November History Alive

One Amazing Lady!

From the desk of
Burt Kummerow

Volume 2 Issue 11
October 30, 2013

Dear Reader,

I was a producer at Maryland Public Television in the 1970s when I first learned of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. Helen Jean Burn, then the MPT Head Writer, was busily working on a play about this Maryland femme fatale.

Over the next three decades, Helen Jean's fascination turned into a biography that was only recently published by the Maryland Historical Society. Like most others, I was immediately taken by what I like to call Madame Bonaparte's "People Magazine" moment, her 15 minutes of fame if you will. We are so addicted to the 30 second sound bites that have come to dominate our 24/7 CNN Headline lives.

Spangled Dress
A glimpse of Elizabeth's beautiful spangled gown
When the Betsy Bonaparte story appeared again, I was now at the helm of the MdHS and, as the memory house of Betsy's legacy, the Society decided to give her a large piece of its 1812 era anniversary.

Thanks to Tom Cook and the Van Hess Foundation and a private donor, we were able to mount a jewel box of an exhibit. All the beautiful bling of a prominent family is there, but Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch wanted more than decorative arts to remember a fascinating story. Poring through books filled with marginal notes, letters, diaries and all but obsessive account lists, Alexandra may have gotten almost as close to this proactive and controversial woman, now gone for 134 years, as anyone during her lifetime.

What I learned again from this exercise is that no one is defined by a single episode no matter how important it might be. Beautiful, beguiling Elizabeth Patterson stepped on the world stage at age 18. Married briefly to a brother of Napoleon, she had a child by that union and a quest for nobility that charted much of the rest of her long life. But, when you look at the quotes that line the exhibit and read the object labels in the cases, a much fuller story emerges.

A text book from an early private school attests to her growing love of all things French. A chest, decorated with many versions of her name, stands as a testament to her many, many travels in two worlds over half a century. A tiny pair of expensive shoes documents her interest in continuing to be a "fashionista" well into her 80s.

During her 94 years, Betsy left behind a marvelous legacy and Alexandra took the time to discover much of it. Yes, "Madame," as her grandsons called her, was haughty, self-centered, often depressed and probably not very likeable. Beyond her gift of extraordinary beauty that turned heads, she was also smart, curious, focused, down to earth and very practical when she put her mind to it. Her business dealings that made her a millionaire exemplify a worldly woman a century ahead of her time.

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte will be captivating visitors here at the Maryland Historical Society throughout 2014, the last year of the 1812 Bicentennial. We invite you to carve out an afternoon and discover the unforgettable story of a truly memorable Marylander.

Our November Events

A Special Invitation To Madame Bonaparte's Tea

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte - White Dress
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, François Josephe Kinsoen, circa 1817, MdHs, x.5.72
Fresh from Paris, Madame Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte cordially requests your presence at the Bonaparte Tea on Sunday, November 10 at 2pm at The Maryland Historical Society.

We will sip on tea and nibble delectable French refreshments, just like Elizabeth did on her many European adventures.

While you're here, Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch will provide you with a rare glimpse at never-before-seen items from the Maryland Historical Society's priceless garment collection.

For the first (and only) time, you can see two fragile surviving dresses from Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte's extensive wardrobe.

One of these dresses, an elegant black mantilla, was given to Elizabeth by her husband, Jerome Bonaparte. She cherished it her whole life.

The other, a daring muslin of the early 19th century, was rumored to be 'backless' and scandalized more conservative-minded women.

Perhaps the most treasured piece we will have on display was actually found in a simple box labeled "Scraps." Inside was a never-before seen silk "bra" or corset, a rare survival of early 19th century fashion. Most likely dating to the period of her marriage (1803-1804), this corset is devoid of boning or any stiffening, showcasing Elizabeth's natural curves and causing quite a stir at society events.

But we won't show you the picture here - you'll have to come and see for yourself on November 10!

Just What Did Elizabeth Do To Set The Gossipmongers Atwitter?

During our afternoon tea, Curator Deutsch will be debunking myths about Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, a true fashion legend.

French Desserts
Delicious Desserts
Baltimore-born Elizabeth Patterson was indeed known as 'the most beautiful woman in 1812 America,' and she was renowned for her sharp wit and celebrated bosom.

