I finally got to go to my first archive! I was very excited to be able to go to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to look through the Chew Family Papers. The Chew Family Papers fill 848 boxes of accounts, correspondence, and other family documents. These letters once belonged to the family that made Cliveden their home. I went to the archives with a mission. When pouring over the finding aid for the collection I was excited to discover that there was an account for John Bartram. Going in I was hoping to find a record of plant sales between the two families. As I walked into the building I was surprised by the regulations that they had for entering their collection room. I was surprised by the no zipper rule. While it makes sense when considering the need to protect the collections from theft, it was still unexpected. I did like that students got into the archive for free. As a history major always looking for more primary sources that is something I’m going to be keeping in mind. I got my locker and packed up my backpack. I only took in my laptop, notebook and my pencil. Walking in, I had no clue where to go to call up the documents I need. The staff was very helpful and next thing I know I’m calling up my first box. I had one of the staff members show me how to fill out one of the call sheets. When I got my first box and pulled out the Bartram account I was actually disappointed. Not only did the document have nothing to do with the purchase of anything horticulture but the account had no immediate connection to the Chew family. Slightly disappointed I moved on to begin calling up the accounts of all the various gardeners. I was looking for evidence of what was harvested and planted by said gardeners. I found evidence of tomatoes and eggplants being harvested and sold but there was no other evidence. I found the more historical knowledge on notes stuffed into a poetry book. Within the pages of a poetry book, there were small notes on scraps of paper naming different plant species. Not only that but there were seeds and flowers that had been pressed by a family member. I am very excited to be able to analyze the document. These documents will possibly help to discover plants that may have or indicate a previously unknown horticultural interest of this particular family member.
This week was the pre-bid meeting for the kitchen dependency project. The dependency that I had the opportunity to see just last week, needs some work done to ensure its longevity. On the outside, there is stucco work that needs to be done to fix the pieces that have fallen away or are at risk of. Down in the cellar, some beams need to be reset as the constant moisture has almost rotted them from their nooks. On the main level, the contractors have been asked to pull up more of the floor to make the original wall spaces visible to patrons. The original hearth had been covered up as the house modernized but thanks to some clever archaeology the original brickwork is once again visible. Upstairs, the apartment like space is getting an overhaul. The old bathroom fixtures are all getting pulled out. As our Preservation Director Libbie explained, “in the attic, rafters that were left cut after an earlier chimney was removed, are being sistered to repair the roof system.” I was really honored to be able to participate in this process. This project has been in the works for Libbie for a year and a half so the day this project went out was a big deal. I was given the opportunity to sit in on the walk-through process which was eye-opening because I know next to nothing about contracted work. It was a real honor to be a part of this meeting.
This week began with a long stint of compiling with the work I have been doing identifying the trees and creating it into a usable format. The goal is to be able to help guests to connect to the landscape by letting them know what exactly is in it. I ended up picking thirteen different tree species that were on the property to create a short slide for each. Each slide had a picture of the tree on the property as well as a list of facts about it such as; if it is native or non-native, the amount of sun it can tolerate, what its identifying features are, etc. Most of the information I took out off of note sheets I had been given in my woody plant identification class and the Missouri Botanical garden plant finder database. I finally got to see the cellar and upper floors of the kitchen dependency. The cellar was down these rickety ladder steps that lead to a below-ground space with a dirt floor. The space had an arch shape to hold up the above hearth. The upper space had been converted into an apartment space in later years, but it was previously believed to be a servant’s space. On Saturday, however, I had the special pleasure of being able to participate in Cliveden’s Second Saturday event. The event was music in the house where certain rooms in the house would have certain musicians in it. There was a harp, a flute/piccolo, a congo drum, and a guitar. Each piece had a special significance. The harp and guitar represented the European overtones that the house displays. While the flute and the Congo drums were meant to represent the lives of the people who spent their lives serving the household.
