Interesting artifacts deep in MOA archives
By Rosana Castilho
Museum of the Albemarle
Sunday, September 16, 2018
Finding hidden history within a museum's nook and crannies is a great learning experience no matter where the secret history is located.
When I was working as a collection assistant at the Museum of the Albemarle, I was assigned to work on a project to label all artifacts in the museum's storage area. Sandra Culpepper, a dedicated volunteer who is a history buff like me, agreed to help me.
As our historical odyssey began, our minds were piqued as we viewed and touched items that allowed us to find not only artifacts from a distant time but to question these objects and artifacts about their history.
I began researching the objects to know where they came from, whom they belonged to, what were they used for, where were they manufactured, and where were they used. My mind traveled back in time. I became fascinated by medical history many years ago.
The Museum of the Albemarle's storage has several medical instruments that belonged to different eras, centuries, and people. Most specific are artifact items that caught my attention; a birthing chair and a newborn incubator. These were examples of "primitive" and uncomfortable equipment.Those instruments belonged to Dr. Charles N. Wright, a rural doctor from the 1940s, originally from Currituck County.
By the time I got to the shelf of big boxes, what a stunned surprise: There were several boxes with artifacts from the Ku Klux Klan — the secret society known for racial and religious intimidation and violence. There was a robe, white rope belt and headpiece, white cotton straight flowing design with attached cape, long sleeves with Klan’s emblem signifying rank attached.
Also, there was a cone-shaped headpiece with attached Havelock. There was a mask/hood with red tassel embroidered and patch with confederate flag above tree red stripes.
I had a good time labeling the artifacts that dealt with hats in general. I was amazed by one fancy hat with colorful peacock's feathers! Then there were many others hats from different eras and styles. Local families have donated to the collection.
I found that the early styles, primarily for men included the felt three-cornered hat, the broad-brimmed Quaker hat, and various high hats. Those who wore top hats paid an annual state tax of four dollars for the privilege! Better quality hats were made of fur, with beaver pelts being most desirable. A high-quality handmade hat could cost more than any other article of clothing, the equivalent of $50 in today's currency. To keep costs down, hatters sometimes substituted raccoon, otter, and muskrat for beaver skins.
My heart melted when I found hidden toys. Toys from the 1700s were simple. At that time, kids didn't have as many toys as they do now. I saw wooden horses, a rocking horse, spinning toys, soldiers, hoop and stick, and a cute Humpty Dumpty Circus!
These are but a few of the hidden history items I encountered while exploring the nooks and crannies of the Museum of the Albemarle. More history then you and I could possibly believe.
Rosana Castilho is event rental coordinator for Museum of the Albemarle.