Thursday, January 11, 2018

Junior Scholars Interview historian Jude Pfister

 Pictured: Dr. Jude Pfister and student-scholars, 
Aaron S. Ladinsky, Nandini Swami, and 
Arnav Aggarwal.

As part of the 2017 Patriot’s Week events in Trenton, Morristown NHP Chief of Cultural Resources Dr. Jude Pfister gave a talk at the Trenton Free Public Library. The topic of the talk was The Federalist papers, the focus of Dr. Pfister’s 2016 book Charting an American Republic, published by McFarland Press. After the talk, three Lawrence Middle School students, working on a National History Day project, questioned Dr. Pfister about The Federalist papers. The student-scholars, Aaron S. Ladinsky, Nandini Swami, and Arnav Aggarwal, were all knowledgeable about the Constitution and The Federalist papers. On behalf of Morristown NHP, we wish Mr. Ladinsky, Ms. Swami, and Mr. Aggarwal the best of luck with their project. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Morristown NHP Eliminates Entrance Fees at Washington’s Headquarters Museum

Hey families, it's now even easier to #FindYourPark, at Morristown!
Morristown, NJ- Beginning January 1, 2018, Morristown National Historical Park will no longer charge an entrance fee to visit the park’s Washington’s Headquarters Museum. After analyzing the costs and benefits of the recreational fee program, park leadership determined that it is in the best interest of both Morristown National Historical Park and the public to eliminate the entrance charge at the museum (which also includes a guided tour of the Ford Mansion).

The current museum entrance fee of $7 for individuals age 16 and older is in effect through December 31, 2017.

“Our cost-benefit analysis revealed that the administrative burden of maintaining our fee program is not sustainable,” explained Park Superintendent, Tom Ross. He noted that, “This decision is the right thing to do for both visitors and our staff members, who now can focus their time and talents on the core missions of the National Park Service.”

The remaining revenue from the entrance fees will be used to achieve many mission-critical projects, including developing an accessibility book for the Ford Mansion, conserving historic paintings in the park’s collection, and installing new audio-visual equipment in the Washington’s Headquarters Museum auditorium.

“Morristown National Historical Park has, and always will, welcome donations from park visitors, supporters, and advocates,” Ross added. “Donations will continue to sustain visitor programs and support the park mission.”

Through December 31, 2017, Morristown NHP also will continue to sell the various America the Beautiful passes for entrance to the National Parks and other Federal Recreational Lands (the annual $20 Senior Pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over, the $80 lifetime Senior Pass, and the $80 Annual Pass).

The free passes for active-duty military, for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities; and for the 4th-grade Every Kid in a Park program will continue to be available at Morristown NHP after December 31, 2017.

All America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes can still be purchased at most federal recreation sites that collect entrance fees, including at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey or by applying at

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Winter Letters of George Washington, Henry Laurens, and Samuel Huntington

John Singleton Copley, Henry Laurens, 1782, oil on canvas, 137.5 cm x 103 cm, Washington, D.C .
National Portrait Gallery; Charles Willson Peale, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1783,
 oil on canvas, 237 x 145 cm., Princeton, Princeton University Art Museum; Charles Willson Peale,
Samuel Huntington, 1783, Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park.

Images of poorly-clothed and ill-fed Continental soldiers huddled in huts, marching barefoot in the snow, determinedly defending bleak hills despite ice and wind are seminal images in American history. According to these narratives, the army’s ability to endure such hard times demonstrated their resolve to establish a new nation. However, many of those images have more in common with national myths and not with historic facts. Why the honest confusion? Why have the boundaries between history and myth been blurred? In order to understand the origins of such legends, the winter encampments at Valley Forge in southeastern Pennsylvania (1777-1778) and Jockey Hollow near Morristown, New Jersey (1779-1780) are essential places to start. These two winter encampments were both moments when it appeared the common cause might unravel. The roots of our national mythologies largely grow from these points.[1]

