Author: Todd Johnson

Edwin C. Rae – Monument Man: Saving Art One Piece at a Time

What defines us as human beings has always been the arts. The arts are filled with our deepest wishes, dreams, desires, and our heartbreaks. They reflect the world around us and within us. All the things that make up who were are as people can be seen in the arts.

In World War II, the Nazi Party leadership tried to monopolize art through the abduction and destruction of some of the great artworks of Western Civilization in territories they conquered. At the end of the war, it was up to men like Edwin C. Rae to go find the art, where possible, and restore it to its original condition and owner. These “Monuments Men” helped to recapture the great works of Western Civilization for future generations to understand who the peoples of Western Europe are and were.

Before the war began, Edwin C. Rae was a professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 1939 to 1942. He specialized in Irish sculpture and architecture.

Dr. Rae received his dissertation at Harvard University on the architecture of Medieval Ireland. For his dissertation, Dr. Rae traveled extensively throughout Ireland taking photographs of Irish buildings. Later, after World War II, Rae’s work on his dissertation would prove invaluable in helping to restore the great Gothic works of Bavaria.

23536_53180c556825e-imagefThe War Begins
World War II broke out on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Within a year, Germany had conquered most of Europe except for Great Britain, Spain, and Switzerland. In doing so, Germany pillaged the countries it conquered of gold and art. Near the end of the war, General Eisenhower, head of the Allied Forces, made finding this art one of the great objectives of the war.

Edwin C. Rae joined the US Army in 1942. He did not see any action, but rather he initially took out the trash. Later, he worked in the background as he helped target areas to bomb in Italy, France, and Germany to avoid civilian casualties and destroying priceless buildings of antiquity. In 1945, he was assigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch. In his diary, Dr. Rae states his objective when he was assigned to the branch.

“August 11 – 22, 1945,
ECR instated as Chief, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch, Detachment E1F3 APO 658, which became on 15 Aug 45 Detachment E-201, Co. F. 3d Military Government Regiment APO 403. […] Chief concern is to regularize field reports, provide better protection and surveillance of monuments, and to reestablish the German agencies on a decent, efficient basis.”

Eisenhower and the Arts
ikes-ordersAs early as 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stated the importance of securing the artwork of Italy when Allied forces invaded. To help find these works of art, Eisenhower established what would be called the Monument’s Men Division which consisted of 350 men and women working almost individually to save the art of Europe.

In early 1944, the United States felt that German spotters and snipers were using the famed Abbey at Monte Cassino to target Allied position below. The Abbey, just outside of Rome, held a special place in Italy’s heart. In order to save American lives on lower ground, the US bombed the Abbey, nearly leveling it to the ground.

Eisenhower received a lot of flak in the Italian press for its destruction but Eisenhower felt it saved lives. Still, no excuse would do for the Italian people.

For Eisenhower, it was a lesson that even though he felt he was protecting his men, his job in liberating the nations of Europe was to free the people and what the people of those nations felt what was important to their heritage. In this case, the Abbey at Monte Cassino.

Those thoughts and high ideals did not last long.

Edwin C. Rae was brought in as a spotter at this point in the war. His job was to help the military avoid targets of cultural importance. His daughter Sarah said this of that period:

At the beginning of the war, they tried to pin-point the bombs. But at the end, they just didn’t care. They did saturation bombing, which was really horrible. It destroyed a lot of originals — buildings with artistic significance just decimated.”

Eisenhower’s chief objectives had to be freeing Europe and saving soldier’s lives. The pinpoint bombing was not effective.

If Rae was to help save art, he would have to do so as an attachment that went in on the ground after Allied forces had secured an area. It would be a tough task. Once an area was secure, Rae and other Monument Men in other divisions would try to find and preserve the art and buildings as well as find hidden or stolen art.

Here are two pictures of the Abbey before the bombing and after the bombing.


Between Monte Cassino and D-Day, Eisenhower had to rethink the plan. The war came first, art came second. However, in a letter sent 13 days to commanders before D-Day, you could tell that saving the art of Europe was of extreme importance to the war effort.


