A Maryland 'Spin' on the Art of Storytelling

From the desk of
Burt Kummerow

Volume 2 Issue 6 
June 6, 2013

Dear Reader,

During this year's Preakness weekend, 5,000 museum professionals from as far away as China descended on the Monumental City. A lively few days ensued as the Convention Center buzzed with discussions about a successful future for the museum community. The 2013 American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting picked "The Power of Story" as its central theme. There is no better way for history museums to look to the future than to find great stories from the past. The AAM puts powerful stories at the very foundation of our human experience. The telling of stories in front of campfires or on Facebook unites us and gives our lives real meaning.

We have found a tale from early Maryland that illustrates the power of story. Among the many Marylanders who can reach out to us over two centuries is a lady who stands out. In 1921, the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) was the beneficiary of an amazing bequest. The Society had recently moved into the Enoch Pratt House, and a neighbor nearby decided to donate more than 600 treasured items related to a famous grandmother. Almost a hundred years later, we are using those amazing and well-preserved artifacts, from original dresses to traveling trunks, to fine jewelry, china and silver, to again tell the story of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.

Bonaparte Painting
"Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte," Gilbert Stuart, 1804, Private Collection
"Betsy," as most of the world knows her today, began her 94-year long life as a rich and beautiful ingénue, sporting the new 'French style' dresses at White House functions. Her two-year relationship with Napoleon's brother brought her international celebrity, but the full story of a fascinating and capable entrepreneur and woman of two worlds (America and Europe) paints a picture of a Marylander born a hundred years ahead of her time.

In the midst of the 1812 bicentennial, as the MdHS launches a Star Spangled Year culminating in next year's celebrations, we welcome Betsy Bonaparte into the circle of tales from that era. Beginning on June 9, you can share the power of story with us as we feature the life of one amazing Maryland woman. We invite you to join us as we continue our quest to find the Maryland stories that have helped shape and define the Old Line State's rich four century history.

See 'The Most Beautiful Woman
in 1812 America'

Bonaparte Tiara
Garnet and pearl tiara, Maryland Historical Society,
Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.297
Opening this Sunday, June 9 at 12pm, The Maryland Historical Society proudly presents our major new exhibition, Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy.

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was known as 'the most beautiful woman in 1812 America.' And she lived right here in Baltimore.

Her dramatic affairs kept the gossipmongers busy for most of her 94 years - see Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch's post below for those fascinating details. But we have chosen to focus on our 'Belle of Baltimore' as not only the center of a dramatic love story, but also for her skills as a capable businesswoman and a true American trendsetter.

This is the first time the Maryland Historical Society has featured an exhibition exclusively devoted to a historical female figure, and we hope that you will come out and see it.

The exhibition includes silver, porcelain, paintings, textiles, jewelry, manuscripts and furniture associated with Elizabeth and her descendants. Of particular note are a collection of extraordinary French porcelain purchased by Elizabeth in Paris around 1815, forty examples of silver used by Elizabeth, her pearl and garnet tiara and other jewelry, and one of her "scandalous" dresses in the French-style.

In total, more than 100 objects will be on view.

"Few historical figures I have studied intrigue me as much as Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte," says Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch. "Every time I read her letters and account books I discover another twist in her very complex story. Too often she has been remembered for her marriage, but in fact, her relationship with Jerome Bonaparte only lasted three years. She went on to live another seven decades, charting her own course, amassing her own fortune and making a life on her own terms. Elizabeth's story transcends time because it is the story of a strong-minded woman who shaped her own destiny despite the limitations society and her family tried to impose on her."

Alexandra will be giving two tours of the exhibition on Sunday, June 9 at 1 pm and 3 pm. Space is very limited, and registration is required. To sign up for the 1pm tour, click here. To sign up for the 3 pm tour, click here. You may also register by calling 410-685-3750 Ext. 377.

In addition, Alexandra will lead a Member's Opening tour of the exhibition on Thursday, June 20 at 6pm. All Members of the Maryland Historical Society are invited to attend for free. You may sign up for that tour by clicking here or by calling 410-685-3750 ext. 377.

A Very Special Evening - and AfterParty

Bonaparte Ball 
In celebration of the opening of our 'Woman of Two Worlds' exhibition, the Maryland Historical Society is hosting a Bonaparte Ball at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion on Saturday, June 8 at 7pm.