How and why Americans have conflated the experiences of the revolutionary winters would require an exhaustive study of cultural memory. However, one way we can develop a measure of appreciation for authentic encampment experience and strip away the illusions and inventions is by analyzing letters belonging to the foremost military and political leader of the American war effort, George Washington. Specifically, Washington’s letters exchanged with the presidents of the Continental Congress are essential documents that highlight some of the most important challenges of each encampment. During the Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow winters, Washington depended on two different presidents, Henry Laurens and Samuel Huntington, respectively. Both men had experience in provincial governance. Both had developed reputations as steady and evenhanded leaders among congressional delegates. And both assumed the presidency mere weeks before the Continental army established their encampments. And yet their differences were striking. Henry Laurens was born into a prominent South Carolina family and earned a fortune trading enslaved persons and profiting off their labor. Samuel Huntington was born to hardscrabble Connecticut farmers and self-educated, a far cry from Laurens’s private tutoring or European apprenticeship. During these dismal winters, Washington had two remarkably different presidents on whom the fate of his army rested.[2]

These correspondences do not provide a complete picture of everyday life in camp or the numberless challenges faced by the Continentals. They are a mere fraction of Washington’s total papers from these hard times. However, they do highlight some of the most urgent matters that befell the commander in chief and the Continental Congress. They uncover how the demands of war evolved as the conflict ground on from Valley Forge, to Jockey Hollow, and beyond. And most importantly, they challenge popular images of these encampments long seared in the national psyche. Appreciating how Washington, Laurens, and Huntington made war throughout these wearisome winters is a small but essential step in more fully appreciating the complexity of these iconic Revolutionary moments.[3]

Before diving into the contents of these documents, we must first understand their objectives and purposes. For all the letters’ descriptions of suffering soldiers and supply shortages, these letters are inherently political documents. Washington, Laurens, and Huntington all used persuasive language to convince their recipient other their agenda. On December 23rd, in the midst of a potentially catastrophic provisions crisis at Valley Forge, Washington composed a letter appealing to President Laurens. Washington included detailed descriptions of the sorry state of the Continental army describing the “no less than 2898 Men now in Camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and otherwise naked”. Highlighting the stakes of the moment he informed Laurens that “unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place…this Army must inevitably…Starve—dissolve—or disperse”. But despite the dramatic pleas, the letter’s intent was not to detail specific shortcomings of the army. Rather, Washington intended the letter encourage Laurens to act on these urgent needs. The letter was just as much a plea as it was a ploy: if “some great and capital change” were to occur, the letter implies that President Laurens would bring it to fruition. Despite national mythologies that cast revolutionaries, particularly Washington, as fundamentally apolitical, these men were nonetheless astute wartime politicians who understood that political means were necessary for achieving military ends .[4]

Figure 1: Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, engraving
by Alexander Hay Ritchie, Henry Laurens, 1783,
Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Box 148,
Folder 3438, Morristown National Historical Park.
In several ways, these letters challenge cultural images that have developed around these winter encampments. First, the standard picture of an inept, and uncaring Continental Congress oblivious to the problems befalling the Continental army does not stand up to the scrutiny of these letters. Both Laurens and Huntington deliberately and frequently informed Washington of specific resolutions passed in Congress. Laurens reported on Congressional actions intended to fill vacant positions in the army, establish regulations for foraging soldiers, among others to the commander. Huntington too enclosed resolutions in his dispatches including actions concerning new enlistment terms and resolves on rank disputes. Congress certainly did not solve all the problems of supply, unfilled leadership positions, or poor army organizational structure that engulfed the Continentals in these winters. However, their chief executives recognized that congressional inaction meant certain doom for the war effort. [5]

Another challenge to the national mythology these letters present concerns the military situation of each encampment. The prevailing perception that during the Revolution both armies paused active military operations until the spring does not correspond with the documentary evidence. Washington and Laurens exchanged letters describing both British and American foraging operations and even planned an entire expedition into Canada that they eventually aborted. Especially during the Jockey Hollow encampment, it even appears cold weather encouraged more operations. Solid ice that chocked the tidal strait between New Jersey and Staten Island allowed both armies to launch raids in January 1780. After a failed American expedition into Staten Island, on January 27 Washington wrote to Huntington “I am sorry to inform your Excellency that the Enemy on the night of the 25th surprised our advanced parties which were stationed at Elizabeth Town and New Ark—and made a part of them prisoners… several people were plundered at New Ark & the Academy burnt; also the Meeting & Town Houses at Elizabeth Town.” These various operations are instructive in that they remind us despite winter conditions (and in some cases because of them) military endeavors continued during the encampments. No winter ceasefire, spoken or unspoken, existed. [6]

