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Tips from an Amateur Museum Exhibit Developer

Posted by | October 8, 2014

jeanne mozierPlease welcome guest author Jeanne Mozier. Mozier serves as president of the board of WV’s Museum of the Berkeley Springs. She is the author of several books including “Way Out in West Virginia, a must-have guide to the wonders and oddities of the Mountain State” and “Historic Images of Berkeley Springs.” Named a West Virginia History Hero, she is currently working on a book about the local Berkeley Castle. Contact Jeanne at or visit her website.

BERKELEY SPRINGS, WV —- When a group of local history enthusiasts established the Museum of the Berkeley Springs in 1984, we made a fateful decision. Armed with expert advice from nearby Shepherd University, we committed to use our museum as a way to tell both the geologic story of the famed warm springs and how the waters impacted the economic, social and political history of the town that formed around them. The focus allowed us to avoid the “dump Grandpa’s sickle” syndrome.

We were lucky. We had a great story to tell and much of it was literally outside our door where thousands still come each year to “take the waters” for their health and well being. We also had limitations, especially our prime space in Berkeley Springs State Park, on the second floor of the Roman Bath House, oldest public building in town (circa 1815.) It was a great location but small space – approximately 2,500 square feet and no room to expand.

Display on James Rumsey, true inventor of the steamboat who lived and worked in 18th century Berkeley Springs. All photos by the author.

Display on James Rumsey, true inventor of the steamboat who lived and worked in 18th century Berkeley Springs. All photos by the author.

Finally, as with most small local museums, financial resources are limited. All the exhibits outlined here were developed as a volunteer exercise with professional fabrication funded by grants from the West Virginia Humanities Foundation, local hotel-motel tax revenue and the West Virginia Conservation Agency. The cost per exhibit averaged $2,500.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve developed four major permanent exhibits for the museum; two interested me greatly, two I had to finish when the original developer dropped out. The most recent debuted September 7, 2014, 27 years to the day from the opening of the museum’s doors. I had no previous exhibit development experience, not even of the grammar school science fair variety.

These are some of the insights I acquired. There are lots more.

• If you know how to do research, you can develop an exhibit. I knew nothing about James Rumsey, true inventor of the steamboat who lived and worked in 18th century Berkeley Springs. My research journey took me from ignorance to extensive knowledge in about a year. It worked well as the guiding principle of the exhibit since most of our visitors would also be learning of this hapless genius for the first time.

There were no artifacts, but we did have locations that could be photographed, historic documents that were excerpted, intriguing images of his many patents and a purported portrait by Benjamin West that we were able to duplicate. A handcrafted map of locations in the county connected with Rumsey is the dominant visual. My favorite part of the exhibit displays excerpted quotes from Rumsey hinting at who he was as a man.

What I learned most was how much of the information I collected would never make it to the exhibit panel. I created an exhibit manual that captured all the material but could not find funding to get it printed.

A decade later, the internet appeared and I “invented” the Virtual Museum website as a place to make available all that work. The information is keyed to every piece of the physical exhibit giving magnitude and resonance to both.

• The town of Bath (known to the world by its postal name of Berkeley Springs) was established in 1776 around the springs. Its original owners were the colonial elite including George Washington, his family and friends who had been frequenting the place for a couple decades as “squatters.”

'Bathing at Bath' exhibit features a former steam cabinet used in the Berkeley Springs State Park bathhouse.

‘Bathing at Bath’ exhibit features a former steam cabinet used in the Berkeley Springs State Park bathhouse.

For the second exhibit, Formation of the Town, I needed help translating all the research into an exciting three-dimensional form. Nearly twenty years after my first exhibit, both expectations and fabrication technology had really advanced.

I sought out the friend of friend who had retired as an exhibit developer for the Smithsonian and got tips about dimensionality and highlighting. We used mini-historic portraits of founders and had half a panel turned into a then-and-now exploration of the town.

With six panels to work with, we turned two of them into a visually exciting and provocative part of the whole story – a long history of fires around the springs. That topic provided dramatic photos, charred artifacts and appreciation for the contribution a timeline can make to any story. The research from this exhibit is also part of the Virtual Museum.

• The third exhibit almost did itself. Bathing at Bath focused on the bathhouses and pulled together pieces that had existed in the museum for years. Betty Lou Harmison, another museum founder, and I had just completed an Arcadia Publishing book of Historic Images of Berkeley Springs. An entire chapter was devoted to ‘Taking the Waters,’ so we had abundant photos from which to choose.