You can enjoy an evening of dancing, dinner, and merriment, as we toast our very own "Belle of Baltimore." This is our black-tie affair, and music will be provided by Kaleidscope one of the area's best 10-piece dance bands.

Valet parking will be available at the entrance to the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion (11 West Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore MD 21201).

A few tickets remain and may be purchased by calling David Belew at 410-685-3750 Ext. 399 or emailing dbelew@mdhs.org.

Bonaparte After Party
And later that evening, Saturday, June 8, from 9 pm-1 am, our Young Defenders of the Maryland Historical Society are hosting an Afterparty to the Bonaparte Ball called Fashionably Late.

It's a soiree for the Francophile in all of us, replete with a top-shelf open bar, heavy hors d'oeuvres, mouth-watering French desserts, and a few surprises.

Black tie is optional, with period dress encouraged. If you are interested in purchasing tickets for the Fashionably Late Afterparty, click here or call 410-685-3750 x399.

Special Thanks: The Maryland Historical Society is deeply grateful to the many funders who have made this evening possible, including Radcliffe Jewelers, PNC Bank, Breguet Watches, and our exhibition sponsor, The Von Hess Foundation.

'People Are Talking' About Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: In many ways, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was one of America's most fascinating early celebrities. But just what exactly were the gossipmongers saying about Elizabeth? Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch has more.

People are Talking: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and the Gossip

By Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator

In 1814, Elizabeth wrote to Dolley Madison, her friend and confidante, "[the] Public are so malicious & so much pleased when people meet with disappointments that I wish to avoid gratifying them again at my expense." Since her marriage in 1803 to Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoléon's brother, Elizabeth's life had gratified a gossip hungry public. The glamour of her union, followed by the devastating annulment of the marriage by Napoléon in 1805, provided perfect fodder for a public who found a famous person's "disappointments" titillating.

As Charlene Boyer Lewis pointed out in Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic (2012), Elizabeth craved the celebrity that came to her. Never content with Baltimore, she had long sought a bigger stage for her beauty, wit and ambition. Late in life she reflected to her friend, Martha Custis Williams Carter, "I suppose no one ever lived who was more ambitious than I was unless it might have been Napoleon & Alexander the Great."

To enhance her celebrity, Elizabeth dressed in a manner that won her attention, both negative and positive. Blessed with a beauty that captivated men and women alike, Elizabeth was among the first women in American to adopt the French fashion.

Bonaparte Painting
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Firmin Massot, 1823, MdHS, XX.5.69
Her thin muslin gowns, though not scandalous by modern standards, provoked comments. A female observer remarked on one of Elizabeth's gowns commenting, "Madame Jerome was there as handsome as ever but, a little more in the fashion of uncovering." The unstructured, high-waisted gowns of the early nineteenth century revealed women's figures in a way previously unknown. Arms and chests were bare, loosely cut muslins gave view to the outlines of a woman's legs, and undergarments, once rigidly structured, softened to accommodate the new, Classically-inspired styles.

Even today, one of the first questions I am asked about Elizabeth is "How see-through were her gowns?" During the creation of her mannequin, this question came up again and again. Did she really appear "naked?" The answer, much to most people's disappointment, is that she was never "naked" in the modern sense of the word. The mere fact that the outline of her figure and the movement of her hips and legs were visually evident was enough to send tongues wagging. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the wealthiest men in the country, remarked on Elizabeth's "no dress" as opposed to her "dress." To him, a man of the 18th century who recalled women wearing torso-length corsets and skirts full enough to conceal the movement of their legs, Elizabeth's choice of dress was in fact an absence rather than a presence. In fact, Elizabeth's inventories document the numerous shifts or slips she wore under her gowns as well as the "stay laces" she purchased for her corsets. With the addition of these underpinnings, the sheerness of her gowns was minimized.

Perhaps the most fascinating element of speaking about Elizabeth is that even today the aspect of "gossip" is central to the discussion. Assumptions are made about Elizabeth based on the same stereotypes of celebrity we embrace today. She was beautiful therefore no one thinks of her intelligence and business acumen. Her figure was stunning therefore she must have flaunted it as a celebrity would today. Men adored her therefore she must have had a romantic life worthy of comment.