Figure 2: Bonar and Cumming, Samuel Huntington,
Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Box 11, Folder 1293,
 Morristown National Historical Park.
If their letters are any indication, the most pressing problem the army confronted both winters was not supply crises or harsh weather, but prisoner exchange. No single topic exhausted so much ink between the leaders. Reports of the filthy, malnourished, and diseased condition of American captives languishing in New York had long been presented to Washington and Congress. While at Valley Forge Washington and his aides attempted to set up a fair and equitable prisoner exchange via a cartel. At the time President Laurens wanted to ensure that Congress be involved in any negotiation. “I am also directed to intimate to your Excellency as a recommendation from Congress that every proper precaution be taken against putting it in the power of the Enemy to take any unfair advantages in the Exchange of prisoners,” Laurens wrote. By the time of the winter at Jockey Hollow, the cartel still managed to elude the commander in chief. President Huntington, perhaps appreciating the worsening state of American captives, ceded Congressional authority in the negotiation, informing Washington that “…the matter of negotiating and settling a Cartel may safely be trusted in your hands.” As the war ground on, not only did the terms of negotiation change, but so did Washington’s relationship with the President and thereby Congress itself.[7]

Some of the most important political relationships Washington developed throughout the war were with noncombatants, and these letters to Laurens and Huntington reveal subtle changes in these interactions. Moreover, even these relationships challenge national ideas about civilian interactions with the military. Difficulties in procuring supplies were issues that befell both winter encampments and led to drastic measures in the Continental army. To Henry Laurens on January 5, 1778 the general wrote that the army’s frequent use of supply “seizures” and other “coercive measures…may give a momentary relief, but if repeated will prove of the most pernicious consequence.” These procedures were “spreading disaffection” and instilled among his soldiers a “disposition to licentiousness—to plunder & Robbery, difficult to suppress afterwards.” Surely Washington and Laurens considered how these actions weakened the army’s political support in the countryside.[8]

Writing exactly two years later to Samuel Huntington, Washington’s views had altered noticeably. Facing another provisions shortage he reported that with “very scanty supplies…some for their preservation have been compelled to maraud and rob from the Inhabitants.” During the Valley Forge winter Washington explained to Laurens why such actions
harmed the cause. At Jockey Hollow he informed Huntington to expect no such admonition. “I have it not in my power to punish or to repress the practice. If our condition should not undergo a very speedy & considerable change for the better—it will be difficult to point out all the consequences that may ensue.” More importantly, both these letters challenge the ingrained national mythology that virtuous citizen soldiers of the Continental army always demonstrated stouthearted commitment to the cause and their fellow citizens. As supplies dwindled, the Continental army did not pause to seize property of civilians, and it appears that by 1780, Washington was not as willing to admonish his plundering soldiers.[9]

While these letters do not provide a comprehensive overview of either the Valley Forge or Jockey Hollow winter encampments, they do provide the starting point for us to understand which encampment descriptions hold up to historical scrutiny and which images were fabricated or in some cases outright invented. The impression of the war effort according to these documents can be aptly summarized by what Ron Chernow called the “draining atmosphere of a perpetual, slow motion crisis.” To Washington, Laurens, and Huntington, Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow were not moments that demonstrated national public virtue and unwavering commitment to the cause as much as they were moments of exhaustion. The continuous strain of supply crises, ongoing negotiations of prisoner exchanges, and constant military operations, (all of which compounded by the slow pace of congressional resolutions) sapped the Revolutionary movement of its vigor. It is only in hindsight Americans have ascribed these encampments the veneer of heroism. [10]    

     [1] This essay relies on George Washington’s letters exchanged with Presidents Henry Laurens and Samuel Huntington during the winters (December 21-March 21) at Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow, 1777-1778 and 1779-1780, respectively. See The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel et al., Revolutionary War Series (16 June 1775-31 December 1783 [in progress]), Volumes 12-14, 23-24 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008). Hereafter cited as PGW, Rev. War Ser.