Later in the War
As the war was coming to a close, Eisenhower and the US forces raced to find the art in hidden spaces, mines, trains, homes of Nazi officials and other odd places. In many instances, the Nazis tried to hide the art or were in the midst of planning to destroy it.

In the picture below, Eisenhower inspects one such place, a mine.


As the war raced to an end, the Nazis weren’t the only ones with whom the Monument Men were worried about. US forces also began to steal and damage the artwork. So enraged were several Monuments Men, that they sent off a letter to Eisenhower complaining how US forces were hampering their work to find and preserve these works of art.

This letter became known as the Wiesbaden Manifest and Edwin C. Rae is one of the many Monuments Men who attached their signatures.

Rae and the Arts
Iphoto6n addition to a diary, Rae also took photographs of the Art he found in Bavaria near the end of the war. Part historian, part artist, part photographer, Rae’s images capture just exactly what the Nazis stole throughout Europe, but also stole from their own people in Bavaria.

Wherever the Monuments Men found art, they had to place posters and guards to protect the site from looters and destruction. The poster shows the importance of protecting the art for Allied forces and the local communities.

When the war ended in Europe in May of 1945, Edwin C. Rae’s job was just beginning. He had already spent three years in the US Army and the past two searching for and finding valuable works of art. Along the way, he documented what he found in his diary and through photographs. Now his hardest task lay before him.

In Bavaria, Rae’s task after the war was to restore works of art in this area of southern Germany.

The next two years of his life were spent overseeing the restoration and reconstruction of areas that had been destroyed or damaged by American and British bombing raids. Rae received several letters of commendations from the leaders of the communities he helped to restore their heritage through the restoration of art.

Why Edwin C. Rae and the Monuments Men Matter

0006840-209x300Even though Rae died in 2003, his past and his efforts were still unclear. In 2007, the Central Intelligence Agency released some information about Nazi War criminals and the hunt for them after the war. Who should be right in the middle of the hunt for them but none other than Edwin C. Rae.

Even though Edwin C. Rae left Bavaria in 1947, there was still art missing. Rae’s diary contained entries as late as 1958 that detailed his quest for art from 1947 to 1958. As late as the 1980s, stolen artwork was still being discovered. In fact, the hunt has never ended.

In some places in Europe, there are museum walls that still have artwork missing. In Krakow in Poland, an empty frame hangs missing Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man.”

For Rae, he made the hunt for the art and the restoration of the buildings a ten-year commitment. It would be hard to imagine the loss. and the scale of that loss, as an American. Our country was only 170 years old at the end of the war. Many of the European communities Rae helped had been around for 1400 years.

Many people in America tend to forget how young we are. As a result, our institutions, our buildings, and our art are not as ingrained in our society as they are in many parts of Europe. One lesson of his time in the service is just how much art can mean to a community. Fortunately, Edwin C. Rae helped bring some of it back to life.

39414After his time in Bavaria ended, Edwin C. Rae returned home to Illinois and continued to teach at the University of Illinois for another 30 years. He enthralled students with his knowledge of the great works of Europe that he saw firsthand during his time as a Monument Man. He established the Art History Department and was one of the founding members of a national organization called the Society of Architectural Historians.

As an art historian, Rae collected images and thoughts of his travel that were donated to the University of Illinois upon his death. His dissertation work was given to Trinity College in Ireland and is now online in a display of Irish Gothic Architecture.

His work as a Monument Man, and as an art history professor, are important because of the subject matter that he helped to save and preserve. The shame of the Nazi art thefts was that it was just one person’s view of what was important in art. The fact remains that if left alone, the Nazi view of art could have wiped out several thousand pieces of art whose importance lay to only one community or a group of people.

Edwin C. Rae’s Diary
For Rae’s children, they did not know of their father’s collections until his death.

His son Thomas spoke eloquently of the importance of the work his father, Edwin C. Rae, did during World War II as a Monument Man.