The field trip to Grumblethorpe was an interesting experience in both a historical and horticultural as well as an administrative one. Historically the house had an interesting life as a home to a family that was interested in scientific research. The family had a special interest in horticultural cultivation. In fact, the Wisteria vine was named after the Wister family who were the house’s primary occupants. The Wisters were neutral in the revolutionary war even though their house was used as a base for royalist troops prior to the battle of Germantown. In the house, one can even see the blood stain where General James Agnew had bled out on the floor after being wounded in the battle. Libbie, the gentleman who we visited with at Wyck and I were all given a tour by Grumblethorpe’s operations manager Michael Muehlbauer. We were first walked around the different garden areas. I was thrilled by the types of beds that were still present there. They had a medicinal garden that had plants that would have been used in the home at the time it was historically significant. There was also a bed that was filled with heirloom species and other species from around the world. These plants were plants that were the same as they would have been pre-18th century. Plants like squash would have been grown by Native Americans pre-colonization or okra species.
My favorite part of the trip though was seeing possibly the oldest Ginko tree in America. Ginko trees are the most identifiable tree to children in the intercity and are such a part of city horticulture, it was incredible to see such a tree that would have experienced so much history.
While we were there we visited Grumblethorpe’s well. I find our well grand tour to be very interesting. Grumblethorpe’s well is located down a flight of stairs that opens up to a sizable lower space with shelves around its outer edge. I believe this space would have been used for cold storage but there is no way of being sure. When looking down the well our resident well expert noticed that there appeared to be a piece of the original well under the water line. We were also given a tour of the house while we were there.
I found the most interesting spaces in the home to be the service spaces (I think Libbie might be rubbing off on me). We saw a blacksmithing shop which was by far the coolest part of the house. We viewed the original forging station, I was lucky enough to have our friend from Wyck there with us and he took the time to explain how it worked to me. It was also apparent that this room was also used as an Alchemy/Chemist lab. The cabinet full of different substance was an immediate eye catcher when you walk in the room. The dual purpose of this space was so apropos to the family interest in scientific research.
I have really looked forward to these field trips around Germantown because the more I learn about Germantown the more I feel like I understand how Cliveden fits into the grander scheme of the historical context.
This week was my first adventure traveling to another historic site in Germantown. Libbie and I went to Wyck. Libbie was meeting one of her contacts who is on the board of Wyck so she could get a look at the remains of the water pump and well for the home. I know very little about water pumps, but I’ve been starting to understand that the installation of all the water pumps within Germantown might have happened around the same time period and created by the same company. The water pump at Wyck had a much larger diameter than the one at Cliveden. The pump head at Wyck is believed to not be entirely original.
At Cliveden, our preservation director Libbie has taken special care to secure the preservation of our own water pump. The remains of the lower sections that were removed from the well are currently living in a storage unit on site. The sections that were submerged in water were placed in an ingenious setup of tarps and bungee cords that holds water to continue the submersion of these pieces. The continued submersion will ensure that they will not disintegrate like they would be if they were exposed to air. While the idea of pump preservation is not the go-to image of historic home conservation, it illustrates the connection between homes in the area through the probable use of a single pump manufacturer.
Besides my enlightenment on the current work being done in Germantown towards pump preservation, I had the incredible opportunity to spend some time with some pre-Revolutionary War rose species. While these roses are the exact plants that were around that period, these plants are the same species, meaning they look just like roses from that time period. They had so many different species! It was incredible.
Wyck is also a operating farm that uses its landscape as an educational tool for the surrounding community. They run a community club to this end. The one species on the property that interested me most was what their horticulturalist had done with a species of climbing Hydrangea. Climbing species that attach to walls are frequently thought to be a plight to preservation initiatives because of their root systems’ ability to break up walls structures. English Ivy is a good example of this phenomena. Climbing Hydrangea while not quite as destructive as English Ivy because of its suction cup-like roots is still a concern. What Wyck did to ensure the preservation of its barn while still keeping the look of the climbing hydrangea was to use slings to hold up the plant while ensuring that it did not connect to the building. I thought this was a very creative solution to a difficult horticultural problem.
