Category Archives: HistoryMaking

Mahaffie Blog Post #9 by Maddy Hajer

As this is my last blog post, I will discuss my last archaeological panel and other loose ends before I finish my time as an intern at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farmstead. This final panel still relates to archaeology and between myself, my supervisor Katie Lange, and Mahaffie’s site manager Tim Talbott, we created a unique panel that links the soil analysis process I mentioned in my previous blog post and the actual Mahaffie artifacts that will be on display for the exhibit. We decided to put an image of different soil layers in the middle of the panel with labels that give an approximate historical era or date for each layer. There will be different colors of brown and red depending on which era the soul is labeled under. Then we place one artifact in each soil label section. There is a plethora of archaeological artifacts at Mahaffie, and we have collected a handful for this exhibit. Those specific artifacts are subject to change as we are still in the brainstorming stage of the exhibit. I tried to pick a wide variety of artifacts that can connect to the other panels in the exhibit. Some of the ones I wanted to use are broken glass pieces, a mammal bone, a button, a belt buckle, a piece of ceramic doll hair, and a few other pottery pieces. The overall theme of the panel besides giving an example of soil analysis is the diverse travelers and occupants of the farmhouse besides the Mahaffie family who would have used the outhouse/s on the property. Since we are trying to make this exhibit interactive and a lot of kids will be viewing this exhibit, we decided to make the comments or labels for the artifacts more like questions. This will allow them to think and reflect on what the lives of children were like back in the mid-19th century as well as build on critical thinking skills they will be learning in school. The ceramic piece of doll hair is a particular favorite of mine as it captures the audience of children and would help adults think about the difficulties of trying to potty-train children with outhouses before indoor plumbing was widespread.

The entire process of brainstorming regarding this exhibit was a long one. After I had summarized all of my original text and twisted it into easier language for children, Tim, Katie, and I all met and discussed how we were going to implement the artifacts, photos, and artistic features of the exhibit. We decided on basic muted colors and a thicker font since this exhibit will be outside and may be harder to read than a traditional exhibit inside, especially if it is cloudy or dreary on a particular day. After this meeting, Tim and I began working in Adobe Illustrator to create a rough draft for each panel. That is where I am now and have the drafts for all three nearly completed. There will be much tweaking before it is over, and I may not even be an intern at Mahaffie anymore once they actually construct the panels and install the full exhibit. Whether I am there or not, I am still proud of the work we have done, and I believe this outhouse exhibit will be a valuable addition to the Mahaffie Farmstead and to the public awareness of local history.

Mahaffie Blog #8 by Maddy Hajer

For this blog post, I will be talking about my first archaeological panel for the outhouse exhibit at the Mahaffie Farmstead. The title, as I mentioned in a previous blog, will be the color of red clay to tie in the themes of archaeological dig excavations. This specific panel focuses on the various archaeological techniques archaeologists use at and for dig sites in order to collect more information from a given excavation site. One of the key techniques I highlight include flotation- which is straining excavation soil to find small artifacts or remains like seeds, dead insects, bones; another important technique archaeologists use is soil analysis. Soil analysis creates a land, weather, and human timeline that forms a pattern on soil. Lighter soil towards the top of a dig site is younger whereas darker soil towards the bottom is older. Archaeologists can estimate an approximate historical era of a specific soil layer. They can also tell what parts of the soil were disturbed or changed by weather or land movement and what parts of the soil were disturbed or changed by human movement. If one wants an accurate soil analysis, one needs a soil chart that helps match soil colors. The most famous soil color chart archaeologists use is the Munsell soil color chart. Matching soil colors is similar to matching up different paint shades or colors except there is the factor of a historical timeline to consider when looking at soil. From soil, we can tell if earthquakes or storms have occurred in a dig site area. We can also tell what humans may have been doing in that area, especially with the help of artifacts. Artifacts act as trails humans leave behind for future generations to study history.