“I think it takes a few decades of distance to see the magnitude of what this meant,. No, they weren’t the ones who went into concentration camps and pulled the people out to save them. They were doing something else — they were helping to restore European culture and history.”


National History Day 2017 – Taking a Stand in History

I have put off getting my students started on their projects this year. I did this for two reasons. One, I did not want to burn them out. Two, I did not want to burn myself out, either. Together, starting October 3, it begins. This year’s theme, “Taking a Stand in History,” is my favorite of all the rotating themes put on by National History Day. Whether it is Civil Rights, Communist Witch Hunts, or an airing of grievances, I enjoy reading about those topics and helping my students find and analyze the information.

Here are some topics found on this site that could possibly interest you, especially when it relates to Illinois history.

Diane Nash – She helped organize the Civil Rights Movement

The Corn Belt Liberty League – Farmers rebel against the New Deal

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement – Trying to stop segregated housing in Chicago

detailComic Books in World War II – They were ahead of their time when speaking out against Hiter

Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers – A war’s truth is exposed

The Blackhawk War – Sometimes taking a stand doesn’t always work out.

Curt Flood and Free Agency – Although he lost his case, future generations did not.

The Mormons in Illinois – This is another that did not pay off here, but it did in Utah.

The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County – Interesting tales of religion and politics.

The Haymarket Affair – One of my students wrote this one.

Jennie Hodgers – A local cult hero who gained the respect of her fellow soldiers

Herb Block – The master cartoonist was one of the first to speak out against McCarthyism

I am sure you can find more topics that you can make apply to the theme this year. But for me, I like these.

Going forward it should be interesting to see which topics my students pick this year. I have limited the topics to less than 20 in hopes that they pick a topic they can be successful in showing how an event changed history.


The Living Life of a Farm Museum – Now to Organize and Pass It On

Sometimes history is just weird. I spent the better part of the last two months cataloging over 1900 items of a farm museum. At times it was tedious, at times it was interesting, at times it was comical, and it times it was quizzical. When I handed the owner of the museum a flash drive yesterday, I wasn’t quite sure how we would take it. But he was pretty proud that his entire museum was on a stick about 2 inches long that he could stick in his computer.

There were many moments this summer where I really enjoyed cataloging the museum. Those were moments filled with wonder and awe at how people did things in the 1800s by hand. There were many times when I realized just how easy life is today.

Most of the museum is filled with artifacts from the 1920s to the 1940s. During this timeframe, American industrialization and American agriculture went through a major transformative change in how food was produced in this country. The museum I cataloged also contains items from before that era. The bulk of the artifacts contained reflect the change from a simpler time into a world of machinery.

I find it amazing that it used to take over 10 devices to produce seed corn and now it’s down to just a couple. Yesterday, I sat in a small rural town café/diner with the farmer for breakfast. I talked with the farmer about his museum. It is a great collection of artifacts from a bygone era. But it can be more than that.

And as I sat talking with him I wondered if I should say aloud what I was thinking. The museum is organized to some extent, but it could be organized even more. And as I thought that, I wondered if I was going to bite off more than I can chew. And what I meant was should I spend next summer organizing and making exhibits or murals like a real history Museum.

In one moment, I was both an enthusiastic and dreadful. Enthusiastic to make a mural about seed corn and the changes in production. Dreadful, in the fact that I was once again tying up my summer before it even began.
However, what I envision myself doing will allow the farmer to pass on his love of seedcorn history and agricultural history to a younger generation, and allow me to do when I love to do and that is to educate.

At first, I saw myself going to Lowe’s next summer, finding some treated treated plywood (6 foot long by 4 foot wide), and making a timeline mural. I thought four of them ought to do the trick and I could just line up the plywood and create a series of stations where the kids learn about how Ag history is evolved.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realize that the best museum exhibits are the ones that are three-dimensional, interactive, and can stimulate the brain.

