A Peek Into Storage

My name is Alli Rico, and I’m a graduate student in Harvard University’s Museum Studies program. Currently, I’m interning at the Bostonian Society where my project is to help Collections Manager Tricia Gilrein document, condition report, photograph, research, and otherwise process a portion of our collection that was, until recently, housed at the Charlestown Navy Yard. In November 2014, the offsite collection was moved from the Navy Yard to a new offsite storage facility that allows us to better access these materials.

More than 20 years ago portions of the museum collections were moved to buildings in the Navy Yard. The National Parks Service provided help in determining preservation measures for certain artifacts, as well as identifying items that would be most useful for interpretation in the museum galleries. They then assisted in moving items that fell outside these criteria to various facilities in Boston. The Bostonian Society continues to assess all the collections for their potential for exhibits and research. As such, it has been a major goal to revisit these artifacts.

Different perspectives have also arisen regarding collections care, for instance: deaccessioning. Deaccessioning artifacts means that the museum will assess our needs against those in Boston’s museum community and heritage sector. Some of these items might better serve the missions of neighboring organizations. We’ve maintained that one of our project goals will be to contribute to our colleague’s goals as well as our own.

A look inside the cornerstone box
Between hands-on observations at the new storage facility and research based on the collections records back at the Old State House, I’ve found some pretty fascinating stuff! We came across a cornerstone box from the old Post Office building, which was given to the Society by the U.S. Sub-Treasury in 1932; it will be brought to the Bostonian Society Archives so that Library and Archives Manager, Elizabeth Roscio, can take a look at it and tell us what’s inside (a future blog post to follow!).

U.S.S. Maine plaque
We also came across quite a few plaques from around the Boston area. One of them is a duplicate of the plaque currently mounted to the anchor at the USS Maine memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. After talking to the cemetery’s Command Historian (they are a military cemetery, after all), we determined that the anchor at the memorial came from the Boston Navy Yard, and so the plaque must have been made here as well and we ended up with a duplicate. It’s a fascinating piece of history and took some detective work to piece together!

Already, we’ve found new homes for several headstones at the Historic Burial Grounds Initiative: a city initiative that deals in conservation and repatriation. A few historic water pipes from Boston’s first water systems were transferred back to the city via its archives where they will inform the study of early Boston infrastructure and public works. While the process will take a while, we are hopeful that by the end of the year, we will be well acquainted with this collection and its interesting and surprising connections to our fine city.

This project will take place over a year, meaning we have plenty of time to become familiar with the collection. Undoubtedly, we’ll find some pretty interesting objects and facts along the way – stay tuned!

By Alli Rico, Collections Intern