This week was the week of tree identification, photography and map editing. I have been given access to a historic map of the property’s tree population. This map is unfortunately outdated due to the fact that it was created before the house was a museum and is therefore over 45 years old. It is my new mission to identify and remap the trees on the property.
I definitely wore the wrong shoes. If anyone ever asks you to go in the grass and walk around for long periods of time, take my advice and don’t wear flats. I have decided to start with the strip of lawn in front of the carriage house and to the right of the property. The trees on this half of the property are all larger in size and easily accessible to identify (I don’t have to walk into any bushes to see what I need to). I originally decided to attempt to make the edits of the copy of the map I had been given, but I found it hard to hold and write and quickly changed tactics to try to do more identifying that day and make a map the next day.
Wednesday I was back at it with the shoes and a big can of bug spray. Instead of trying to make the map I just drew one out in my notebook. That was much easier. Anyone not familiar with tree identification should know that the best way to identify trees is with their leaf shape, bark color, and flower/seed appearance. It is also helpful to know the general shape that a tree typically grows in but I find that to be less conclusive than one would hope. I like identifying tree by their leaf shape the best. Even though there can be some variation the leaf shape can at least give you a hint at what it could be, one might have to look at other features to narrow it down however.
Trees I found on the first half of the Cliveden property
- Tulip Tree
- Kousa Dogwood
- Flowering Dogwood
- Sycamore Maple
- Swamp White Oak
- American Beech
- Copper Beech
- Sweet Gum
- Sugar Maple
All photographs of plant specimen were taken by me on the Cliveden property
Tuesday the 12th began with a wrap up of the remaining archaeology reports. I began with the behind the barn report which was from 1976. I also looked at the gas trench report from 1989, the drainage correction from 1993, the GPR graves report from 1995, the Main house storm drain excavations from 1995, Revolutionary reinternments from 1996, GPR 1777 graves south of Main house, HVAC drainage letter report from 2009. I went through all the previously stated reports and pulled out the finds that would have given us some kind of hint of what features might have been in the landscape. All these finds were plotted on a map of the property. The point of plotting these finds were to condense the findings and look for visual correlations. I also had the opportunity to take a quick guided tour of the Germantown Historical Society by our education director Carolyn Wallace. The extensive exhibits included an entire wall of tea sets, a room of toys, and 3 rooms of textiles. I had the pleasure to meet the staff and discussed with the archivist revisiting to analyze some images of Cliveden. On the way home Carolyn and I discussed the trials and tribulations of house museum work. The simple struggles of leaks, animal corralling, and constant maintenance keeps the public historian on their toes. I have found these conversations with my co-workers invaluable because these realities are never something that I thought about.
That Saturday I had the pleasure to go to which was a production put on by Cliveden. Addie and I checked people into the event at the carriage house. The event began with a pre-show exercise. The choreographer began by teaching everyone a seated dance. By breaking it down into chunks the audience was taught to clap and kick in the designated order. This ice breaker exercise was designed to make everyone more open for the upcoming discussion. The exercise then moved to an informative discussion of civil liberties, indentured servitude and women’s rights. Throughout these discussions, the group has to ask the moderator for permission to speak before they could speak to the group. However, some individuals did not follow these rules and spoke without asking permission. The reactions to these rule breakers were diverse. Some individuals ignored the slight but later commented that they were frustrated. Others directly called out those who did not ask for permission. Those who did not ask permission were not doing so out of disrespect, but they were specifically asked to act that way. This was a way for the moderator to explain the name sake theme of the play, liberty to go and see. Liberty to Go to See refers to a letter between Ben Chew Sr., the original owner of the house, and a slave who is asking permission to go and see his wife. The moderator explains that the uneasiness that the crowd felt simply asking to speak exemplified a small portion of what this individual felt asking for permission to visit the woman he was married to for +10 years. The group is then moved over to the main house for the walking performance.
