Artifacts in the Archives – Our Most Thrilling Artifacts!

Today’s  blog post is a collaborative blog post, from several Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) staff, about the artifacts that give us the most thrills and chills. Some staff interpreted this as the spookiest artifact and some as the coolest most exciting artifact. Whatever the interpretation, here are the artifacts that give us the most chills and thrills.

Quartz Fiber Balance

Quart fiber balance, looks like a bottle with legs sitting on a wooden stand, stopper on one end and cut on the other, so it's open, and the open end covered in plastic wrap held on by a rubberband. There is a clear looking scale inside the bottle.

Quartz Fiber Balance (Artifact #2003-2-3.003)

From Amy Bishop, Rare Books & Manuscripts Curator

I nominate the Quartz Fiber Balance (artifact number 2003-203.003) from the Harry J. Svec Papers (RS 13/6/53) as the most thrilling artifact in our collections. Why the thrill? This particular balance, created by Svec as the ISU chemistry department’s glassblower, was used in Ames as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II. The thought of the Manhattan Project always gives me mixed thrills and chills. Thrills from the thought of cutting-edge, top secret scientific research. Chills because of the purpose and ultimate conclusion of the Manhattan Project: atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing horrific numbers of people. And of course what that led to – the nuclear arms race of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.

Also thrilling, though, is to think of the skill of an ISU graduate student who worked as a glassblower, creating by hand precise apparatus for chemical experiments. To quote from the item’s catalog record: “The balance mechanism inside is entirely quartz and balances on a thin quartz thread. This mechanism is very delicate and is sensitive to one-millionth of a gram. Up to one gram of material can be held on each end.” Very impressive indeed. See more about the Ames Project in the Ames Laboratory Records.

 

General Geddes Sword (1827)

General Geddes Sword (Artifact #2015-R003)

General Geddes Sword (Artifact #2015-R003)

From Chris Anderson, Descriptive Records Project Archivist

James Lorraine Geddes (1827-1887) led an adventurous life before his association with Iowa Agricultural College. Born in Scotland, he also lived in Canada and India before settling in the United States. In India, served in the Royal Horse Artillery of the British Army. In this capacity he distinguished himself in the ongoing Anglo-Afghan conflicts in Punjab and the Khyber Pass. He retired a Colonel in 1857 and moved to a farm in Iowa. This peaceful interval did not last long, however. He fought for the Union in the U.S. Civil War, beginning as a private and rising to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General (1865). After the war he returned to Vinton, Iowa. His many achievements in higher education were to follow (1867-1887).

His sword, therefore, makes me think of dire battles. Our information associates the year 1827 with the sword, which is puzzling – Geddes was born in that year.

 

Candelabra

Candelabra from Gravesend Manor

Candelabra from Gravesend Manor (uncataloged)

From Becky Jordan, Reference Specialist

We received this along with other WOI materials when the television station moved out of the Communications Building.

This was a prop from Gravesend Manor—a television program that aired late on Saturday nights on WOI-TV.  They showed horror films with local staff doing introductions and intermissions.  Some of the characters were Malcom the Butler (Ed Weiss), the Duke of Desmodus (James Varnum), Claude (Ron Scott) and Esmerelda (John Voight).  My best recollections of the show are from slumber parties.  It was generally enjoyed with pop and pizza—made from a kit that came in a box—and a lot of giggling.

From Rachel: Check out an earlier blog post about Gravesend Manor.

Metal Shrapnel

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From Whitney Olthoff, Project Archivist

For the most thrilling artifact, I’ve picked metal shrapnel from World War I (2004-179.001 and .002). These pieces came from MS 666, the Fred O. Gordon Papers. Gordon fought in Europe in Battery F, 119th Field Artillery from 1918-1919 and was wounded in October 1918. The shrapnel pieces are thick, solid metal, and I can only imagine the sheer force of the explosion(s) that would’ve blown them apart. Not to mention the damage those pieces could have inflicted if they had hit someone. The act of seeing and holding authentic shrapnel from WWI makes the war and its horrors feel more real, and that’s definitely thrilling.

Tornado Souvenir

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From Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist

My most thrilling artifact is a piece of wood, birch bark. It was found near Margaret Hall in the summer of 1924. Hand written lettering on the piece of birch bark: “Tornado Souvenir June 28, 1924[.] From Tree near Margaret Hall I.S.C. Ames, Iowa.”  I selected this item because I am new to the Midwest and have been a little fixated on weather, particularly weather conditions that may favor a tornado. I can’t imagine anything more thrilling and scarier than a tornado.

 

Margaret Stanton’s Death Mask

Death Mask of Margaret Stanton

Death Mask of Margaret Stanton (Artifact 2001-R130)

From Petrina Jackson, Head of SCUA

Hands down, Margaret Stanton’s death mask, for me, is our most macabre artifact. Popular through the nineteenth century, death masks were created as a commemoration or a way to create a portrait or sculpture of the dead. Death masks were usually made for people who were held in high esteem, which is a testimony of how beloved Margaret Stanton was to the Iowa State community. Although uncommon today, creating death masks, taking photographs of the dead lying in state, or weaving their hair into wreaths or jewelry were all ways that people honored the deceased in the past. With death far more removed from day-to-day, 21st-century American life, the death mask gets my vote as our creepiest, most macabre artifact.

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