Artifacts are the strongest link between archaeology and history, and they are also the physical bond between people working in those fields. Archaeologists analyze the artifacts and historians can interpret them with what they already know about a given object, time period, or group of people. Other techniques archaeologists use to collect information from dig sites are ground penetrating radar and aerial photography. Ground penetrating radar greatly reduces the labor of digging and the machine used for it looks similar to the tool treasure hunters use. It helps show archaeologists the rough physical characteristics of the subsurface of a dig site. It saves a lot of time and is a great help to archaeologists. Aerial photography is filming footage of a site from the air. This can serve several purposes but the main two are that one, archaeologists can get a full scope of the area they are working in, and two, it can help them interpret the history of an area when looking at the same land from a different angle. One can catch things from the air that are difficult or impossible to see when remaining on level ground. There are many other techniques archaeologists use to piece the puzzles together regarding a dig site area and the history there, but these are the main ones that remain critical in the field of modern archaeology.

Mahaffie Blog Post #7 by Maddy Hajer

From my last post, I briefly talked about four items that will be inside the outhouse exhibit at the Mahaffie Farmstead: a bucket of lye, corn cobs, a chamber pot, and medicated paper. These four items will serve as items that were necessary for outhouse users in order to keep clean and to keep the smell of human waste at bay as best they could. The bucket of lye or lime was often sprinkled down outhouse holes in order to cover the smell of human waste. For the actual bucket in the outhouse exhibit, the site manager Tim and I got an old, crumpled bucket which he hammered out some to make it stand on the floor upright. We mixed bagged concrete chunks with water to make concrete and after mixing it thoroughly, poured it into the silver bucket. As that sat and began settling, we took buckets of ashes from the cook stove in the farmhouse and sprinkled them on top of the concrete. We had to pull out roots and other random objects from the ash bucket, but we got enough ash to cover the concrete completely and create a nice solid layer at the top of the bucket. We had some concerns about kids trying to kick the can over but in the event that it happens, we can always add more ash to the top for replenishing the exhibit item. For the corn cobs, I grabbed one down in the collections storage area and both Katie and Tim say that they have other corn cobs we can use for the exhibit. We were thinking of piling a bunch of corn cobs to the top of a bucket and setting near one of the outhouse seat holes to show that this was often what people used as toilet paper. The medicated paper Katie gave me represents the first commercial toilet paper. Although it was created in the 1850s, the same era the Mahaffies moved to their farm in Olathe, it was not widespread or readily available to many people who could have used it. That will be set either on the display panel or with the other outhouse user items next to a seat hole.

     The chamber pot is the fourth item that I discuss at the bottom of the outhouse panel and according to Tim, it was not nearly as popular as we would believe. From what he knows, outhouses were used in pretty much all cases except for the sick, the elderly, nighttime emergencies, and in cases of extreme inclement weather. For these situations, one would use the chamber pot and sometimes a chamber pot that was connected to a chair if one were not physically able or well. Tim and I were searching through some books to try and glean more information regarding chamber pots. The one I was reading tells us that it was normal for households to buy several chamber pots at a time since they were so liable to break due to household accidents.

Mahaffie Blog #6 by Maddy Hajer

    Since my last blog, I have been working on drafting more of the outhouse exhibit panels at the Mahaffie Farmstead. I am past the drafting stage and am now working in Adobe Illustrator to create a few example panels for my supervisor Katie and the site manager Tim. We had a meeting and decided on three panels: a panel about the history of outhouses, particularly ones that were used by middle-class people,  a panel about archaeological techniques used by archaeologists and historians to recover artifacts and interpret the past; the last one is a panel about the different artifacts that I pulled for the exhibit. Although the artifacts are mostly surface finds, most of them are connected to archaeological excavation sites on the Farmstead. I have chosen pieces of glass, a ceramic doll hair piece, some pieces of pottery, and a few other items that I may decide to switch around the last minute before we actually create the hard copies of the panels. I brainstormed ideas of panel designs and chose a simply black font for all panels except for the archaeological panel titles which will be a red clay color to represent soil layers found at archaeological excavation sites. For each panel I have about 4-5 paragraphs and each paragraph talks about the different subtopics found within the broad categories of archaeological techniques, the history of outhouses, and artifact analysis. For the panel that talks about the history of outhouses, I talk about how the one at the Farmstead is a reproduction and not the real Mahaffie outhouse. The real Mahaffie outhouse location has never been found so the reproduction is what it may have looked like to the best of our knowledge. I then go into the purposes of outhouses: that they were also trash cans or garbage bins in addition to acting as bathrooms for people. Because they acted as trash cans, historians and archaeologists can find a lot of valuable artifacts within the remains of an outhouse building.