Elizabeth wore the latest European fashions - gowns considered risqué by American standards. Personal letters salaciously described her as 'an almost naked woman.'

But how true was this? Using surviving textiles as well as extensive documentation, Deutsch will reveal countless "surprises" and discoveries from the Bonaparte collection.

Curator Deutsch will then take you on a personal through the exhibition, Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy, to discuss the remarkable life and legacy of the woman who wore a wedding gown so small it was said to "fit in a pocket."

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte truly was a woman for the ages. And the power of Elizabeth's fashions took on a mythology of its own - it set tongues wagging, and they have never stopped.

This should be a fantastic afternoon, and we look forward to seeing you here!

Ticket Prices For Madame Bonaparte's Tea 
Tickets are $40/members; $50/nonmembers. To register please call 410-685-3750 ext. 377 or visit the Maryland Historical Society website. 

Our 2nd Annual 'Fabulous Fashions' of 1812 Show!

On Sunday, November 3 at 2 pm, the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) will host the second annual Fabulous Fashions of 1812 Show - and you're invited to join us!

Carlous Palmer
Original designs by Carlous Palmer
This is an educational event featuring original creations of "Fabulous Fashions" by Baltimore-based designers Carlous Palmer, Tori Burns, Cat Reinheimer, and Janeen Brown. Even Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte herself, portrayed by actress Rana Kay, will make an appearance!

The collections "...will have a more modern take on the time period and less literal in its visual delivery," says Carlous Palmer. Original creations will feature a variety of looks from military-inspired apparel to ethereal gowns with sheer overlays. There will also be historic fashions to start the show and a presentation on the language of fans.

This afternoon of fashion, food and fun is partially funded through Baltimore National Heritage Area's 1812 Education Committee. Additional program support is provided by The American Flag Foundation, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Maryland Historical Society, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and Christopher Schafer Clothier, Baltimore Fashion Alliance BFA.

See you there!

Ticket Prices For The 'Fabulous Fashions' of 1812 Show
Tickets are $35. To register, visit the MdHS website
Or, call Janet Caslow at 410-241-8693 or e-mail: 

Under the Layers: Paint Analysis in Historic Buildings

Male Protestors
Clifton, Grand Staircase:
Recovered decoration from the Johns Hopkins era, ca. 1852
Live in a historic building? Then you won't want to miss this. On Thursday, November 7 at 6pm, join us for a fascinating discussion by Historic Paint Finishes Specialist Matthew Mosca.

Matthew will discuss some of the paint materials of the 18th and early 19th century, how paints were made, period thoughts on the use of color, historical examples of "faux" finishes - graining and marbling - and some remarkable surviving examples of period decoration.

The lecture is a part of our Fall Francis Scott Key Lecture Series. Tickets are $40 per lecture, or $175 for the complete series (couples series for $300). See our website for more information and to register. Call 410-685-3750 Ext. 399 for details.

Tickets Going Fast For Our Special Evening 
With James McPherson!

James M. McPherson
James M. McPherson
We recently informed you about Pulitzer-prize winning author and historian Professor James M. McPherson's upcoming lecture on Thursday, November 14 beginning at 4 PM, and we want to let you know that tickets are almost sold out! If you are interested in hearing Dr. McPherson speak, or enjoying a special dinner featuring Dr. McPherson at The Maryland Club, please reserve your seats as soon as possible.

Dr. McPherson will speak on the subject of The Civil War on Land and by Sea: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief.

With the film "Lincoln" on many minds, McPherson's analysis of the president's special, even unique, leadership skills during the crisis makes this one of the most eagerly anticipated Maryland Historical Society events of the year.

The evening begins at 4 pm with a personal tour with Dr. McPherson of our 'Divided Voices: Maryland In the Civil War" Gallery. McPherson's lecture and book signing will follow at 6 pm. Light refreshments will be served.

War on the Waters
The evening will culminate with a dinner at The Maryland Club at 8pm.

Dr. McPherson will be signing copies of his newest book, War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (2012). Copies of his book, as well as his other recent publication, Lincoln, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson (Sep 29, 2009), will be available for purchase.

Dr. James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He has published numerous volumes on the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom, Crossroads of Freedom (which was a New York Times bestseller), Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, which won the Lincoln Prize.

