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What’s Behind the Mantel?

By Kerri Provost

January 13, 2012

Back in 2002, when Abercrombie & Fitch sold thong underwear for children, many understandably interpreted this as the beginning of the erosion of America’s moral fabric.

They were wrong.

There’s proof — in the form of a corset designed to be worn by a four-year-old girl — at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) that this trend of sexualizing young girls did not begin this century.

Starting on January 14th, CHS will be leading two behind-the-scenes tours every second Saturday of the month to give visitors the chance to see other quirky items, such as as a body preserver. This was a type of casket with space for ice, a spigot for draining out melted ice, and horse hair insulation. A lever allowed mourners to adjust the position of the corpse for better viewing. Emily Dunnack, the Head of Education Programs at CHS, said that other strange-to-us death customs from the past included making jewelery out of the deceased person’s hair, and evidence of this is also among items at CHS.

Another macabre item in storage: a tattered flag that was in the theater box when President Lincoln was assassinated. Don’t worry — there’s no gore.

One item of local interest is an 1867 willow ware crib from the Colt estate. Slightly less local: a glove and pouch belonging to the Leatherman, whose legend you can read about on Connecticut Museum Quest.

Like most museums, what you see on display is a tiny fraction of what is stored inside the building. Visible storage is becoming more popular and these tours serve as a way to share treasures that might not make it into prime viewing space for various reasons, such as being too fragile to display in direct light for long periods of time. There is an extensive furniture collection, along with clothing, shoes, and clocks. Intricate needlework, paintings, and prints are stored in drawers and on racks.

Make arrangements for a private viewing of items not covered in the tour, such as the “weapons room” and aisles of boxes of photographs.

The “Secrets of the Veeder House” is the other behind-the-scenes tour being offered. The Veeder house is now part of the building that makes up CHS. Curtis Veeder, who held 95 U.S. patents, worked for Pope Manufacturing Company before starting his own business. A few of his inventions were bicycle-related, and many dealt with counting items. Built right before the Great Depression, the Veeder house includes some engineering aspects a bit ahead of its time. The heating system, originally coal, then converted to oil and gas, and then to just gas, still remains in the house. There is a three-bay garage with a car washing system. The original house has an incinerator shoot, central vac, and an elevator.

Something in house’s former dining room is the highlight of this tour.

If you plan to take part in the Collections Tour, do yourself a favor and wear shoes without heels so you do not humiliate yourself by getting stuck in tracks on the floor. The Collections Tour is recommended for ages 12+ because of its hands-off nature; the museum prefers groups to be limited to fifteen people each for these tours, as space in the storage areas is tight.

These tours are included in the cost of general admission and are held on the second Saturday of each month during 2012. The Collections Tour begins at 2; the Secrets of the Veeder House tour begins at 3. The Connecticut Historical Society is located at the corner of Elizabeth and Asylum in Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford. To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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