Despite the fact that she lived her life without scandal in the modern sense, it is still viewed as scandalous. Yes, she defied American conventions of "proper" womanhood. She remained unmarried, traveled alone and never succumbed to society's prescribed role for a single woman. Forever focused on achieving an imperial legacy for her son, Bo, Elizabeth never entangled herself publicly with any man after Jérôme. Although her male admirers were many, there is no record of her private life beyond her associations with the Bonapartes, her travels, and her beauty. She had suitors, but never allowed herself to enter into any permanent entanglement. As one of her European acquaintances remarked, "You are a severely virtuous woman." She did not mean it as a compliment.

Despite this, people were always talking about Elizabeth and conjuring stories about her life. In 1873 before her death, the hunger for details about her private life had not abated. W.T.R. Saffell seized upon the public interest and published The Bonaparte Patterson Marriage, a book based on a large group of letters that had come into the author's possession. Although Elizabeth had spent most of her life caring deeply about public sentiment, in later years she cared little. In the preface to Saffell's book he wrote that he contacted "Mde. Bonaparte" about the book and she told him, "the publication of the volume was a matter of perfect indifference to her."

Even today, "people are talking" about Elizabeth and, I suspect, they will never stop. As Lady Sydney Morgan, her friend, remarked, "there is about her a perpetual curiosity and romance." Just as Elizabeth often wrote "true" in the margins of her books when she agreed with what she read, I say, "true," to Lady Morgan's sentiment.

Paul Henderson Goes to City Hall:
A New Exhibit at the Mayor's Office

Protesting Jim Crow Admissions policy at Ford's Theatre, HEN.00.A2-156

The Maryland Historical Society is happy to announce the first stop on its new traveling exhibit, Paul Henderson: Maryland's Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960. The 45-piece photo print exhibit opened June 5 in the rotunda at Baltimore City Hall (100 N Holliday St., Baltimore, MD 21202). The traveling exhibit is nearly twice as large as the show currently on display at MdHS and is free and open to the public. Viewing times at City Hall are Monday - Fridays, 9am to 5pm. Photo ID is required for entry into City Hall.

Paul Henderson's work is an invaluable visual record of both the Civil Rights movement and everyday life in Maryland. Photo prints on display at City Hall and MdHS include well-known figures such as actor and singer Paul Robeson, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Gov. Theodore McKeldin, actress and singer Pearl Bailey, and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson; bygone landmarks such as the Royal Theatre and old Pennsylvania Avenue; students and educators of Morgan State College; and many unknown Maryland residents.

Paul Henderson: Maryland's Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960 also represents MdHS's continuing attempt to identify the people and locations in Henderson's photos. This exhibit follows an identification event in April sponsored by the Pierians Incorporated, Baltimore Chapter held at MdHS during which more than 100 attendees helped identify many people and places. But more work is needed. Most of the prints containing unknown people and places have QR codes printed on the labels that will take smartphone users to an online survey where they can type in names and other information. Identification forms will also be available in the rotunda at City Hall near the prints.

The exhibit is curated by Joe Tropea and Jennifer A. Ferretti. For more information, contact Joe Tropea at 410-685-3750 x376, or by email: jtropea@mdhs.org

Stitching History!
The Star Spangled Banner Project:
A Field Trip to Family Heirloom Weavers

Family Heirloom Weavers
David Kline and his grandson, Matt Barley
Thread by thread, antique looms are weaving the fabric that will become the heart and soul of our Stitching History: Star Spangled Banner Project, which is due to begin on July 4th.

Education Director Kristin Schenning recently visited the fabric manufacturers, a textile mill called Family Heirloom Weavers in Red Lion, Pennsylvania.

This small, 3-generation family-owned business is one of just a handful of textile mills left in the United States. They reproduce designs from the 18th-21st Centuries and manufacture them on old power looms.

You may have seen their work before and not even known it - they are in high demand as a producer of authentic reproductions of textiles for Presidential homes, Colonial Williamsburg, and museums across the country. Even Hollywood has used Family Heirloom Weaver's material - from carpets in the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln to shirting in Cold Mountain. They have done it all.

David Kline
David Kline demonstrates
"I've worked in mills since 1950," says owner David Kline, "My first job was fixing looms. I also worked for Caterpillar, but when they went belly up in 1982, I decided to open my own mill."