The play is split up into five major plot points. After the original introduction to the house and narrator. The first section dealt with the forced removal of Ben Chew Sr. to New Jersey from his Philadelphia home because off his decision to not pledge to the revolution. The scene is characterized by Ben Chew conversing with Michael (a slave) about his sorrow over his lost freedom. The audience is then led up stairs to observe the scene in which Mr. Chew read aloud the letter sent to him by Harry (another slave) asking to see his wife as described previously. Upon rejecting the request Harry attempts to run away only to be stopped my Michael who must decide whether to let his friend go or not. The audience goes back down the main staircase to be introduced to Harriet Chew Carol who has just been removed from the house of her drunk husband and is fighting for the ability to keep her slave charity in her employ. Charity realizing the possibility of her freedom if she stays in Philadelphia throws herself off a woodpile (off stage) to avoid being sent south again. The next scene focuses on Hannah Welsh who is an Irish indentured servant and is unhappy with her situation. Once comparing herself to our narrator, he explained his own experiences as a slave felt better about her situation. The final scene was a standoff between Anne Sophia Penn Chew and Ben Chew III both grandchildren of Ben Chew Sr. Ben Chew III enters his sister’s home claiming that it was really his. As Anne enters the scene however she argues that he had been removed from the will because of his tyrannical behavior. The immersive theater technique that this show employs humanizes the historical characters that once called this historic house home. As well it gives faces to the idea of liberty inequality, the realities of slavery and indentured servitude. As well as portraying minority groups like African Americans and women of this time period in positions of agency that frequently do not get explored in other mediums.
I had the pleasure of reading an undergraduate thesis by Laura Simmons. Laura was a Senior at Bristol University in 2015. She was honored as having one of the best dissertations of the year and had her paper posted on the university website. Her paper focused around the significance of Margot Fonteyn, a famous ballet dancer, on the gender norms of the post-World War 2 Era. She analyzed both Fonteyn’s on-stage performance and her media portrayal to question how such a powerful female persona played against 1950s stereotypes. While Fonteyn was a commanding performer and icon she was accepted by a society that viewed women’s place as within the domestic sphere. Simmons breaks down the reasoning on just why so many people were enamored by Margot Fonteyn and how she was viewed as a role model compared to a threat to the post war society.
The extensive research that this paper required came from a great deal of sourcing from different primary sources as well as solid secondary investigation. The author states that her interest in this project was because of her own experience with the Royal Ballet School. She cites her research focus Margot Fonteyn as a personal hero and that eludes to how she picked this topic as her senior thesis. The author’s prior experience within the ballet community gives added merit to her body of work that reflects on the technique and difficulty of this art form. This thesis cites many different kinds of sources to support its arguments. The use of magazine covers as a way to analyze the over sexualization of some ballerinas compared to the professional air that is given to Fonteyn’s own cover. The author’s examination of Margot Fonteyn’s Time Magazine was an ingenious way to illustrate vocation that dance was in her life. Continuing with sourcing material the use of performance videos compared to critic columns added a layer of depth. This use of sources allowed a reader to both understand the work and technique that went into the show as well as the dance world’s reaction to it. Many of the news clippings that are included in this thesis were pulled out of the Royal Ballet School Archive by the writer. Since none of these sources were digitized the author had to find the originals in the archive herself. Reflecting on this experience Simmons recall her frustration over the nature of the archive. According to her notes at the end of this paper many of the sources were uncatalogued and disheveled. Many were housed in scrap books or in files. However, Simmons was impressed by the wide range of news sources that were available.
“This thesis has, in essence, been a study into the renegotiation of stereotypes; an attempt to re-imagine the performance of gendered behavior and the reception to gender norms in the postwar and Cold War era in a more positive and progressive light, through the figure of internationally successful ballet super star Margot Fonteyn” (Simmons 22). Simmons looks at Margot Fonteyn as a way to take a deeper look at gender norms. Fonteyn’s ability to break the mold with public approval must make us look at our held ideas of gender stereotypes in the post war era. How could such a powerful professional woman excel in a time where women bound by domestic duties? These are the themes that Simmons investigates within her paper. It is an interesting look at the role of ballet in the 40s and 50s and the unique position the Margot Fonteyn held within that time.