     I also describe the difficulties of potty-training children in outhouses and the encumbrance of ladies using the outhouse with bulky hoop skirts. Typically, an outhouse would have 2 or 3 holes for seats instead of just the one hole that popular myth suggests. It is also interesting to learn that outhouses were usually unisex. At some point, there were separate outhouses for men and women, possibly signified by the carving of the moon and the star at the top of the outhouse door. But according to historical legend, the outhouses for men were not kept up properly and fell by the wayside. Instead, the men just started using the outhouses for women and that is how unisex outhouses became popular. At the bottom of the outhouse panel, I am putting four pictures of: a bucket of lye, some corn cobs, a chamber pot, and medicated paper. These items will be within the exhibit and have tiny separate paragraphs of their own in order to describe their purposes to visitors.

Mahaffie Blog Post #5 by Maddy Hajer

  As I now have worked for several days on the outhouse archaeology exhibit panels, the history and technique behind outhouse archaeology is much more complicated than I originally would have thought. To begin with, many of the outhouse archaeology articles I have read talk about urban outhouse dig sites, particularly in areas of the Northeast like Boston, New York, etc. Since this is a rural outhouse and the actual Mahaffie outhouses have not been found, I have had to write several hypothetical reproduction bullet points. One of the big problems is that because the outhouses  have never been found, we have no artifacts from an outhouse dig site. Instead, I am using a diverse handful of surface finds- artifacts found at ground surface without need of digging- and this has proved to be interesting. 

My goal is to try and frame these artifacts in a manner that will reflect the diverse groups of travelers on the stagecoach stop as well as the regular farmhouse inhabitants and friends or visitors. So far I have chosen several that I believe give a solid representation of the various outhouse users. My favorites are a brooch and a piece of white ceramic doll hair. These objects represent a mother or woman and a child as well as their relationship with the outhouse building. I have written a paragraph dedicated to discussing the difficulties women would have had with their hoop skirt fashions already. But one also has to take into consideration the daunting task of potty-training toddlers in an outhouse. As mentioned before, the Mahaffie reproduction is a two-seater: the space would be very tight with a toddler and a mother standing inside the outhouse. If the outhouse were a one-seater, there would not be enough room for both the child and the mother in the outhouse at the same time! Remember all of this is suggesting that there is only one child in need of being potty trained but as children were born rather close together in the mid-1800s, one can almost be assured that there were multiple toddlers running around who needed to be potty trained! 

Other artifacts I chose were a mammal bone, a button, a belt buckle, several pieces of bottle glass, and a small piece of blue pottery. These represent the everyday life, and in the case of the mammal bone, death that was commonplace on the American prairie back in the mid-1800s. The decision of which artifacts to use was pretty easy compared to the actual writing of the panels. As of now, I am still in the drafting phase, but I had to write a small paper before summarizing each paragraph of the paper into one sentence. After that, I had to use a readability search engine that scanned each sentence for an approximate reading level. Needless to say, as an English major, it felt very counterintuitive. I finally shaved down all the panel paragraphs and am now in the process of editing and adding several more on to include details like the ones listed above. Combining outhouses and archaeology was a bit odd at the beginning of this project but when one delves into the research, it is quite fascinating. Archaeologists use a variety of techniques to uncover information about a given dig site and for them, outhouses are a wealth of information. Soil analysis tells us about land, weather, and human movements as well as the approximate date of said movements. Flotation is a straining process that allows small artifacts like seeds, bones, and plant and animal remains to float to the top of the soil. All in all, these techniques allow us to further our study of history and to tweak our interpretation of history, which is the end goal for all of us in the field, historians, and archaeologists alike. 

