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!

Part Time Job Opportunity: Education Assistant at Johnson County Museum and Lanesfield Historic Site

The Johnson County Museum is seeking a part-time Education Assistant to lead programing at the Johnson County Museum and the Lanesfield Historic Site. The Education Assistant is responsible for providing guided tours at both museum sites, facilitating educational programs for school and public audiences, and supporting positive visitor experiences.

Major responsibilities include: conducting public tours, assisting with special events, and teaching programs for school groups. The position also requires costumed interpretation as a 1904 schoolteacher at the Lanesfield Historic Site in Edgerton, Kansas.
Days: Monday – Saturday, availability 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Schedule varies week to week and includes some evenings. Average of 15 -20 hours per week.
Salary: $12 an hour.

Minimum Qualifications and Requirements: High School diploma or equivalent. Preferred: Bachelor’s degree in History, Public History, Museum Studies, or Education. One year experience in public speaking required. Ideal candidate will be detail-oriented, have excellent verbal communication skills, and exceptional customer service skills. Must be comfortable leading and presenting to large and small groups of all ages. Preferred experience in retail point of sales and cash handling. Candidate should be a self-starter who can work independently and in a team environment. The ideal candidate will have strong public speaking skills, a strong interest in history, and enjoy working with children and the general public.

Must be able to pass a criminal background check.

To apply, visit the JCPRD website. For more information, contact Leah Palmer, Curator of Education at Leah.G.Palmer@jocogov.org.

Part Time Job Opportunity: Membership and Visitor Coordinator at the Jackson County Historical Society

The Jackson County Historical Society​ is hiring a part time membership and visitor coordinator. This position is hourly, up to 30 hours per week at $10 per hour. Position requires the ability to work independently, engage with members and visitors, and provide guided tours of our historic sites. The coordinator needs to interact with the general public in an active environment, and efficiently accomplish multiple duties and tasks successfully. The coordinator eports to JCHS Executive Director and is responsible for supporting overall administrative needs of the non-profit organization.

Work location is JCHS headquarters at the Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square. General working hours are 9:30am- 4:30pm, Tuesday-Friday, with some weekend and evening availability.

Duties include:

  • Open and close 1859 Jail Museum Tues.-Fri. when the historic site is open (April to October.) Fill in at the museum desk when volunteers are absent.
  • Give group tours both at the 1859 Jail and the Truman Courthouse.
  • Sell merchandise in the History Center.
  • Interact with visitors and members by answering the JCHS office phone and running the JCHS History Center counter.
  • Maintain communication with JCHS members through email and direct mail, including processing new memberships and maintaining the membership database via Past Perfect.
  • Communicate with museum volunteer staff. Create volunteer schedule for 1859 Jail Museum.
  • Assume other duties as assigned.

Job Requirements:

  • Able to sit and/or stand for extended periods of time.
  • Have solid computer skills with word processing, spreadsheets and databases.
  • Must be able to lift 25 pounds.
  • Display strong initiative to help support and grow the organization.
  • Willing to take direction and complete assignments in a timely fashion.

To apply send a resume, writing sample and cover letter to ceckard@jchs.org.

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.

The Limitations of Working Remotely

By Michael Sprague

Work for my internship has slowed down a bit. I knew there were limitations to the work I could do remotely, and those limitations certainly become more evident these last two weeks. Recently, I have completed two minor projects for the Wyandotte County Museum – summaries of both Western University and Sumner High School for a planned exhibit on historic institutions of education in Wyandotte County. Both schools are evidence of the resiliency and determination of the black community of Kansas City, so I consider myself privileged to have contributed to this project. I have learned much about both institutions during my time at the museum, and certainly I have much more to learn. The connections I have made during my internship will greatly benefit that end.

Aside from these two projects, I revised a role-playing game I designed for the museum, a project I previously discussed in my blog posts. My skills at communicating effectively to elementary age children are dubious at best, so it proved a more challenging task than I had expected. There is now a game draft ready to test for both elementary aged children, and high school aged students. Hopefully, it will prove as a good resource for the museum in the future.