Simmons, Laura. “Taking Centre Stage: Margot Fonteyn, Ballet Boom, and Renegotiating Western Gender Norms in the Late 1940s and 1950s.” University of Bristol History Department, University of Bristol, 2015, www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/history/documents/dissertations/2015simmons.pdf.
This week was primarily about preparing for upcoming events. I was put to work this week to help set up different things for these events. We were sent several shipments of props. My Tuesday morning was a little out of the box from what I had been doing so far. Our education director, Carolyn Wallace, our Preservation Director, Libbie Hawes, and I built an easel and sorted out how a pot for an upcoming demonstration would be put together. You’d think that putting together a build it yourself easel would not be that difficult, but when one is left with two extra screws and no clue where they go you start to question the integrity of the object. The next task was to take down existing exhibit signs to make space for more event space. The signs came with wood backs that pulled apart and were packed into carry bags. It took both Carolyn and I to pull some of the wooden pieces apart. The most exciting part of Tuesday however was learning how to correctly move antique furniture. The trick is to grab the chairs under their seats. With an upcoming performance of liberty, a moving play throughout the house, some furniture needed to be moved around to make way for lighting and the increased foot traffic. Carolyn and I moved several antique chairs as well as a table.
The next day began with hanging the banners back up but this time flat against the wall. The cord we had was thick to be sure that they could hold the weight but that meant that tying the necessary knots was more difficult. The only thing getting the knots tight was getting all the banners straight. It took more time to even them out then put them up. Carolyn and I then moved back to the house to move some antique chairs to an upper floor where they were being moved into storage.
Friday evening, I had the pleasure to attend a Cliveden conversation. These conversations are events that allows the community to discuss selected issues. The conversation I participated in was a presentation by Michael Twitty as he was discussing his book, Cooking Gene. Mr. Twitty discussed not only his own experiences of prejudice as a Jewish African American author but also the importance of African American agency focusing on their culture food. My personal favorite quote speaks to the theme of the program, “food is real, race is an illusion.” The program was a incredible way to connect with the community and get their perspective on what the public would like to see Cliveden develop in the future.
Day 3, I dived into the preliminary landscape reports. I got through 50 pages of the Preliminary Landscape Archaeology report while taking diligent notes of significant findings for later analysis. I also had the opportunity to sit in on a staff meeting. I sat with the Education Director and the Development Coordinator while they discussed planning for upcoming events and grant management. I never knew how heavily museums relied on grants so listening to that conversation was an eye-opening experience for me. While I expected to go home at four I ended up staying much longer when my car would not start. The windows were all stuck down so I was forced to wait in the car while I waited for a tow truck. No tow truck ever came however. It was decided that we would push the car into the Cliveden lot behind the locked gate and get it towed in the morning. I was very grateful for all the assistance and concern that the staff showed for me. Each one of them made sure I was okay and made sure I knew that if I needed any more assistance I should just ask. David Young, Cliveden’s Executive Director, came back and helped us push the car into the lot. According to him this was all a part of historic site management, but I was extremely grateful. Neil the caretaker for the site was also a big help, he stayed and helped us figure out what the best course of action would be with the car. He also let me play with his dog Sprigg while I waited which was a welcome distraction. The next day was not nearly as exciting, thank goodness. I continued to go through archaeological reports. I went through both the Archaeological Survey and the Preliminary Landscape Archaeology. I began to plot where each relevant find was on a map to see if I could find any correlations that might indicate any landscape features. I was able to approximate the possible location of the original driveway based on the Archaeological data and images of a metal cast of the house from the same period. There is more data need to be sure, but this step in the right direction was a very exciting prospect from the archaeological data.