Stories from the (Gettysburg) Basement

By Rachel Hammer ’15

Last time I interned at the Gettysburg National Military Park, it was January of 2011. And if anyone needs reassurance that not many people visit Gettysburg in the dead of winter…not many people visit Gettysburg in the dead of winter. So, having the opportunity to spend a summer, especially the summer of the 150th, at Gettysburg was quite the culture shock. Not that my primary job involved much interaction with visitors, which personally is how I enjoy working. Five days a week, I worked in museum services in the Visitor Center lower level (aka the basement).

I’ve had an interest in the archival and curatorial side of museums since high school. I now work in Special Collections at Musselman Library at Gettysburg College, and it’s the general direction I hope to go with my life. I greatly respect interpreters for what they do, because they’re passionate enough to go out everyday and hype up visitors with a story that hopefully will stick with the visitor for a long time. For me, I like being able to prepare behind the scenes and let the visitor interpret the object, exhibit, etc. for themselves. This internship allowed me to see more of both archival and curatorial duties, practices, and even problems.

GETT - Mosby Scarf
Mosby’s scarf in the new “Treasures of the Civil War” exhibit.

For the first weeks of the summer, another intern and I had to go through a back log of nearly 1,000 photos from the 1990s, assign them catalog numbers, write the individual catalog number on every single photo, put them in our special archival photo boxes, and label them.  Although the grunt work part of this project was dull at times, it did lead to learning about cold storage (how photos are stored in order to best preserve them). Once the photos were in the archival photo boxes, the box is wrapped in two layers of plastic (making sure everything is sealed as air tight as possible) and put in a fridge. A humidity strip on the box and between the layers of plastic show if there’s air leaking into the box.

Along with this project, I also got to rehouse and update finding aids on a couple of files. But one of the coolest aspects of museum services is being able to work with artifacts, which I had the opportunity to do a few times throughout the summer. What I consider my crowning achievement of the summer though, was creating a stand for John Mosby’s scarf in the new Treasures of the Civil War exhibit. Because of issues with the original stand, we had to construct a new one basically from scratch! Another fun exhibit to help set up were post-war reunion ribbons. Despite having to reshift them about five times so they would all fit, it was an amazing experience to be able to help put together an exhibit. I also got to see what awesome objects the museum has in its vast collection. Many people don’t realize that the objects in the museum are less than 10% of the collection. I will probably not have the opportunity ever again to go through a Civil War surgeon’s kit, see Grant’s cigar box, or touch Pettigrew’s, Custer’s, and Mosby’s coats or Doubleday’s hat.

GETT - Reunion Ribbon Display
Reunion Ribbon Display at Gettysburg

Then there was the 150th. It was an exciting, crazy time. I shouldn’t have expected any less when dealing with the onslaught of people that invaded Gettysburg for two weeks, however, I can’t say I was completely prepared for assisting at the information desk (since I worked in the basement most of the time). So, after spending a half hour observing other people running the desk and speed-reading the handy 150th guide, I was ready to go. I went home July 3rd exhausted, with a headache, and no voice. However, when I wasn’t working, the 150th was a great thing to experience in Gettysburg. For two weeks, there was a feeling of craziness, yet an air of respect for everything Gettysburg represented.

This summer has been a crazy one and showed me a still have a lot to learn in the field I want to go in, but working at museum services at the Gettysburg National Military Park once again was a great experience to have.

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