I had developed brochures and outdoor interpretive signs on the bathhouses currently in Berkeley Springs State Park for other projects. This was an exhibit heavy on images with distinctive artifacts like the former steam cabinet used in the bathhouse and a collection of historic bathing suits. The challenge was showing both the duration and evolution of the bathing experience.

Once again I turned to a timeline, this one devoted to the progression of bathing structures in the park. I also used an exhibit designer who worked with the fabricator, a process I’d learned while developing the outdoor interpretive signs. The impact of the story was heightened by real life. Every day, outside the museum’s window, scores of people engage in a reenactment of our exhibit.

On May 16, 2012 an 800-pound quartz crystal mined in the same ridge from which the springs emerge arrived at the museum, a gift of U.S. Silica’s Berkeley Springs plant.

On May 16, 2012 an 800-pound quartz crystal mined in the same ridge from which the springs emerge arrived at the museum, a gift of U.S. Silica’s Berkeley Springs plant.

• A month ago we completed a new segment of one of the original exhibits, Geology of the Springs. This is an intricate and complicated topic and one that literally and figuratively provides the basis for all other topics in the museum – and in Berkeley Springs. Again, the task was setting context for other bits and pieces, especially a fortuitous new acquisition.

On May 16, 2012 an 800-pound quartz crystal mined in the same ridge from which the springs emerge, arrived at the museum, a gift of U.S. Silica’s Berkeley Springs plant. It was obviously the jewel of our collection and one referred to by visiting children as the 800-pound diamond. For nearly two years, development of the exhibit languished while the deadline for spending grant funds drew closer. With no knowledge of geology but the experience of three previous exhibits as credentials, I accepted the task and got to work.

Once more, I used a timeline – this one stretching 4.6 billion years. It displayed the area’s fascinating geologic evolution, one shared through much of Appalachia. Then, assuming most viewers of our fossil collection—which is a major artifact in this exhibit—were as ignorant as I was, I developed the text as simple questions, answers and nametags for the fossils. Another re-used asset was the designer and fabrication company. To date, the giant crystal and new segment of the geology exhibit have proved popular draws.

We invite visitors to the Museum of the Berkeley Springs, open March through December. While visiting historic Berkeley Springs, we urge you to directly experience our long history as the country’s first spa and take a bath in our several spas, drink the water, or dangle your toes in the largest open array of springs water in the Blue Ridge.

If you cannot come in person, visit the Virtual Museum, open 24/7 and added to all the time. Memberships and donations are always welcome.


The Great Pandemic of 1918, part 1

Posted by | October 7, 2014

Across America in the fall of 1918 the Spanish influenza-and the fear of it-was everywhere. The flu’s name came from the early affliction and large mortalities in Spain where it allegedly killed 8 million in May that year. No one knows exactly how many people died during the 1918-1919 global influenza pandemic, but estimates place 675,000 Americans among the dead: more than died during World War I!

Many physicians succumbed to the flu themselves. Shortages of essential personnel of all types often compounded the crisis even further. A lack of sanitation workers in cities allowed sewage to accumulate in the streets, raising concerns about other diseases. Emergency hospitals could not be opened to accommodate the growing numbers of patients because they could not be staffed.

Most patients were isolated in their homes and treated there, if they could get medical attention at all. Gauze masks started sprouting on faces everywhere, though wearing masks does little to prevent the spread of influenza. Those sickened were often left to fend for themselves—neighbors refused to come to the aid of neighbors for fear that they too would be struck.

public wearing gauze masks during 1918 Spanish Flu pandemicALABAMA: It first appeared in late September 1918 in Florence, in the northwest corner of the state. Just three weeks later, over 25,000 cases of influenza in the state had been reported to the U.S. Public Health Service. Following a common practice in many communities, Alabama doctors often wrapped the wheels of their horse drawn carts with cotton so people would not become alarmed when they heard the cart leaving during the night. During the last two weeks of October, more than 37,000 cases of the flu erupted in Alabama. People around the state died by the hundreds.

GEORGIA: It probably arrived during the first week of October 1918, and then spread like a wildfire throughout the state. In just three weeks, from October 19th to November 9th, there were more than 20,000 cases and more than 500 deaths. State officials filed their first report on October 19. On that date, they claimed that the state had 6,304 cases with 68 deaths. The real number of cases and deaths was probably much higher. The next week saw an increase in the number of cases: 9,637 cases and 308 deaths were reported. The following week, the week ending November 2nd, saw a tapering off of the epidemic with only 4,287 cases and 138 deaths being reported.