Along with his wife Carole, David seized upon an opportunity. "We knew no one was weaving Pennsylvania German Jacquard coverlets. Most looms have slats, like a handweaver. You have to do geometric patterns on them. With a Jacquard loom, you can do anything."

And the rest, as they say, is history. The National Park Service commissioned Family Heirloom Weavers to weave carpets for many historic sites, including Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois and Appomattox Court House.

David and his team view our Stitching History: Star Spangled Banner Project as a special treat. "We had woven bunting before, but never something like this," David said.

Kristin received a copy of the Smithsonian Institution's detailed conservation report on the original Star Spangled Banner, which she shared with David and his team. They made some interesting discoveries about how the flag was constructed.

David at the loom
David at the loom that is manufacturing the white fabric
For example, the original Star Spangled Banner fabric is about 17 threads per inch weft. It's very loose. To compare, a necktie has 240 threads per inch! "The loose weave makes the flag flutter," David adds.

The very source of the original fabric that Mary Pickersgill used is a mystery. After all, during the War of 1812, imports from Britain weren't allowed, although trade did not stop just because there was a war. The Smithsonian's report verified that the flag was made from imported British wool.

"I imagine a lot of the blue fabric varied in color," David added. "Indigo dyeing wasn't a science; you don't know what you're going to get when you lay the fabric out in the sun."

For our Stitching History Project, we're trying to stick as closely as possible to the techniques and fabrics that Mary Pickersgill used 200 years ago. We ordered the yarn from Jagger Brothers in Springfield, Maine. The yarn was dyed by the Saco River Dye House - "they knew how urgent this project was, so the folks at Jagger personally drove the yarn to the dye house, and their team waited up all night for the colors to dry," David said. Then the thread was wound onto 1 lb cones and shipped to Family Heirloom Weavers.

Once it arrived, they had to break down the thread onto ½ pound cones.

The Wheel
Then the warping process began. They used a huge wheel to prepare the yarn for the loom. It took about a day to set up the heddles (needles) so that the thread would enter the loom properly. "On our first setup, we weren't getting the correct fabric width," David said. "You must assume a certain amount of pull in the fabric to give the product 25" of width, which was what we were looking for, but we were getting somewhere around 23."

So they had to pull everything out and do it again. "This is a working museum," David laughs. The hum of the looms weaving our fabric sure was soothing - click here to see them in operation! In total we have ordered 110 yards of red fabric, 110 yards of white fabric, and 55 yards of blue fabric for our project, which will begin on July 4th.

Details About Our Project

The Maryland Historical Society has recruited a team of over 100 experienced volunteers to help us recreate the Star Spangled Banner in the timeframe that Mary Pickersgill did. The deadline for signing up as an official volunteer for the project is June 19.

While Mary worked with her daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and African American indentured servant Grace Wisher to complete the flag in six weeks, we, too, aim to recreate the flag during the same time period 200 years later.

The completed flag will be flown at Fort McHenry during the Defenders Day celebration in September of 2013. Then, in 2014, it will make its way to the Smithsonian's American History Museum, where the original Star Spangled Banner is on display.

Add Your Stitch! And Be a Part of History

Stitching History

Did you know that YOU can help us construct our Star Spangled Banner? In addition to our team of experienced stitchers, we are enlisting the support of our friends and the general public.

To do this, we will have two public sewing days, where anyone can come in and put a stitch or two in the flag! These two days will be Saturday, August 3 and Sunday August 11 from noon till 3 each day. We already have several hundred people signed up, but have room for more!

Sign up to add your stitch today!

August 3rd signup   |   August 11th signup

Fragile History:
Digitizing Der Deutsch Correspondent

By David Belew, Development Coordinator

Old Documents
Newspapers are incredibly valuable resources. Headlines provide historians with a daily record of major events while advertisements, personal ads, and editorials give insight to the general attitudes and preferences of an era. Unfortunately, the newspaper's historical value does not correlate with the value of the physical medium! 19th and 20th century newspapers are inherently cheap and produced with an acid-base that does not stand the test of time. Over the years, archivists have developed increasingly sophisticated ways to preserve the medium for researchers. Though we love the sound of our old microfilm reader, we're thrilled that a recent gift from the Charles Edward Hilgenberg Fund of the Baltimore Community Foundation has invigorated the monumental task of digitizing Der Deutsche Correspondent.