It should be interesting to see what I can plan out over the next six months. I didn’t see myself getting into this as much as I did. When I told the farmer about what I got out of it, I was gently surprised at how much passion I had for his museum and the artifacts contained within.  And this is where I come in. My job is going to be to help him share his own passion and pass it along to a younger generation.

National History Day 2016: Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange – Personal Topics

Yesterday, I checked out National History Day’s website.  I got to see the logo for this coming year’s theme. And, I like it.


The 2016 theme is “Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History.” I like the theme because, in my opinion, it focuses on how two things interact and react to form something new or change. Sometimes, that can be a good thing; other times, not so much.

Normally, just based on a  literal interpretation of the theme, most topics would be about the 1600s-1800s exploration of Illinois. However, I think wherever you find change, you can find a topic. Wherever you find something new, you can find a topic. Exploration does not have to be a literal geographic term used to explore the earth’s surface. Exploration can take place in the mind, in the heart, and in the soul. The change resulting from that encounter can change history and how things are done. The theme can be just as personal as it is geographic.

On this site, here are some topics written about that could qualify as good topics for a project for National History Day.

1. Ernie Banks

2. Diane Nash

3. Steppenwolf Theatre

4. Edwin C. Rae – Monuments Man

5. Miles Davis and Bitches Brew

6. Civil War Medicine

7. Lincoln and the Telegraph

8. Dungeons and Dragons

9. Philip K. Dick

10. The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County

11. The Prairie Bandits

12. The Mormons in Illinois

13. The ABA-NBA Merger

14. Howlin’ Wolf 

15. Marquette and Jolliet

16. Ray Bradbury

17. Baseball and the Civil War

18. Charles Turzak

I think you can take almost any topic, research it on a personal level, and you would be able to show change between your topic and what it encounters.

It should be fun to see how this works this year.




Food in the Civil War: Changing Lives and Battles

“An army marches on its stomach” – Napoleon Bonaparte

During the US Civil War, an entire nation went to war and food became a weapon. In fact, Napoleon’s statement could be amended to: “A Nation marches on its stomach.” Food became a major weapon in the war; the growing of it, the processing of it, and the supply and transportation of it became vital to the survival of the solider and citizen alike.

325During the Civil War, both the cooking and the buying of food changed drastically. Some foods were in short supply and some foods had to last days or even weeks. Even the methods used to cook the food soldiers needed limited what could be made and used for an army on the march. For some parts of the country, acquiring food became the only activity of the day.

Food during the Civil War played a huge role in the war. What happened in the fields, campfires, and kitchens directly affected what happened on the battlefield.

Changes at Home
Depending on where you lived, the quantity and quality of the food varied greatly. For Southerners, any food acquired had to be local. The blockade of the South by the US Navy cut off any access to spices, grain, and pork. The most in demand and most valued product missing in the South during the war was salt. Salt was needed to preserve and dry meats so it could be eaten weeks. Without salt, much needed protein quickly disappeared from the diet of many southerners and soldiers.

The absence of salt in the middle 1800s put a serious crimp in preserving meat. This affected how food was prepared, how animals were slaughtered and its meat cut up, and what food could be prepared for soldiers. Without salt, jerky, ham, and other dried meats soon dried up. Tinned corned beef became a staple for many. Southerners who lived near the sea often cooked their food in salt water from the ocean and gulf.

Along the east coast, rice was readily available throughout most of the war. However, production of rice waned as the war drug on. On the other hand, black-eyed peas and peanuts were readily available in the Deep South.

An entire agricultural economy that had been built on growing cotton and tobacco could not readily shift to growing food for a war everyone thought would only last a few months. As the war dragged on into 1863 and 1864, the food shortages in the South kept getting growing and growing. Starvation was a common occurrence.

rice cakes recipesPeople got by through adjusting recipes. Here is one for Apple Pie without Apples:

“To one small bowl of crackers that have been soaked until no hard parts remain, add one teaspoonful of tartaric acid, sweeten to your taste, add some butter, and a very little nutmeg.”