Mahaffie Blog Post #4 by Maddy Hajer

Since my last blog post, I’ve wrapped up the acquisition of all the artifacts from the Mahaffie icehouse dig of 2017. The next project I am currently working on is a set of panels for a new outhouse archaeology exhibit in the backyard of the Mahaffie farmhouse. The outhouse currently standing is a reproduction. Since there is no record of what the Mahaffie outhouses looked like and the Mahaffie outhouses have never been found, the museum decided to create a basic outhouse structure that may have been similar to other prairie outhouses of the mid-1800s. In saying this, the panels I’m  writing for the exhibit will be about outhouses in general as well as their importance to historians. Archaeologists also benefit from studying outhouse dig sites. Outhouses were not only used as bathrooms, but they usually doubled up as trash cans. Since outhouses were moved every few years for the sake of safety and hygiene, the amount of trash pile up in a given outhouse area is astounding. The “rash” left behind by occupants often gives us clues to the identities of the outhouse users, their lifestyles, and the regional culture that they were a part of. These items of trash are now considered artifacts by the archaeologists at a dig site. Historians then take these artifacts to analyze them. 

Artifact analysis is a critical part of the post- dig process and when conducting historical research. Analysis of artifacts continues to influence the way in which we interpret history. Throughout the country, outhouse dig sites have revealed common artifacts like combs, buttons, and bottle glass to name just a few examples. All these items refer to the daily use of said items by the object’s owner. They show the popularity of unisex outhouses as well as the high number of alcoholics that lived undiagnosed in the 1800s. One can see all too well people with the urge to drink sneaking out to the outhouse where they knew  no one would disturb them. Just as men drank heavily, women were just as subject to the effects of alcoholism but because drinking excessively was considered inappropriate for females, it is natural to ponder whether it is equally possible that the remains of bottle glass were left behind by women or men. 

Looking at the actual reproduction outhouse puts into perspective the way of life the prairie inhabitants as well as stagecoach travelers on the various trails out west. The reproduction has two toilet seats instead of one, likely making it bigger than the Mahaffie outhouses actually were. But again, as we have no proof to say one way or the other, having two seats may have been the reality, especially with all the stagecoach traffic passing through. When one considers the size of the outhouse, I as a woman wonder how females wearing hoop skirts could fit into the two-seater reproduction, let alone a one-seater that probably would have been more realistic! These are but a few of the details I am adding in the exhibit panels and I am excited to see where my research will go from here. 

Mahaffie Blog Post #3

One of my favorite set of artifacts I have recently worked with were mammal bones. As of now, the type of animal the bones come from is unknown but getting to clean them with Q-tips and dental picks was fascinating as I got to see which parts had been darkened by age and the crevices that had been created since the time of the animal’s death. I had several sets of bones- one that looked like bones of the back vertebrae, one that contained skinny bones, and one that had a little bit of everything. On one wide and curved bone, I distinctly saw red spots in the small openings of the bone and would not be surprised if it was dried blood. Although since the red color was pretty vibrant, perhaps it was some sort of stain from plants.

              This week, I have begun cleaning and cataloging objects from the Level 2 section of the icehouse archaeological dig which is about 10-20 cm below the ground. I was surprised to find more bones in Level 1 than Level 2 and more equipment like nails on this level. I worked with a blue bead that had found its way into Level 2. I have been wondering how a bead could have gotten into an icehouse in the first place but that was the most intriguing artifact in this layer. I am currently going through all the types of nails they dug up, many of them are wire cut nails, and because the metal is rusted, I use tannic acid to prevent the rust from causing further harm to the artifacts. Although the acid does not cause harm, it does stain which is why I wear latex gloves. It does give off an acidic scent, so I find that frequent breaks between cleaning helps clear my head from the smell. I usually dip a cotton square into the acid and cover the nail with the square before scrubbing with a toothbrush.