Many of the immigrants that poured into the ports of Baltimore throughout the 19th century were German speakers. They established their own neighborhoods, schools, breweries, and of course newspapers! The Maryland Historical Society has one of the largest known collections in existence of Der Deutsche Correspondent, a newspaper that served Baltimore's thriving German population from 1841-1918. Der Deutsche Correspondent provides insight into their daily lives as well the American-German perspective of the revolutions of 1848, the Civil War, and the outbreak of WWI. It is a priceless resource, but because it is a German-language paper, it had not always received the same level of attention or care as its English contemporaries.

Once a document reaches a certain point of degradation, the decay increases exponentially. In 2009 when the Hilgenberg Archive Project first began, the Der Deutsche Correspondent collection was in critical need of stabilization. The Charles Edward Hilgenberg Fund's commitment to the collection enabled us to better preserve the collection by encasing it in special Tyvek paper, but the scope of the Hilgenberg Archive Project is much greater and involves participation from institutions across Maryland. All 84,000 pages of the Der Deutsche Correspondent will be digitized and made available for web-based access. Digitization has been outsourced to Crowley Imaging, of Frederick, Maryland. Using special Zeutschel scanners that do not make direct contact with the paper, Crowley Imaging creates high resolution scans that minimize further damage to the collection. It is a costly and meticulous process that, four years later, is entering its final stages of completion.

Once the collection has been digitized in its entirety, we continue the hard work of translating the materials to make them more accessible to researchers. The Language Department at University of Maryland Baltimore County has been very committed to helping us translate sections of the collection. Ultimately, Der Deustche Correspondent will be the core of a Maryland German Heritage program that provides for continued arrangement, description, and access to related collections at MdHS and other institutions. Out of newspapers that were so fragile parts crumbled with every turning page, the Hilgenberg family created a lasting legacy at the Maryland Historical Society that will make available Baltimore's rich German history to researchers around the world.

Please join us for the Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the Maryland Historical Society

We are entering a Star-Spangled Year with a series of 1812 commemorative exhibits and programs, and want to provide you with a sneak peak of our plans for 2013-2014.
You're Invited
  • Kristin Schenning, Director of Education, will preview our latest project for the bicentennial celebration, Stitching History, a six-week labor of love to reconstruct an accurate, full-scale replica of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag

  • Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator, will offer a special glimpse of our newest exhibition, Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy
We hope you can participate in this opportunity to catch up on this year's happenings at the Maryland Historical Society. We will be hosting a reception to thank you, our members, for your exceptional support this year.

To RSVP please call 410-685-3750 ext. 377 or email events@mdhs.org. You can also register online by clicking here. As always, this program is FREE to members and their family members.

Like 'History Alive?' Share it With a Friend!

I hope you're enjoying our monthly History Alive! E-newsletter. If you have a friend or family member who might enjoy receiving up-to-the-minute news and information about our events and exhibitions (and, of course, our trivia questions), simply send them this link: www.mdhs.org/signup

And they can sign up!

Speaking of Trivia...

Trivia Time!

Congratulations to everyone who correctly answered last month's question! 

John T. Ford was the owner of the Ford Theater on Tenth Street in Washington, DC, the notorious location of John Wilkes' Booth's assassination of President Lincoln. After Lincoln's death, Ford and his brother were arrested and questioned for ten days.

The Federal government seized the Ford Theater, but would later reimburse him for the loss.

Afterwards, the assassination became something of an obsession for Ford. He saved much of his pre-assassination correspondences with the Booth Family regarding theatrical performances as well as papers relating to the theater and his arrest. The Maryland Historical Society possesses a large collection of these original materials.

Ready for this month's question?

Question:  Approximately 18,000 African-American sailors fought for America during the War of 1812. Some, such as Charles Ball, fought alongside Commodore Joshua Barney in the Battle of Baltimore.

What were these sailors called? Email us your answer, and you, too, could win a prize! Best of luck.

Until next month,

Burton Kummerow
President, The Maryland Historical Society
Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." The Society is located at 201 W. Monument Street and open to the public Wednesday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm, and Sunday (library only) 12 pm-5pm.