In lieu of pancakes, this recipe for rice griddle cakes survived:

“Rice Griddle Cakes: Boil one cup of whole rice quite soft in milk, and while hot stir in a little wheat flour or rice flour. When cold, add two eggs and a little salt, bake in small thin cakes on the griddle.”

Rural southern areas had more food than urban centers. The main reason for the disparity was transportation. The South had few railroads to move large quantities of food. Additionally, foraging for food became the main activity of the day. And most growing of food was subsistence in nature, there was not much extra food left to sell in the South.

By the end of the war in the South (1864-65), meat at a meal was a rarity. Here is a recipe for ways to enhance “warm slaugh” as the main dish in place of meat:

Cut them [cabbages] as for cold slaugh; having put in a skillet enough butter, salt, pepper, and vinegar to season the slaugh very well, put it into the seasonings; stir it fast, that it all may warm equally, and as soon as it gets hot, serve it in a deep china dish; make it smooth, and disseminate over it hard boiled yolks of eggs, that are minced fine.

In the North, it was a different world. Food was plentiful. So much so, that the Union continued to export food throughout the entire length of the war.

Here is a recipe for lamb stew that was popular in the Northeast:

One pound of sausages cut in pieces, with four pounds of potatoes, and a few onions, if they are liked, with about a tablespoonful of flour mixed in a pint of water and added to the dish, will make a sufficient dinner for five or six persons. The potatoes must be cut in slices, and stewed with the sausages till tender. Or you may use a pound and half of meat (mutton is best) instead of the sausages. Season with pepper, salt and sage or thyme.

Food for Soldiers
Just as the food was different at home in the war, so too was food different at war. The Southern soldier ate 1500 calories a day less than their Union counterpart. That is a lot of calories. Cornbread, Johnny Cakes, and Cush (beef fried with cornmeal and bacon grease) were the staple of the Southern soldiers’ diet. Early in the war, salted beef and bacon (made with salt-peter) were in supply as well as an abundance of dried peas and goober peas (peanuts).

Near the end of the war, some Confederate soldiers were more motivated to fight just food more than anything else. One soldier wrote of a battle in Virginia in 1864:

…veterans across their path determined to eat beef or die… When they were all safe, they proceeded to have the greatest beefsteak feast ever known in the army of Northern Virginia. As one of our men described it, we snatched the victuals right out of their mouths….Thus it was that General Grant gave us the great beefsteak feast, and we for a time let out our belts.

hardtack-eaterThe Union soldier, on the other hand, had hardtack (hard crackers) in great supply along with salted pork and beef (again made with salt peter). Approaching 3500-4000 calories a day, the Union soldier also got ate a variety of other foods including hominy, dried beans, dessicated vegetables (small cubes of dried carrots, onions, and celery), and everyone’s favorite – Borden’s condensed milk. Processed foods in the north had been around since the early 1800s, but condensed milk became the favorite daily item from the New York based Borden’s company.

However the mainstay of the Union soldier’s diet was hardtack. It often had a life of its own. One soldier wrote:

While before Petersburg, doing siege work in the summer of 1864, our men had wormy ‘hardtack,’ or ship’s biscuit served out to them for a time. It was a severe trial, and it tested the temper of the men.
Breaking open the biscuit and finding live worms in them, they would throw the pieces in the trenches where they were doing duty day by day, although the orders were to keep the trenches clean, for sanitary reasons.
A brigade officer of the day, seeing some of the scraps along our front, called out sharply to our men: “Throw that hardtack out of the trenches.” Then, as the men promptly gathered it up as directed, he added, ‘Don’t you know that you’ve no business to throw hardtack in the trenches? Haven’t you been told that often enough?’ Out from the injured soldier heart there came the reasonable explanation: “We’ve thrown it out two or three times, sir, but it crawls back”

Soldiers often boiled it to soften it. Another way to enhance the substance was by combining it with fried pork fat to make a new substance called “skillygalee.”