     [2] Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, “Laurens, Henry (1724-1792)”, accessed Nov 20, 2017,; Richard L. Blanco, The American Revolution 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia, vol. 1, “Laurens, Henry (1724-1792)” (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 906; Calvin C. Jillson and Rick K. Willson, Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774-1789 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 77-78; Carol Ganz, Samuel Huntington Governor of Connecticut, 1786-1796 History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library (Hartford: November 2007).

     [3] Robert Middlekauf, Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 150.

     [4] PGW, Rev. War Ser., 12:668-70, 683.

     [5]Ibid., 13: 147-48, 597-98, 24: 495-96, 597.

     [6] Ibid., 13: 104, 445, 478, 14: 160-62, 24: 174-76, 291.

     [7] Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 100; PGW, Rev. War Ser., 14: 12, 24: 293-94.

     [8] PGW, Rev. War Ser., 13: 147-48.

     [9] Ibid., 24:42-43; James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender, “A Respectable Army”: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, 3rd ed., (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 3.

     [10] Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 351.

This article by Blake McGready, Interpretive Park Guide, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Featured Manuscript: Libro de las Ordenanzas de la Cofradía de Santa Anna

Modern Mexico differs vastly from the Aztec territory contacted by Hernan Cortez’s company on April 22, 1519. Motecuhzoma II, ruler of Tenochtitlan, allowed the Spaniards entrance to the capital on November 9, 1519. The Spanish thirst for riches was not well concealed and on May 21, 1520 they massacred many Aztecs during a religious celebration. Although the Aztecs resisted and tried to expel the invaders from the city, epidemics had already begun to kill thousands of indigenous peoples, which allowed the Spanish to quickly establish themselves as the new power.


During the 1520s, the Spaniards continued to strengthen their control by the inhumane treatment of natives. The arrival of Fray Juan de Zumarraga (soon known as Protector of Indians) ushered in a period of more tempered treatment of the native peoples.  With the discovery of silver mines near Mexico City, the Spanish population increased dramatically. This enabled friars to create schools for both the Spanish and native residents. The Spanish continued to develop a government which recognized natives as part of their new colony. Christianity flourished, mass baptisms of natives peoples became commonplace, and Mexico City became a heavily populated area for Spanish settlers. This allowed for the creation of the cofradía of Santa Anna in Mexico City on April 27, 1557. The Book of Orders on display contains the original articles of the constitution of this cofradía. 

Paper & Printing:

As a result of Muslim occupation in modern day Spain, some of the first paper mills were in production as early as the 12th century in both northern Christian and southern Moorish regions. It is probable that this document was printed on paper imported from Spain and hand written although a printing press existed in Mexico City by 1540. The introduction of the movable type printing press into the Americas has been attributed to the first Archbishop of Mexico City, Juan Zumarraga, in 1539. The publishing house created and operated by Juan Cromberger and Juan Pablos printed religious and government documents. The Book of Orders is bound most likely in vellum (calf hide), another craft that had been practiced by the medieval Spanish Arabs.  


This Book of Orders was acquired by collector Lloyd W. Smith in the 1920s. Most likely fascinated by its connection to the early European settlement of the Americas, Smith held this, and other early examples of Spanish and European “New World” exploration in his collection of nearly 400,000 manuscripts. In 1955, he bequeathed the collection to the Morristown National Historical Park where it is part of the Special Collections library today.

Cofradía of Santa Anna:

Cofradías were organized groups that functioned through churches. The members were lay men who sought social and economic protection while aiming to become active members of their communities through service to the church that sponsored them. Members were required to plan events like the procession of the Virgin of Santa Anna. Restrictions on membership were based on race and profession. The cofradía of Santa Anna was made up of tundidores, fabric refinement specialists, aiming to recreate the lifestyles they had maintained in Spain. The two main parts of the Book of Orders describe the formation of the cofradía and distribution of tasks among members. 


Dr. Jude Pfister, Chief of Cultural Resources at the Morristown National Historical Park 
Dr. Luz Huertas, professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University - Florham Campus.


Basbanes, Nicholas A. On paper: the everything of its two-thousand-year history. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Brundage, Burr Cartwright. A rain of darts: the Mexica Aztecs. Austin, Tex.: Univ. Pr., 1972.

Caistor, Nick. Mexico City: a cultural and literary companion. Oxford: Signal, 2000.

