s Choice category, nominated by curator Heidi Taylor-Caudill.  The first is this piece of artwork by John James Audubon.

The world-famous artist and naturalist John James Audubon lived in Henderson, Kentucky with his family from 1810 to 1819. During this period, Audubon followed his passion for observing birds and made an effort to improve his drawings of them. He created this original watercolor and crayon drawing of a golden-winged woodpecker, or flicker, around 1819 at the Henderson home of his friend, Judge Thomas Towles (1784-1850). The drawing shows a single male flicker with brown feathers and black spots perched on a tree branch. It was cut out and pasted onto a paper backing.  Audubon gifted the Golden-winged Woodpecker to Judge Towles. The drawing was passed down through the family and later given to the Henderson County Historical Society, who in turn donated it to the Audubon Museum in 1938.”

John James Audubon (1785-1851) Golden-winged Woodpecker, circa 1819 Watercolor and crayon on paper.
Source: Henderson County Historical Society Collection, JJA.1938.141
Photograph of the Executive Committee of the Indiana State Audubon Society, 1914, photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print.
Source:John James Audubon Museum Collection, JJA.1938.197

Next is this “group photograph of the Executive Committee of the Indiana State Audubon Society taken in Evansville, Indiana in 1914. Seven men and two women are shown posing outside in front of the summer home of Mrs. George S. Clifford. All are seated on lawn furniture. Pictured in the back row on the right is the guest of honor, Harriet Bachman Audubon (1839-1933), granddaughter of John James Audubon (1785-1851) and daughter of John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-1862).   Front row: Amos W. Butler, Indianapolis; Judge Robert W. McBride (chairman), Indianapolis; Elizabeth Downhour (secretary), Indianapolis; George Clifford, Evansville; Edward Barret, Indianapolis; and Dr. Stanley Coulter of Purdue University, Lafayette. Back row: Dr. David Dennis, Richmond; William Watson Trodler, Indianapolis; and Harriet Bachman Audubon, Louisville, Kentucky.”

Third is this “scrap of parchment paper with what is believed to be John James Audubon’s writings. It contains his signature and numerous ink blots and doodles, including a poem about George Washington on one side and drawings of a man’s head on the other side. The scrap was found in the ledger book of Dr. Adam Rankin, a close friend and benefactor of the Audubon family during their time in Henderson, Kentucky. It is one of five scraps of paper with Audubon’s writing that came with the ledger.”

Brooch, circa 1850, unknown maker. Gold, glass, human hair.
Source: L.S. Tyler Collection, JJA.1938.1204

The Audubon Museum’s final item is a “brooch made with twisted and woven human hair that was owned by Lucy Bakewell Audubon (1787-1874), wife of John James Audubon (1785-1851). It is believed to contain the hairs of John James Audubon and his sons, Victor Gifford (1809-1860) and John Woodhouse (1812-1862) Audubon. The brooch consists of braided white and dark hair set in an oval gold setting with a glass cover. Dark hair twisted into an open lattice form is woven through rings attached to the central setting. Three beads of similar dark twisted hair dangle from the bottom of the brooch. The hair beads have gold end caps.”  Read more about the hairwork jewelry in the Audubon Museum collection at

The Newburgh Museum’s Suzanne Byers sent in 4 items for Curator’s Choice.  The first is a violin made by C. B. McCormick in the 1800s.  As only an apprentice carpenter, McCormick used his wooden tools and forms to make this exact replica of a Cremona violin.  The city of Cremona, Italy has had a reputation for stellar violins since the 16th century.

Next is a map cabinet from 1890, used in the Jefferson St. Colored School.  This hand-carved cabinet contains seven relief maps, each surrounded by carved wooden frames.  Maps include: Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, USA and the World.  Because they have always been stored in this cabinet, they are in remarkable condition with most reliefs intact.

Newburgh Museum’s third selection is an 1891 toy fire wagon, given to 5-year old Henry Warren as a Christmas gift.  It is complete with horses, wooden ladders, and firemen.

The final item is this replica of a Civil War era Philadelphia derringer. “Due to their compact size, they were perfect guns for concealment in a coat pocket or a lady’s purse and useful in extremely close-range confrontations.  A derringer like this one was used by John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln.”

Evansville’s Reitz Home Museum selected these items to display for ArchivesFest

The first is a Chinese cabinet, date unknown.  Charles Denby of Evansville was the first American diplomat to China, where he purchased this ornate cabinet and gifted it to the Reitz family. On the top shelf are 8 carved ivory Chinese immortals. Charles Denby cigars were made by the Fendrich Cigar Factory of Evansville.  The Museum’s Duane Myers calls this his Most Fun entry, hoping to educate others about Denby’s role as a statesman.

