I work as a volunteer for a half dozen historic places and the volunteer work can take many varied forms. This past Wednesday, January 9th, for example, I met with six volunteers and the Bayshore Discovery Museum Director, Rachel, for a special winter project. Items that have been donated to the Museum but which are not currently on display are housed in the old Haleyville School, on shelves in the downstairs. The upstairs floor is used as crew quarters for those who work on the A. J. Meerwald Schooner.
Our job was to work in teams of two, and identify, number, describe and measure, items on the shelves to eventually go onto a computer database.
This was a fascinating job. Each team took a different set of shelves to work on.
Perhaps I mentioned that to my surprise, some months ago, I discovered that a new volunteer at Bivalve, Paul Hettinger, whose family were engine manufacturers in the Port Norris area, was also, by coincidence, an old schoolmate of mine. I discovered this when I received an e-mail from my high school reunion committee looking for 'lost' classmates - those for whom no one had any address, phone number or recent contact. Paul's name was on the list, so at our next Bayshore Discovery Project Museum Club meeting I asked if he had graduated from Merchantiville High School in 1963, and he had!
Paul and I worked as a team which was fortunate because my knowledge of boat parts is limited, and Paul had spend his life on or near boats, so he was able to tell me "hinged round cast iron mast bracket with two eyes and shackles" and I could then write it on the paper form of the database and issue a sticker with a number to be attached to the item.
There were those less than exciting items, but there were also such intriguing things as a walrus skull, Native American stone point collections, and boat models!
And it was a treat for me to be working in the old two story Haleyville School as I am a big fan of the little old school house and have enjoyed the Burlington County one-room school house tour on several occasions. Needless to say, South Jersey has many and beautiful little old schoolhouses such as the stone school outside of Greenwich - but that is for another blog entry.
The next day, Thursday, January 10th, I went back to work at the Gloucester County Historical Society Library on my current project for them which is indexing the diary of Ruth Page Rogers. This diary is compelling reading.
Ruth was born in 1820 in Elk Township and the fact that she kept a diary at all is astonishing as it wasn't common for everyone to even be literate, let alone, decide to keep a diary! It is a good thing that she did, however, because her life was both adventurous and unusual.
Ruth first left home to work in a Manayunk textile mill. Imagine the trip she must have taken in 1840 to get there - stage coach, schooner and stage coach again, then no doubt a long walk. She and her mother travelled and worked together. During the year they spent there, the mother discovered herself to be pregnant and Ruth eventually had to support and care for her mother as well as herself.
Having returned home with the family patriarch who eventually went to Manayunk to retrieve his wife and eldest daughter, the family went to hear a couple of visiting Mormon missionaries speak. They were so moved by Samuel Rogers, one of the missionaries, that they saved up, left home and journeyed first to the mid-west, and finally to Utah to join up with the Mormon community there.
In my next blog, I'll let you know what happened when they got there. My job is to list the names and places and their page numbers in Ruth's diary for future researchers.
Finally, the most unusual job of all my volunteer duties this year was to dress as a late 1800's servant and walk up the stairs at Atsion Mansion for a podcast filming. Also, I worked in the kitchen moving apples from one wooden bowl to another. My parts are to be made to look ghostly, using the tools of the filmmaker. When the podcast is finished and posted, I'll be certain to let you know.
The Atsion Mansion volunteers in company with some Batsto volunteers will be going to Hopewell Furnace at the end of the week. I'll tell you all about it in my next blog.