Cohen, Sara E. "How the Aztecs Appraised Montezuma." The History Teacher 5, no. 3 (1972): 21-30.

León-Portilla, Miguel. The broken spears: the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico. Boston: Beacon, 1962.

Szirmai, J. A. Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. S.l.: Routledge, 2017.

The Americas, Vol. 5, No. 3, Special Issue Dedicated to the Memory of Don Fray Juan de Zumárraga, First Bishop and Archbishop of Mexico (Jan., 1949), pp. 264-274. Cambridge University Press. 

This blog post by Pamela Russo, Adiana Perez, and Katherine Kurylko Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Park Library & Archives Receives Innovative Archives Award

The New Jersey Caucus of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2017 Innovative Archives Award is the Morristown National Historical Park, Library and Archives located in Morristown, New Jersey.

MARAC is the regional professional society for archivists and special collections professionals.  It spans from New York to Virginia and includes Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The New Jersey Caucus comprises those members of MARAC living or working in the state of New Jersey.

Dr. Sarah Minegar and Dr. Jude Pfister  accepted the award at 
the October 14th Monmouth County Library Archives Day

The Morristown National Historical Park, Library and Archives, with a staff of three, has made great strides in promoting the history of the site that George Washington chose as his winter encampment for two winters during the Revolutionary War, and making the Library’s collections an active site for research and discovery. In addition to  offering a series of lectures, partnerships, and online articles, the curatorial staff collaborates with universities and secondary schools to make historical manuscripts accessible and relevant to young learners. 

The Library and Archives has pioneered several programs to reach out to secondary schools in the region and engage those students and teachers in the complex concepts of historic documentation and research that are involved in writing our nation’s history.  Having designed programs which include example lesson plans to help schools to integrate the resources of the Library and Archives into their curriculum needs, they also offer on-site programs to further engage the young students in the joy of historical discovery.

Their partnership with local schools and universities have had a very high impact; most recently displaying information related to the Shakespeare Folio that visited Drew University in the Fall of 2016.   One popular topic was the art of transcription using their own records to discuss and demonstrate the challenges of reading cursive writing.

The staff have developed, with the help of high school and college-age interns, a variety of ways to engage young adults in the  research process. This creative thinking along with the shear excitement communicated by the staff for their topics is felt by those who participate in these projects. 

 For these reasons, MARAC- NJ Caucus is pleased to recognize the Library and Archives of the Morristown National Park as this year’s recipient of the 2017 Innovative Archives Award.

MARAC - New Jersey Caucus Innovative Archives Award Committee

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

Fairleigh Dickinson University (Madison campus), and the Morristown National Historical Park, are pleased to announce a special event for National Hispanic Heritage Month. On October 19, 2017, join FDU History Professor Dr. Luz Huertas and Morristown NHP chief of cultural resources Dr. Jude Pfister, as they present a program on a unique facet of colonial Latin American history in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

In 1557, thirty-seven years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Archbishop of Mexico, Alonzo de Montufar, signed a Libro de las Ordenanza (book of orders) for the church of Santa Anna. The church was nestled in a small village on the outskirts of Mexico City and residents of this village came together to form a cofradia, or brotherhood, creating a society centered on a religious purpose; which, in 16th century Mexico, meant the Catholic Church. 

The manuscript creating this particular cofradia by Bishop de Montufar in 1557 is today part of the archival collection at the Morristown National Historical Park. Drs. Huertas and Pfister will present a special talk on Thursday, October 19, 2017, at 6:30 pm, in Lenfell Hall (the mansion) on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University to discuss this special document.

In addition to the talk, the actual manuscript will be on display, 460 years after it was created. Don’t miss this once in a half-millennium opportunity to see this one of a kind manuscript and hear the story it has to tell. 

For more information, please call 973-539-2016 x 204.