Additionally, I made some minor edits to an exhibit I completed for Quindaro, and its recognition by the National Park Service. I have a plan with the Wyandotte County Museum’s director to work on the exhibit in the middle of May – so long as the stay-at-home order is not extended past that timeframe. This is something that I would like to see through. Remotely completing a draft for an exhibit simply does not feel rewarding on its own – I want to see the fruit of my labor hanging on display in the museum. In spite of this frustration, I am still grateful for this opportunity to get practical experience in a museum, and I will likely volunteer over the summer if I can be of further assistance to the staff

Raising Quindaro Out of Obscurity

By Michael Sprague

These last few weeks have few weeks have been atypical for the Wyandotte County Museum. Shortly after University of Missouri – Kansas City closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the director informed all volunteers to work from home. Since the stay at home order, all museum staff is working remotely. It will be closed at least until the stay at home order is lifted and will likely remain closed until May. This has complicated my work for the institution, but I am still working on and revising two concurrent projects. Before the closure of the museum, I was able to collect some photographs for one of my projects, which I have now completed. Of course, this situation is not ideal for a variety of reasons. I was steadily building connections with historians of Wyandotte County, and the shelter-in-place order has unfortunately halted that. However, I am still committed to completing my work remotely.

Last month, I completed a game for high school and college aged students at the museum, which is focused on the community of Quindaro and its fight against Browning-Ferris Industries and the Kansas City, Kansas City Council. This is a topic which I am passionate about and intend to research going into my future graduate studies. The intersecting story of the fight against a proposed landfill in the Quindaro bluffs speaks to environmental and urban developmental histories and showcases the blatant disregard of the health of communities of color in the Kansas City era during the 1980s and 90s. The boom times of Old Quindaro are certainly fascinating and show the complexity and diversity of the Kansas City region’s history – but it seems that historians have marked the end of Quindaro’s history in the 1860s. What followed was the history of a burgeoning black community, which has largely been overlooked by historians and government officials alike.

Of course, Western University, the first black public school in Kansas, and arguably the first historically black college west of the Mississippi River is a fascinating story. I have devoted a significant amount of my undergraduate studies to the institution, and the impact that it had on the black community of Kansas City. This story has not been well told by local historians. Indeed, few laymen in the Kansas City areas know of its existence. Its history should absolutely be elevated into the public awareness, and the Wyandotte County Museum intends to create an exhibit dedicated to it at some point. Hopefully, with the resources I have available, I will be able to contribute to it.


I collaborated with the director of the museum to create an exhibit for Quindaro. The townsite was recently recognized as a National Commemorative Site, and the director wanted to draw attention to this in the museum. The exhibit provides background for the boomtown and its rapid decline, followed by a period of obscurity, and re-acknowledgement during the 80s and 90s. Photographs of the Quindaro ruins are limited – most structures were either stripped bare for firewood by Union soldiers during the Civil War, or succumbed to vegetation and erosion. However, there were some photographs of structures still standing in the 1910s and 20s.

When Browning-Ferris Industries was required to fund a comprehensive archaeological survey for their proposed landfill site, few expected the ruins of a burgeoning city would be discovered. Truthfully, I do not fully understand why Quindaro’s history was so unknown at the time. Certainly, many Quindaro residents (such as Jesse Owens and Orrin M. Murray, Sr.) whose ancestors settled in the area knew what was there, but the ruins seemed to take everyone else by surprise, historians included. One archaeologist involved in the survey declared the townsite the “Pompeii of Kansas.” For more than one hundred years, the town that had contributed as a gateway for free state aid into the Kansas Territory, and as a haven for runaway Missouri slaves had been forgotten. I strongly suspect that Chester Owens was right when he said that no one knew about the history of Quindaro because no one valued the history of African Americans.

The final portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the effort to secure national funding for the Quindaro townsite. The goal is to highlight some of the effort by the community to preserve the ruins. It was not until 2002 that the townsite was registered on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, since BFI withdrew their contract to construct a landfill, little has been done to further excavate the ruins, or to properly display what was uncovered in the 1980s. The passion was there, but the funding was not. Many are hopeful that the townsite’s recent designation as a National Commemorative Site will fund initiatives to further survey the ruins, and to display them in a more responsible manner. At this time, it is not clear how much the site will receive from the NPS, or what will be done with those funds. I ended the exhibit on a hopeful note, but in truth, I am more reserved in my optimism. Unfortunately, the endeavor to elevate Quindaro’s history has been contentious, and I do not see that changing any time soon. Circumstances would be better if the whole townsite were owned by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, but unfortunately it must contend with the private owners of some of its property. In the interest of Quindaro’s history, I hope the community can finally come together to celebrate what the townsite represented, and its very real impact on freedmen and their descendants.