SOUTH CAROLINA: By early October, the disease had spread into the upper reaches of the state. Eucapine, Vick’s VapoRub, and other patent medicines became popular and were touted as cures. South Carolina’s governor even permitted the use of then-illegal alcohol because doctors were advocating its use as a remedy and nothing else seemed to be working. Alcohol didn’t work either. Home remedies were widespread. Onion plasters, the eating of raw onions, and even drinking hot lemonade to induce perspiration were recommended. None of these treatments were effective.

TENNESSEE: On October 15th, there were 27 deaths in Knoxville. Dr. E.L. Bishop, of Tennessee’s State Board of Health, offered his advice by condemning “promiscuous kissing …especially that of the nonessential variety.” He said, “[a] kiss of infection…may truly be the kiss of death.” On October 27th, “conditions were better in mining camps generally and…reports from rural communities in a few counties indicated that the disease is not yet prevalent at these points.” In the last two weeks of October, when the pandemic was at its peak, nearly 11,000 Tennesseans were struck. More than 650 fell. Writing in a medical journal, one Tennessee physician summed up the situation in saying “The man who dug his neighbor’s grave today might head the funeral procession next week. No telling who would be next.”

NORTH CAROLINA: Dr. W.S. Rankin of North Carolina’s State Board of Health refused to approve the use of rum in emergency hospitals due to lack of evidence that it was effective against influenza. Instead the Board called for treatments of “sunshine and open air.” Calomel, a purgative (and insecticide), was also prescribed. By the time the pandemic passed, at least 13,000 North Carolinians had perished. The state’s many mill towns suffered tremendous losses from the pandemic. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and poverty all served to exacerbate the number of cases and deaths in these regions.

to be continued…



The story of the Wampus Cat

Posted by | October 6, 2014

In Missouri they call it a Gallywampus; in Arkansas it’s the Whistling Wampus; in Appalachia it’s the just a plain old Wampus (or Wampas) cat. A half-dog, half-cat creature that can run erect or on all fours, it’s rumored to be seen just after dark or right before dawn all throughout the Appalachians. But that’s about all everyone agrees on. In non-Native American cultures it’s a howling, evil creature, with yellow eyes that can supposedly pierce the hearts and souls of those unfortunate enough to cross its path, driving them to the edge of sanity.

Cherokee folklore, which is filled with tales of evil spirits lurking in the deep, dark forests that surrounded their villages, offers a different view of the Wampas cat.

An evil demon called Ew’ah, the Spirit of Madness, had been terrorizing the village of Etowah (or Chota, depending on the version you hear) in what is today North Carolina. The village shamans and warchiefs called for a meeting. The wise shamans told the warchiefs that sending the braves to hunt and kill the Ew’ah was surely going to be the end of the tribe, for the Ew’ah had the terrible power to drive men mad with a glance. The warchiefs argued that the Ew’ah could no longer feast on the dreams of the Cherokee children, and that something must be done. Together they agreed that their strongest brave would go alone, and bring great honor to his family and tribe by killing the mad demon.

the Wampus CatStanding Bear (or Great Fellow, depending on the story version) was the strongest, fastest, sneakiest, smartest, and most respected brave in all the Cherokee nation, and he was chosen to do battle with the demon. As he walked from his village, the shamans blessed him, and the warchiefs gave him many fine weapons with which to slay the beast, and on the edge of town, his wife, Running Deer, bid him a final farewell. She would never see him the same way again.

Weeks went by, and there was no word from Standing Bear. Suddenly, late one night, the stricken brave came running back into camp, screaming, and clawing at his eyes. One look, and Running Deer knew. Her husband was no more. With time, he would be able to pick berries and work in the fields with the young girls and the unmarried widows, but he would never be any good as a husband again, and by Cherokee law, that meant he was dead. Standing Bear’s name was never again mentioned, but Running Deer had loved her husband, and she wanted revenge.

Running Deer went to the shamans, and they gave her a booger mask, a bobcat’s face, and they told her that the spirit of the mountain cat could stand against the Ew’ah, but she must be the one to surprise the demon. The warchiefs gave her a special black paste, which when rubbed on her body, would hide her scent as well as her body. She kissed her former husband on the forehead, his blank eyes staring, and headed off to seek her revenge.

Running Deer knew the woods as well as she knew the village, and she ate sweet berries to keep up her strength over the many days, but still she came across no sign of the Ew’ah. Then, late one night, she heard a creature stalking down by the stream. As she crept slowly towards the creek, she heard a twig snap behind her. She spun, and just as suddenly realized how quickly it could have been the end of her. Behind her a wily fox darted across the pathway. “If that had been Ew’ah, I would be mad now…” the widowed Cherokee woman thought to herself, as she continued towards the creek.