Also in the north, potatoes, when available, were more common and contained more calories and carbohydrates. One soldier describes a meal with potatoes:

We grab our plates and cups, and wait for no second invitation. We each get a piece of meat and a potato, a chunk of bread and a cup of coffee with a spoonful of brown sugar in it. Milk and butter we buy, or go without. We settle down, generally in groups, and the meal is soon over… We save a piece of bread for the last, with which we wipe up everything, and then eat the dish rag. Dinner and breakfast are alike, only sometimes the meat and potatoes are cut up and cooked toCity-Point-Cooking-West-Point-Virginia-602x558gether, which makes a really delicious stew. Supper is the same, minus the meat and potatoes.

Here is a list of rations given a soldier on a march:
Meat: 12 ounces of salt pork or bacon, or 1 pound 4 ounces of salt or fresh beef
Bread: 1 pound 6 ounces of soft bread or flour, or 1 pound hard bread (hardtack), or 1 pound 4 ounces of corn meal

Coffee, a substance Southern soldiers could not get, was often a great treat for the north along with any kind of “fresh” vegetable.

There were no big kitchens in the war, each Union soldier was given his rations and it was his responsibility to cook it. As result, different ways of cooking and preparing the rations emerged throughout the war. The soldiers carried their food in a haversack and their pan, plates, and/or coffee pots and cup with them.

For many men, this was their first time cooking their own food. Away from home and not having a wife, mother, or sister to prepare their food for them, it was a steep learning curve. They either learned how to cook quickly or they didn’t eat as well as the other soldiers who did. Most soldiers cooked their food with 4-10 other soldiers.

For officers life was a lot better as food was prepared for them. Here is a recipe for some beef stew:

Cut 2 pounds of beef roast into cubes 2 inches square and 1 inch thick, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put in frying pan with a little pork fat or lard. Put them over a fire until well browned but not fully cooked, and hen empty the pan into a kettle and add enough water to cover the meat. Add a handful of flour, two quartered onions, and four peeled and quartered potatoes. Cover and simmer slowly over a moderate heat for 3 ½ hours, skimming any fat that rises to the top. Then stir in 1 tablespoon of vinegar and serve. Other vegetables available, such as leeks, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and salsify, will make excellent additions.

Soldiers could use their own money to buy food along the way. Seedy entrepreneurs known as Sutlers often followed the armies on their marches. Only a few soldiers could afford the luxury foods sutlers sold as it would take most of their monthly pay to buy juts a few items.

How some soldiers got by was by receiving packages from home. These could include items like coffee, apples, apple butter, fresh pork, dried fruit, milk, eggs, risen bread, cakes, preserves or jelly, pickles, egg nog, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, fresh butter, roast beef, ham and turkey. These shipable foods not only sustained men, it often became a way to make some extra money by selling the items.

Fresh fruit was the greatest treat of all for a soldier. While foraging, or living off the land, was forbidden. Most officers looked the other way as eating fruit often boosted morale and the health of the soldiers. Depending on the time of year and location, the follow items became must have items:
Pears: August – October
Peaches: July – August
Strawberries: May – June
Raspberries: July – September
Blackberries: July – September
Blueberries: July – September
Watermelon: July – October

In the End…
New.Magic_.Back_The lack of fruits and vegetables could cause scurvy, dysentery, diarrhea, and disease could often ravage an army on the march. It is amazing, though, how different the food was on each side. Those 1500 calories a day were a difference maker in long battles away from home for soldiers and armies on the march. A simple potato a day or piece of fruit had a huge effect on the stamina and energy of a soldier. Many times it could mean the difference between life and death.

While battle after battle has become the stuff of legend about the Civil War, the role food played in the conflict affected what happened on those battlefields. All night shelling at Shiloh prevented many Confederate soldiers from eating to be ready for the next day’s events that saw a rested and well fed Union force over run the southern positions in SE Tennessee and chase them all the way to Corinth in Mississippi, some 20 miles away. There, a siege laid upon the town starved out the army and citizens within weeks.