Next is this cranberry glass cracker jar.  Made in France circa 1875- 1920, it measures 9”H x 5”W and has a metal neck with handle.  It’s the museum’s Curator’s Choice, both for its beauty and because it’s the museum’s newest acquisition, just received in September 2020.

The Oddest Category item from the Reitz Home Museum is this late 19th century cigar band bowl.  “These bowls were popular in the late Victorian Period. They were made with cigar bands glued to the back of a clear bowl. This bowl features Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Prince George of England is also found on one of the cigar bands. It is believed the Wilhelmina Reitz was named after Kaiser Wilhelm I. (5” diameter x .5” deep).” It is uniquely Victorian—not many have seen such a piece.

The last piece is this massive (10 ft. tall) white onyx fireplace designed by Tiffany and Co.  “This mantel is one of a kind purchased in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Wilhelmina Reitz was one of the two women managers representing the State of Indiana at the World’s Fair 1892-1893. Notice the ormolu decorative features.  This is the Oldest Item Category.  It is one of the museum’s oldest permanent fixtures installed during the redecoration period of the Reitz Home.

The Evansville Wartime Museum selected this item from its collection for the Oddest Category.  From February 1945, this is a WWII casket shipping container, the outer container for shipping casketed remains of deceased troops.  Its exterior dimensions are 31” d x 87” w x 25” h. Museum curator J. Kenneth Grant provided this information.  “This artifact served as the outer container for the transit of Pvt. Andrew C. Harris, killed in action in Germany, February 1945, to Evansville’s Ziemer Funeral Home. Shipping information appeared on the container’s lid and end panel. The lid’s stenciling was later overpainted using white paint. The casket container was among the supplies allocated by the American Graves Registration Command to Graves Registration Service. This service provided respectful care of deceased members of the armed forces who died in theater and who were temporarily or permanently interred outside the US. How many containers came into private hands after used for their intended purpose? A story published in the June 2016 issue of “Mortuary Science Minutes,” by the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science (CCMS), claimed three casket containers were known to exist. The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, held two, plus one at the CCMS. Subsequent searches revealed three containers in the Veterans Memorial Museum collection, Terre Haute, Indiana, and one very similar container in an online auction. Add to these the container held by EWM. No matter the number of casket containers that remain, the use for which they were designed forever links them with our country’s fallen. We’ll likely never know what led to the reuse of this container as a storage unit. Still, that odd reuse ultimately led to the container’s home within the Permanent Collection of Evansville Wartime Museum.”

This museum’s Oldest Category item is a Spanish American War Veteran’s Medal from 1902.  This 3-piece bronze medal is 2 5/8” x 7/8” x 1/4″.  “Members of the United Spanish War Veterans received these medals. The organization consisted of veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and the China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion). It was among numerous fraternal societies created by veterans to stay in contact. The United Spanish War Veterans ceased to exist with the passing of its last member in 1992. (Sources: Library of Congress and Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)” At the top an “American eagle in flight, a laurel wreath forms the background, with a stars and stripes shield overlay. An American flag-inspired ribbon connects the medal’s elements. [Above the medal is a] crossed calvary saber, infantry rifle and navel anchor suspension with two-sided war cross.”

The front of the medal “reads Puerto Rico, Cuba, Philippine Islands, U.S.A., plus Spanish War Veterans,1898–1902, encircling a center scene.”’
The reverse of the medal “reads North, South, East, West, with “United” over a stars and stripes field.

The Wartime Museum Curator’s Choice is this 5 gallon gasoline container with an original 1937 design. “President Franklin Roosevelt observed in November 1944, “Without these cans, it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace which exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.” ( These 5-gallon cans were the link from the two PLUTO (Pipeline Under the Ocean) systems between Britain and France in 1944-45 and the fuel depots and the frontline troops – a link allowing combat vehicles to get the fuel they needed to advance. Efforts by the Allies to make a container for fuel or water were miserable failures. They leaked. They were hard to handle. They weren’t quickly produced. Thanks to an American engineer named Paul Pleiss and an odyssey worthy of a spy novel, a stolen sample of a superior German version and complete manufacturing specifications made their way to the Allies. The British began production, with more to follow. Millions of Allied-made Jerrycans were scattered across Europe by V-E day. Some were made by Corcoran Metal Products in Washington, IN. The Allies knew a good idea when they saw it, even if that good idea was the German-developed Jerrycan. The Jerrycan was developed under strict secrecy in the late 30s when the Germans realized they needed a way to make fuel portable. The design had two stamped-metal halves, welded together, for a 5-gallon capacity and weighed 45 lbs. when full. It could float and included a spout for spill-free pouring. After a long period of bureaucratic foot-dragging, the Allies became making exact copies of the Jerrycan in fantastic quantities. This particular artifact became part of the Evansville Wartime Museum Permanent Collection in 2019. Others at the Museum are mounted to vehicles on exhibit, showing the Jerrycans in use, carrying extra fuel or water.”