For parking information, see the map at or 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Thomas Jefferson's 1811 Eclipse Observations

LWS 1197, Thomas Jefferson to John Payne Todd, October 10, 1811
(referring to September 17, 1811 solar eclipse)
Today North Americans celebrate The Great American Eclispe! At around 1:22 pm EST, Morristown will begin to experience coverage, achieving maximum coverage at around 2:44 pm EST. These astronomical events have intrigued humans for thousands of years. ☀ In fact, in January 1777, shortly after arriving in Morristown, General George Washington penned a letter to Thomas Wharton with concerns about quelling any superstitious reactions by his troops. This event took place during the first Morristown encampment, while the General was lodging at Arnold's Tavern. ☀ Washington was not the only 'founding observer' of eclipses. Thomas Jefferson was known to have attempted to observe at least four solar eclipses in his lifetime. Morristown NHP houses Jefferson's September 17, 1811 observations in a letter to John Payne Todd (son of Dolley Payne Todd Madison). His notes focus on the phases of contact and the exact times he witnessed its path.

To John Payne Todd

Monticello Oct. 10. 11.
Dear Sir
According to promise I send you our observations of the solar eclipse of Sep. 17. we had, you know, a perfect observation of the passage of the sun over the meridian, and the eclipse began so soon after as to leave little room for error from the time piece. her rate of going however was ascertained by 10. days subsequent observation and comparison with the sun, and the times, as I now give them to you are corrected by these. I have no confidence in the times of the 1st & ultimate contacts, because you know we were not early enough on the watch, decieved by our time piece which was too slow. the impression on the sun was too sensible when we first observed it, to be considered as the moment of commencement, and the largeness of our conjectural correction (18″) shews that that part of the observation should be considered as nothing. the last contact was well enough observed, but it is on the forming and breaking of the annulus that I rely with entire confidence. I am certain there was not an error of an instant of time in either. I would be governed therefore solely by them, and not suffer their result to be affected by the others. I have not yet entered on the calculation of our longitude from them. they will enable you to do it as a college exercise. affectionately yours
Th: Jefferson
1st contact0–13–54}
annulus formed1–53–0}central time H      central timeH      
annulus broken1–59–25of annulus.1–56–12½of the two contacts 1–51–28
ultimate contact3–29–2
Latitude of Monticello 38°–8′

☀ Transcription via

Learn more about these historical astronomical activities:

☀ January 8, 1777

☀ September 17, 1811

Thursday, August 17, 2017

“2 Minutes to Run”: The Other Things Interns Do

An internship is an ideal way to gain practical experience while still a student. It is something that allows us to learn outside of the classroom and put their existing skills to use while expanding their horizons. This summer, we were able to create exhibits that went on display and practice essential archival skills. However, our projects were not the only things that kept us occupied on Tuesday and Thursdays. As the end of our summer in Morristown creeps closer, we have complied a list of our most memorable experiences while learning about museum maintenance, exhibit creation, and day to day activities. It’s the most Indiana Jones the majority of us will ever be, but humor and adventure can be found even in the most mundane sounding tasks.

1. Paper Rangers

In looking for ways to engage children across the country, the National Park Service created a “Flat Ranger” activity and lesson plan. Through this program, students design their own park ranger and send it to different National Parks across the country and each ranger has their own passport to collect the stamp of each park they visit. In addition to the stamp, some include pictures of the “Flat Ranger” at various locations throughout their park. This allows students to learn about different parks and see new places outside of the immediate area that they live. So, when a new ranger arrived at Morristown this summer, the three of us went on a mini photoshoot and brought the pictures (and a stamp in their book!) back to Dr. Sarah Minegar, who sent our paper friends out on their next adventures.

2. HVAC System Maintenance 

Much like any other building, the air conditioning goes out at the most inopportune times (in this case as balmy July day.) When this happened we three interns followed our fearless leader Dr. Jude Pfister to see how industrial air conditioners in historical setting are restarted. The process consisted on turning a lever, unlocking a door similar to a fuse box, pressing a button to reset, turning the handle again and waiting for a series of beeps. After demonstrating this, Dr. Pfister turned the handle, and remarked, “You now have two minutes.” “Two minutes to what? Two minutes to run?” Not nearly so dramatic. The machine turns on each cooling unit in sections, staggered in two minute intervals. 

3. General Contracting

Even museum exhibits and cases show wear and tear of daily use and over-enthusiastic visitors. One example of this was an exhibit case who had a piece of decorative molding pulled off the leg of the case. Gallery maintenance and repair was required in a way that would not detract from visitor experience and also was budget conscious.  Joni Rowe can always be relied upon to have the necessary tools. One tube of Gorilla Glue and three spring clamps later, the wood molding was reattached.