At Vicksburg, Grant laid a ninety day siege upon the town and the citizens were forced to eat rats and boil wood and tree bark to survive. Later in the war, Grant used the siege to starve out Lee in Petersburg before Lee made a run for it and surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

At home though, the North’s ability to supply food for itself, its army, and to sell food overseas was a large factor in sustaining the war effort and ultimately in winning the war. The South’s inability to adjust to the nutritional needs of its army and its populace ultimately had a role in its defeat and demise.

Cataloging a Museum: Day Two

Yesterday was another interesting day at the museum. I got there about nine and surveyed what I had left to do. It didn’t seem like much. However, once I got into the picture taking, it was a lot more than I bargained for that day.

When all was said and done, around eleven in the morning, another 683 pictures had been taken. Most of the pictures are of farm magazines, farm manuals, seed corn equipment, and various other sundries. Here are a few of the highlights of day two.

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The first picture is of an wrench that had a variety of sizes of sockets. The second picture is of a caponizing kit which is used to neuter chickens and make the birds more tender and fatter for slaughter. The third picture is of Lionel train kits that has all sorts of gauges and signs to order.

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The next set of pictures contains likely my favorite artifact of the day, a poster for a medicine to grow hair. The second book is a catalog of John Deere tractors and their worth. The last picture is of a book on pigs.

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I love the first picture. It is a kit for a cook on a wagon train. It has all kinds of compartments, devices, and places for spices that a cook would need on the trail. The second picture is a type of scyth used to  take down wheat and hay. It is massive is size. Then last is a magazine  put out by DeKalb Hybrids called Acres of Gold. The owner of the museum had about 40 of these educational magazines that helped farmers keep up with the latest in seeds and farming technology.

The next task on the agenda will be to make a digital catalog of the entire museum. I think that might take me most of the summer. With over 2,000 items to browse and find information on, plus other items he buys this summer, I get to work from my office and make a digital card for each item. I think as I begin to go through each item, categorize, tell its story, and import the picture, I will get a better understanding of the changes in agriculture over the years.

I will post occasionally about an item that I find to be interesting to me. With 2,000+ items, I am sure I can find something to pique my interest.

Cataloging a Museum: Day One

Today, my summer of being an archival historian began. The goal: Catalog a farm museum.

I really wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. I showed up at the barn at 8:55 a.m. In my bag I had my computer, tape measure, notebook, notepad, pencil, pen, iPhone, and iPod. I talked with the owner of the barn for about ten minutes and I began what I thought was going to be several days of taking pictures.

I was quite pleased when noon came around. I had pictures of about 3/4 of the items in the museum: It is a treasure trove of agricultural Americana. I honestly don’t know how historians did things like this in the past. It must have taken them forever to take pictures, wind the film, reload film, hope the pictures were in focus, and then they had to write everything down by hand on a card/tag. Today’s technology allowed me to grab the phone and go.

Today, I took 1331 pictures in three hours and downloaded them from my phone onto my laptop. The download only took ten minutes. When I got home, I backed up the files on my external hard drive. I still have to make a card for each picture, but that shouldn’t take too long for each picture.

Here are some of today’s top pictures.

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I love the first picture because it is a milk bottle holder. We had one when I was a kid and I used to love getting up every morning and going out and getting the milk. It was a great way to start the day. The second picture is a seed sign. It is about ten feet tall. And the last picture is from a seed store.

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These two pictures are of two toys – a tractor and a sled.

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Here is a milk sign and hay picks. I love those!


If the farmer has anything in abundance, it is corn shellers and signs – lots and lots of signs.


I just loved this painting.

Doing the cards will take the longest time. I know about what half of the items are. The other half will take some time. It will be interesting to learn what they are and for what they were used.

When I eventually finish the cards, I will have a great appreciation of how farmers used to grow and prepare the food. I still have a lot of work to do. And to me, I find this a lot of fun so far.

Part two on Thursday will find me finishing the toy and book section of the museum.