To the left, “Corcoran Metal Products Corporation, in Washington, Indiana, received contracts totaling $800,000 from the U.S. Army for water containers and container parts by February 1943. Corcoran received both contracts in June 1942, with the water containers due in October 1942 and the parts in January 1943. Shown: Loading containers for shipment. Photo: Evansville Wartime Museum Permanent Collection – Gift of Harold Morgan, 2017 3”

To the right, “An Army private refuels an ambulance using a Jerrycan. Notice the number of snow-covered Jerrycans in the foreground. These 5-gallon cans kept vehicles fueled and allowed the Allies to advance. An article by Richard Daniel attributes the nickname to the British who found them during the German invasion of Norway in 1940 – the Germans were “Jerries” to the Brits. Image:”

University Archives Special Collections in the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana has selected an item for each category as our entries into the 2020 ArchivesFest.

Our Funniest item is this ISUE bowling jacket (UA 108-446 (108-18-12).  Before we became the University of Southern Indiana, USI was Indiana State University, Evansville (ISUE).  ISUE’s bowling league were champions for many years. This jacket is from Dr. Donald Pitzer, Professor Emeritus of History, who coached the league for several years in the 1970s.

Our Oldest category item is this 1603 alchemy book by Paracelsus: The archidoxes of magic : celestial medicines, magical cure of diseases, mysteries of the Zodiac, occult philosophy, secrets of alchemy, spirits of the planets, supreme mysteries of nature.  Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a German-Swiss physician and alchemist (alchemy was the study of turning lead into gold).  He did not hold with contemporary medical thinking, urging that the wisdom of old wives, sorcerers, gypsies, and the like held equal value.  He must have held a very high opinion of himself—the very name he gave himself, Paracelsus, means above (para) Celsus, a very respected 1st century Roman medical writer.  Note the zodiac on the picture of the open spread of the book.

For the Oddest Category, we chose this 3-dimensional topographic map of Stelle, a communal land trust community in northern Illinois. The group focused on early childhood development and education. The community formed in 1963 and formally disbanded in 2006, although many former members still live in Stelle, IL and the group has annual reunions. 

This map was made by a community member.  It’s very detailed and pretty large—we included this photograph of Archivist Jennifer Greene holding it to give you an idea of scale.

Our Curator’s Choice is this stunningly beautiful dress from Benin City, Nigeria.  It’s part of our African Cultural Diversity Showcase collection.  This collection is a visual display of African cultural artifacts. The first showcase was in 2013 at the University of Southern Indiana. The showcase was envisioned and developed by Joseph Uduehi with the assistance of Dr. Michael Ndemanu and Dr. Amanual Beyin. Other contributors included Dr. Sweet Ebeigbe, whose cultural artifacts from Benin-City, Nigeria have enriched the collection, and Provost Ronald Rochon, now President, and Professor Michael Aakhus, both of whose collections have made a valuable impact on the showcase.  The goal of the African Cultural Diversity Showcase is to educate the public about African culture through African artifacts that are physically available in a public place. This public place is the USI Rice Library, which houses these African visual artifacts. The artifacts are available to teach basic elements and principles of art as they pertain to lines, color, shape, form, texture, etc. at the elementary to college level.  The artifacts are also to showcase the common elements of cultural similarities across the African continent.

That’s it! There’s an incredible amount of diversity here—odd, funny, fun, beautiful, old, and some probably the secret favorite of the curator.  We hope that you enjoy this event and these items, and if you haven’t visited these institutions, that you are inspired to do so to see more of what you’ve been missing.  ArchivesFest 2020 will run October 5-16.  This blog will remain here, plus there will be individual social media postings.  Have fun!!

This entry was posted in #ArchivesFest, history, Indiana history, Local history. Bookmark the permalink.

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