4. Pest Control Special Detail

A year round duty of museum staff is to make sure their work environment, and the museum space, is clean and ready for visitors. One thing goes to the top of the list: keeping our spaces as bug free as possible. Now, of course, we aren’t exterminators or any kind of insect specialists, but we can do what we can! One morning was “trap control”- we went around the building and collected the existing bug traps and replaced them with new ones, dating and initialing each one. This way, anyone would know when the traps had last been switched and who exactly changed it (a temporary mark we have left on Morristown).

5. Exhibit and Gallery Maintenance

While bug traps are important, something even more so is making sure the galleries and museum displays stay as clean as possible, especially during the popular summer months. During our time in Morristown, we had a crash course in museum cleaning. With so many documents and artifacts that are hundreds of years old, what cloths and cleaners used are critical to their well-being.

6. Construction Oversight

Museums are constantly trying to expand and grow their exhibits, and Morristown is no exception. Over this summer, we have watched (from a distance) construction teams come in and lay the ground work for the new Discover History Center- an interactive, immersive exhibit to help visitors learn more about the American Revolution. Though it sometimes felt like the walls of our neighboring library were going to cave in, we have seen a formerly empty space become the blank walls and pathways that will soon be filled with artifacts, information panels, and visitors.  The Discover History Center is scheduled for a soft opening in December, and we cannot wait to come back and see the finished product.

7. Amateur Scientists

This topic is closely tied with #10 on the list because the science we do is important to the day to day functions of the Cultural Resources staff. Our most recent experiment was comparing similar Airheads candy (same flavor, different shapes) to see which was preferred, in case anyone needs a little pick me up in the beginning middle or end of the day. We remain still divided on this issue, not coming to a unanimous decision.

But seriously, one thing we have learned along the way is that the study of history does come with an element of science. Everything, from the folders used to house documents to the methods used to conserve them requires a specific makeup and steps in order to leave everything as close to its original state as possible. Most conservators often have backgrounds in history and chemistry in order to under the scientific makeup and cultural relevance of everything they come in contact with.

8. Visitor Outreach

Sometimes, our internship days would begin in unexpected ways. One morning, when we were walking up from the parking lot to the museum, we met a woman who was traveling from Alaska from various national parks. Unfortunately, she had come on a Tuesday in May, when the museum was only open Wednesday through Sunday. Instead of just forgetting about the interaction, we went inside and shared the story with Sarah and Dr. Jude Pfister. When we told them what happened, they brought us the park stamp and we raced down to the parking lot to see if we could still find this visitor before she left. Luckily, we caught her just in time and were able to give her the stamp she needed for her book. Overall, it was a win-win situation for all, the woman receiving her stamp and us learning a little lesson in visitor interaction and park service.

9. Beginner Anthropologists

From the very beginning of our internships, we have been involved in helping MNHP’s Instagram account (@morristownnps). Our first task was helping tackle #musuemweek, where each day required a new photo series that fit a different theme, from travel to books to food! One day, while conversing and exploring different photos and portraits of the museums and the Ford Mansion, we came up with our idea that would soon be named the “Then and Now” series. We took copies of the pictures we found and went on another photoshoot, this time lining up our pictures in the current park. We had to make sure that the angles and views lined up (which included standing on a couple benches or barriers that were not there when the pictures were take). In addition, making sure we picked recognizable locations, like the Ford Mansion and museum exteriors, was also essential. Some of these photos have made their way to Instagram already, with more rolling out throughout the year. Stay tuned!

10. Increasing Staff Morale

While our projects were our main focus during the summer, some of the best moments have been talking and especially laughing with the museum staff. The work we are doing is always important, but it is just as important to have an open environment in which to do it. Some days were full of research and planning, others included taking pictures, making flat rangers of museum staff, or field trips to see more history that Morristown has to offer. 

This is just a brief overview of a couple of the projects we have been able to tackle during our time at Morristown NHP. As September creeps closer, each of us will return to our universities after a summer of practical experience. We will trade our MNHP nametags and museum practices for textbooks and lecture attendance. However, we enter this coming school year with more information and knowledge of history and its place in the “real world”.

Thank you, Morristown, we cannot wait to come back soon.

Meghan, Phoebe, and Claire