               For big chunks of residue, that works well but for smaller pieces or traces of residue are more difficult to remove. I find that using the cotton square causes cotton strands to snag onto nails. So instead of using the squares, I experimented with Orvis paste. It is a white paste that looks like solid coconut oil and has about the same consistency. This was the first time I had tried it on artifacts and was pleased with the outcome. After dabbing the nails with the paste, I let them sit for a bit before going back over them with tannic acid. When I went in today, the nails were nearly all black which is the goal when treating rust-damaged artifacts. Amidst the remains of the nails, I began wiping dirt off of a small piece when I realized that it was actually a small mammal bone similar to ones from a previous set I had catalogued. That was the most exciting part of cleaning the nails and I hope in future I will have some time to investigate the bones more closely to try and identify which animal they belonged to.

Mahaffie Blog Post #2

              Over the past few weeks since my last blog, I have delved further into the world of collections management. The archaeological artifacts that I have been cleaning, photographing, labelling, and cataloging are from the 2017 icehouse dig at the Mahaffie farmstead. The artifacts are kept in a bucket in separate plastic bags or envelopes with labels indicating where, when, and sometimes what the specific artifact/s is or are. I have mainly been working with artifacts found in “Level 1” which is approximately 0-10 cm below the ground. There were many pieces of glass that were different colors and thicknesses that I worked with. It was intriguing to try and figure out how a certain shard was cut or broken in the way that it did. Surprisingly, many of edges were smooth considering the amount of time they were buried and the fact that the land is still a working farm with visitors milling about.

              As I spent much time with the glass shards, my eye became more attuned to the diversity of glass found in that shallow level below a humble farmstead icehouse. There were regular clear shards, brown shards, green tinted shards, and some that suggest they came from a decorative or ornamental item. The fact that Kaylee Murphy, the intern who conducted the dig, found all those out on the icehouse grounds raises the question of why fancier pieces of glass were there in the first place. Also among the glass were large pieces of dark stoneware pottery.

              Measuring all these shards was a bit daunting as very few of the items were actually a fully recognizable shape. Some had the tendency to be triangular or trapezoidal but because they are only pieces, taking all the measurements was awkward. In addition to this, measuring items that were curved or were thicker in width proved to be even more difficult. A particular corner piece of what we suspect was an ornamental glass item was clunky and getting it to lay flat in order to measure took some time.

In addition to measuring, photographing artifacts can also be a daunting task. Ones that laid at odd angles had to be manipulated into a position to where the object was recognizable but also one that did not cast shadows over the object when taking a picture. I spent quite a bit of time walking back and forth between the collections storage area and the table where the cleaning supplies were to see which area of the basement had better lighting for each specific artifact. The color or shade of the artifact also influences what background you will use to take a photograph. I found that a white background was better for darker objects while clear glass and white objects photographed better on an off-white or slightly colored background to highlight the outlines of the pieces. One also tries to showcase the object in the photo so the viewer can see the object ID if at all possible. I found that glass and pottery were easier to work with regarding labelling than other objects with a more prominent 3-D shape like a bead.

Mahaffie Blog Post #1 by Maddy Hajer

My first day as an intern at Mahaffie was eye-opening to say the least. I was not aware that I would be working on a site consisting of 30 acres but also a graveyard. Katie Lange, Mahaffie’s daily programs coordinator and collections manager, gave me a tour of the Heritage Center, including the collections storage basement where I would soon find myself working in. She also gave me a behind-the-scenes tour at the Mahaffie Farmhouse. She showed me the racks and racks of period clothing, most of which she or volunteers sewed themselves, as well as the kitchen below the stairs and the bedrooms of the Mahaffie family members that lived there. Their timeline stretches from the 1850s to the 1870s, but their main focus is in the early to mid-1860s as that is the time period that they have the most knowledge of the Mahaffie family on. The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop-Farm is officially the last working stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Weary travelers could briefly rest and eat at the Mahaffie farm before continuing their travels out west. In addition to the house, Ms. Lange also showed me the icehouse, smokehouse, barn, and animal pens. At the moment, they have chickens, sheep, goats, and horses. They typically have pigs, but they sold them on the market quite recently, so their pen was empty when I visited. Their chickens are free-range, and they often use their animals as helpers around the farm, particularly the horses when demonstrating original agricultural practices from the time the Mahaffies lived at their farm. In addition to livestock, they also have a garden with herbs, flowers, and veggies. They rotate their vegetable crops as farmers of the 1860s were aware of the benefits of crop rotation and these are used for living history demonstrations as well.