At the edge of the creek, she saw footprints which did not belong there, and her former husband’s breastplate lay at the edge of the water. As she followed the prints upstream, she saw the demon. Its hulking form lurched hideously over the water, drinking from the pristine mountain spring. The Ew’ah hadn’t seen her! Running Deer crept ever closer, and just as she felt she could bring herself no closer, she sprang!

The Ew’ah spun, and saw the Cat-Spirit-Mask, and began to tear at itself as the spirit of the mountain cat turned its powerful magic back on itself. The Ew’ah tumbled backwards into the pool, and Running Deer immediately turned on her heel and ran as fast as she could back to the village, never once looking back.

When she arrived home, she sang a song to herself—a quiet song, of grief for her husband, but also of joy for the demon’s banishment. The shamans and warchiefs declared Running Deer the Spirit-Talker and Home-Protector.

Some say that the spirit of Running Deer inhabits the Wampas cat, and that she continues her eternal mission of watching her tribe’s lands to protect them and their peoples from the demons that hide in the dark and lost places of Tanasi.

sources: Cherokee version above related by Enrique de la Viega, of Powder Branch, TN, on 7/11/03, posted to Ex Libris Nocturnis forum at

Mysterious Knoxville, by Charles Edwin Price, 1999


Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by | October 5, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with a look at a brand new documentary film titled Earl Hamner Storyteller.’ “There were eight of us,” Hamner recalls. “Tall, lean, fine-boned, red-headed youngsters growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Depression. My father called us ‘his thoroughbreds,’ and put us on a pedestal. CBS called us The Waltons, and put us on television.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

In 2013, Cora Hairston released her debut novel, a story told through the eyes of a coal miner’s daughter ‘on the black side.’ Faces Behind the Dust traces the challenges, triumphs and tragedies of a young black woman’s coming of age in the southern West Virginia coalfields in the 1950’s and 1960’s, towards the end of segregation and the dawning of the Civil Rights era. Here’s an excerpt from it.

We’ll wrap things up with the tale of Tennessee’s most famous hag: the Bell Witch. “This witch,” said an 1886 ‘History of Tennessee,’ “was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfort of its victims.”

And thanks to the good folks at the Victor Library at the University of California Santa Barbara, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Smyth County Ramblers a 1928 recording of My Name is Ticklish Reuben.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.


And the goats are fine, thanks

Posted by | October 3, 2014

The poet who penned “the fog comes in on little cats’ feet” moved to western North Carolina for the sake of the little goats’ feet. Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg and his wife Paula had lived for 17 years on Chicago’s foggy shores by Lake Michigan, but left it all behind in 1945. Flat Rock, NC, twenty-four miles south of Asheville, offered greener pastures and a longer browsing season for their Chikaming goat herd.

The Sandburgs paid $45,000 for 248 acres of land, a three-story, 22 room main house of over 9,000 square feet on a hill fronted by green pastures with various lakes, a barn complex and several outbuildings. Plenty of room for them, their three daughters, two grandchildren, their library of more than 10,000 volumes, and the goat farm operation. The hill approaching the house is steep and the climb ascends 100 feet over a third of a mile. Sandburg believed they had bought a “village” and Mrs. Sandburg a “million acres of sky.”

Lilian Sandburg at Connemara, Carl and Lilian Sandburg homePhoto caption reads: “Carl Sandburg spends most of his time writing, and his wife, Lilian Paula Sandburg, most of hers with her goats. She is shown here with her grandson, Joe Carol Thoman.”

The name of home they purchased, Connemara, is Irish, meaning of the sea. Connemara is a region in the country of Ireland located on the northwest coast in the county of Galway, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The home was built in 1838 as a summer home by Christopher Gustavus Memminger of Charleston, SC, who later served as the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy. After his death the property passed to the Gregg family and then to textile tycoon Capt. Ellison Smyth, also of Charleston, who named it Connemara in honor of his Irish heritage. The Sandburgs bought the estate from Smyth’s descendants and kept the name.

The Asheville area was familiar to Mrs. Sandburg because her brother, photographer Edward Steichen, had spent time there and recommended it as a place to investigate.

Sandburg died on July 22, 1967 at the age of 89. His wife followed ten years later. Both of their remains were cremated and their ashes buried at Carl Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois beneath a large boulder named after Carl Sandburg’s first and only novel, Remembrance Rock. Connemara, meantime, was sold to the government and is now maintained as a National Historic Site by the U.S. Park Service.


Carl+Sandburg Connemara Flat+Rock+NC Asheville+NC +appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia Appalachia+history

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