WyCo Museum – A Lesson in Community Outreach and Cooperation in Public History

As the weather has become warmer, the Wyandotte County Museum has become more active, and my work has intensified. Recently, I completed a Sumner High School alumni project, which took considerably longer than I though. I am currently developing a role playing game for middle school children who come to the museum, which emphasizes the importance of Native American culture, environmentalism, and the preservation of historic sites. This project uses the Quindaro ruins as the model, and places the students into a debate over the landfill initiative in the 1980s and 90s. Work on this project is almost complete, and I look forward to the upcoming project – work on an exhibit for Old Quindaro.

Two weeks ago, I attended a meeting at Kansas City, Kansas Community College on behalf of the museum. KCKCC is working on a digital mural project for the region’s history. The committee has made efforts to be inclusive, and has welcomed members of the community into the planning process for the mural. The intent is to create a diverse, comprehensive history, and the community has greatly contributed to that goal. I admire the work the committee has done, and look forward to the opportunities to help in this project. Through this committee, I made many connections which will undoubtedly be useful for my role at the Wyandotte County Museum. I already have a meeting with a faculty member who is very passionate about Quindaro, and who was significantly involved in the excavation of the ruins.

The curator is currently working on an exhibit for Wyandotte County architecture. I have assisted him in setting up the exhibit. This included moving some of the masonry of the Carnegie Library, which has long been demolished in Kansas City, Kansas, and creating poster boards of photos of the most impressive buildings in KCK still standing. The masonry is quite impressive, and the exhibit will tell the history of the county through its architecture. The exhibit will be open to the public by the middle of this month, and all who are interested in Wyandotte County history are welcome to come.

Rebuilding the Community’s Trust – the Beginnings of a Wyandotte County Internship

Wyandotte County has a diverse and provocative history, and it deserves a deeper understanding by the community that now lives within its boundaries. That is the goal of the Wyandotte County Museum – the staff is intent on highlighting the region’s significance through public outreach and building strong relationships within the community to cooperatively tell the county’s history. Apparently, the museum has not had a good record with collaboratively telling Wyandotte County’s history, a fact that the staff will freely admit is an obstacle the museum to overcome. While this has already posed challenges for my internship, it is my goal as well to help rebuild the museum’s reputation.

My internship at the Wyandotte County Museum has definitely had an interesting beginning. It started with uncertainty, as I tried to gauge my role in the museum’s team. My historical research prior to interning has primarily focused on the experience of African Americans post-Emancipation, and there is certainly a compelling story of black migration to the Kansas City area from the South after the Civil War. Therefore, after some guidance from Amy Loch, the director at WyCo Museum, we have created a series of goals for my internship that are related to that field of history. The long-term goal is to potentially create a hallway exhibit for Quindaro, and to develop a role-playing game for elementary and middle school students that emphasizes the importance of stewardship of archaeological sites, and respect towards Native culture.

Thus far, I have researched the “Potato King,” Junius G. Groves, who emigrated from Kentucky to what is now Kansas City, Kansas. Groves became among the richest African Americans in the nation through his business and became a notable philanthropist for black farmers in the region, undoubtedly wishing to provide opportunities of success for others. Currently, I am working on a project related to Sumner High School, and its notable graduates. Research into graduates who stayed in the area has proven difficult, which led me to consult the curator at the Alumni Room at Sumner Academy. We spoke for two hours, and my intention was to gain a deeper understanding of black education in KCK. This connection will undoubtedly be beneficial as I move forward in interpreting African American history in the region.

It was on the same day that I contacted a notable black community leader in Kansas City, Kansas to get their input as well. This is where the reputation of the museum caught up to me. While they were polite, and indicated that they were willing to help, they certainly did not hold back their criticisms of the museum when I spoke with them on the phone. Unfortunately, this encounter was not as fruitful as I had expected, but I now understand the importance of building trust with the community. Their criticisms were well placed, and the museum can undoubtedly do better at building trust. Amy Loch recognizes this as a problem, and has worked diligently to bridge the gap, and the individual on the phone had only positive things to say about her efforts. It is my goal, in the limited degree of influence I have at the museum, to also work towards this endeavor. It will be fascinating to see where that effort goes.