              As my first day concluded with the touring and general background on the Mahaffie farm and museum, my second day was an introduction to the MRM5 textbook. It goes into great detail about every aspect of museum handling but since I am working with collections, I read about marking and  measuring as well as the caring of artifacts and the many potential problems that can come with that. I was also introduced to the Nomenclature hierarchy and its uses. I thought it particularly interesting that it is very widespread in North America but makes no mention of other continents. I am intrigued as to the other classification systems museums use outside of North America and specifically, outside of the United States. That second day was also when I began to handle real artifacts and was introduced to PastPerfect.. An album of postcards ranging from the early 1900s was my first historically object I handled and checked status on. I first added pictures to the postcards that existed within PastPerfect. For those of you who do not know, PastPerfect is a digital system that holds (ideally) all artifacts, archives, photos, and other materials a museum may have in their possession. It is a wonderful application that allows professionals and interns alike to find specific objects or information on said objects quickly and in an organized manner. After adding pictures of the postcards to PastPerfect, I found that the majority of the postcards were not found in PastPerfect at all, and what is more, did not have any object numbers on them! It turned out that they were part of an old numbering system that has since been retired. My job was to add the postcards to PastPerfect with their new numbers, descriptions, dimensions, conditions, and location.

              This week I continued working in the MRM5 textbook and was taught how to clean small shards or sherds of glass and ceramic. These artifacts were found during a small archaeological project from the Mahaffie icehouse in 2017 done by a former intern. Some pieces were in much need of polishing.  I used a tin foil cooking pan filled with water, a toothbrush, a dental pick, and some Q-tips to wipe off any residue from the artifacts. The cleaning of all the shards took about 2 hours and after cleaning, I was introduced to Paraloid B-72 in Acetone. Its main purpose is to create a space on an object for its object number so people can find and identify them. B-72 is special in that it wipes off completely so if a museum decided to take an object out from collections storage to put it on display, then no mark of its number would remain. There is also a white version of the Paraloid B-72 used on darker colored objects that goes on top of the original clear B-72 coat. Once the artifacts had their B-72 on, I was able to enter them into PastPerfect for the first time and take measurements, mark them, and describe the physical attributes of the artifacts. For my first two weeks, I think I covered a lot of ground and am anticipating what else is in store for me at the Mahaffie Farmstead!

Database Conversion Project

By Michael Sprague

Since my last post, I have been assisting the Wyandotte County Museum in converting written records of its artifacts to a new digital database. The museum has been overdue for this conversion of its records for quite some time. Given the quantity of the museum’s artifacts and oddities, I am not certain how the staff has managed to organize its many closets, cabinets, and vaults. I had previously discussed this issue with the curator and the director, and they stated that this database was among the primary goals of the museum to complete. The director also jested that without the database, the staff did not know what they had in their archives. After learning about how much work has been done for the database, and how much more work still needs done, I am not so sure she was joking.

With only three paid staff members, the museum depends on the labor of employees and interns. The staff created a crowdsourcing model, drawing volunteers across the country to do the meaningful work of creating this database. Since mid-March shutdown, the museum’s database has grown from 7,000 records to more than 17,000. I am proud to have contributed 250 records to the database. It may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to 17,000, but at moments it felt like an overwhelming task.

The collections that I entered into the database ranged from 19th century real estate documents to WWI combat uniforms. All of these artifacts were donated by residents of Wyandotte County, and meticulously catalogued by a former staff member in the 1980s (who frustratingly, wrote all of these notes in cursive script). While the work was at times tedious, I certainly felt accomplished to have measurably contributed to the museum’s most needed project. I intend to volunteer my time towards this project over the summer if more work is needed, even though my internship concludes this week. If nothing else, this project showed me the staggering number of artifacts housed by the museum. It has also instilled a sense of duty to contribute more to the endeavor of properly cataloguing it.