Ticket prices for the event are as follows:
Lecture and Book Signing Only: Tickets for the Lecture and Book Signing, beginning at 6 pm, are $20 per person for MdHS members and $25 per person for nonmembers. Tickets may be purchased by clicking here or calling 410-685-3750 ext. 377.
Dinner, Civil War Gallery Tour, Lecture and Book Signing: Tickets for the Civil War Gallery Tour, Lecture & Book Signing and Dinner at the Maryland Club are $125 per person and may be purchased by clicking here or calling 410-685-3750 ext. 377.

This event is part of the Maryland Historical Society's Maritime Lecture series. Space is extremely limited, and tickets have been going fast, so reserve your tickets while you still can!

Rare Items From the Kennedy Archives  
Here at MdHS!

Rennert Whiskey
President John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy with violinist, May 12, 1962, R.L. Knudsen, photographer, MS 3126 Box 18 Folder 6, Political and Presidential Ephemera Collection, (On deposit; Non-MdHS item)
November 22, 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination. And we here at The Maryland Historical Society are commemorating this event in a very special way. Our Library Blog, entitled Underbelly, will share some rare materials from its archives, which commemorate of the life of the beloved President.

A small sample of letters, photographs, and original poetry will give a glimpse of President Kennedy's impact on the lives of a handful of Marylanders. Materials can be requested at the special collections desk every Wednesday through Saturday from 10-5pm.

Be sure to check it out! The website address is:

Proud Partners In Mount Vernon

War on the Waters

I am very happy to announce the rebirth of The Mount Vernon Cultural District!

Founded in 1996, it is a nonprofit made up of a dozen world-class cultural institutions in the Mount Vernon area of Baltimore. The Maryland Historical Society is proud to be a founding member of this group.

Every month we will showcase and promote the cultural attractions, timely events, and unique charm of our Mount Vernon neighborhood through a new, monthly e-newsletter that is written by own very own marketing director, Laura Rodini. Laura also serves as executive director of the Mount Vernon Cultural District.

So check out the website and sign up for the latest on what's going on downtown!

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:

And they can sign up!

Speaking of Trivia...

Trivia Time!

Boonsboro Monument
The Boonsboro Monument
Congratulations to everyone who correctly answered our last trivia question! The Maryland city that completed America's first monument to George Washington is Boonsboro, Maryland, of Washington County.

In 1827, the citizens of Boonsboro wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July in style. At 7AM, most of the town's 500 citizens gathered in the town square. They proceeded two miles to the summit of South Mountain and worked throughout the day constructing the 30 foot high rugged stacked stone homage to George. The monument has had some difficulty standing the test of time and has been rebuilt twice since 1827. Today, thanks to the restorative work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, visitors can see the tower in all its glory at Washington Monument State Park. It seems to honor the collective pride and work ethic of the people of Boonsboro as much as our first president!

Ready for this month's question?

Question: Happy Halloween! Many of us search for a good scare this time of year and nothing quite does it like a horror movie. Maryland's wealth of deep forests, historic homes, and zany characters make it the perfect setting for bumps in the night, and the multitude of horror flicks set here make the scares feel all to close to home. A recent post from our library blog, clarifies that the cursed book from the Blair Witch Project, set in Burkittsville, is not held in our collections despite the film's claim. Three films: Snakehead Terror, Swarm of the Snakefish, and Frankenfish, embellish the invasive fish from Crofton to horrific effect, and just this year, Barry Levinson eschewed his typical cinematic love letters to Maryland to make The Bay, a terrifying film giving us a new reason to fear the water!

This cinematic classic from 1973 takes place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., but is loosely based off of real events, shrouded in mystery and skepticism, that took place in Maryland in the 1940s.

Name the film and the Maryland county where the real events purportedly took place.

Email us your answer, and you, too, could win a prize! Best of luck.

Until next month,

Burton Kummerow
President, The Maryland Historical Society

From Our Friends

The Kinseys Opening November 2 at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum: The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey - Where Art and History Intersect. This world-class collection of art and artifacts chronicling over 400 years of African American history and culture from the 1600s to the present and includes an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Dred Scott Decision, a signed copy of Brown vs. Board of Education, and works from prominent Harlem Renaissance artists. Katie Couric has called The Kinsey Collection a "cultural inheritance." For more details visit their website by clicking here.

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.