“Mother isn’t quite herself today…”

Andy Poore
Special Collections
Mooresville Public Library

We all have a skeleton or two sitting around in a closet, a room, or the basement that we have had for years but now it is just collecting dust. What do you do with that skeleton that has been sitting in your basement for years when it is no longer needed? You donate it to your local archives? Do you dress it up and put it at your visitor desk? Do you dress it up as yourself and put it at your desk? This is the quandary that our local hospital found themselves in when they need to find a new home for their old teaching skeleton.

Several years ago, I received a phone call from the PR director of our local hospital with what she called, “an unusual question.” Her question was regarding an interesting piece of local history that she thought I would be interested in and something that might be of interest in adding to the Special Collections. She knew that I already had a diverse collection of items from the hospital that they had donated to the Special Collections over a two-year period prior to her call of which this item would be a part of that collection in her opinion. What she wanted to add to that collection was the teaching skeleton that was once used at the hospital’s school of nursing. The skeleton, female, was purchased in 1925 for the school to help teach new nurses anatomy and later as a teaching tool for school children regarding health and healthy bones. She was purchased in the days before there were plastic skeletons so the hospital’s concern was that they could not jut dispose of her in normal hospital fashion while at the same time they could not just place her in the dumpster as they did not want that image on the front page of the local paper. Therefore, they decided that it was time for her to find a new home and the Special Collections was first on the list.

Naturally, how could anyone say no when being offered a skeleton? After all she would fit into the Special Collections, albeit in a unique way from the normal photographs, documents, books, papers, and maps since she was part of the local history and part of the history of the hospital. I was not sure what exactly I would do with a skeleton as it is not something that is normally found in Special Collections although she would give a new meaning to genealogical research. The given was that I could not turn down the offer as the Special Collections; the quandary was what to do with her once she was here, and more to the point, how to get her here. I had to do some research on how to bring her to the library since it did mean transporting human remains. After a lot of questions, strange looks, a few “questions” from our local police chief it was determined that I could safely transport her without the use of a hearse; then it became fun.

On the day that she was to be donated to the Special Collections I met the hospital PR and general staff and the local paper at the hospital. Naturally, we had to have a photo or two for the local paper which normally would not be of much interest on a normal day; however, the Fates have a sense of humor as this group assembled bore a passing resemblance to the Addams Family 30 years later. The group consisted of one lady who was just over 5 feet tall with salt and pepper hair who resembled grandmama, another who looked a bit liked Wednesday, a gentleman who was all of 7 feet tall and who had more than a passing resemblance to Lurch, the official hospital lady dressed in all black with long black hair and myself dressed uncannily as Gomez. The fun began when we all carried the newly acquired skeleton out of the radiology building. As the procession passed through the lobby a few shocked looks were expressed by patients in the lobby with more to come when she was strapped into the passenger seat of my car for the trip to the library. She was a quite passenger as she just sat there and smiled at passersby. At the library, we employed a modified documents cart and Ethafoam supports and she made her way into the library. Yet the big question was amazingly not how to store her or where but instead what to do with her: Thank you Alfred Hitchcock!

The time she came to the library it was also the 50th anniversary of Psycho and the answer was clear – Mother! My idea was that since she was a teaching skeleton then she could still teach. She would introduce a whole new generation to this movie classic while at the same time telling of her history with the hospital and training several generations of nurses. Therefore, I found a periwinkle dress and order a “Mother” wig from a Halloween store including a sign that read Bates Motel for her lap and into the Special Collections she went. She was such a hit for the month of the anniversary that she now comes out every Halloween to take her place in the Special Collections all the to admiration of kids, the thrill of nursing students, and the surprise shock of parents. She has been the most interesting and most popular addition to the Special Collections so much so that our new retirement policy is that you do not retire, instead you gradually become item in the Special Collections.

The original teaching skeleton used in the nursing school of the local hospital, after being donated to Special Collections at the Mooresville Public Library. Photo courtesy Special Collections at the Mooresville Public Library.

Strange and Slightly Spooky: Unique Findings at Illinois College

Samantha Sauer
Illinois College Archivist, Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives
Curator, Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum
Assistant Professor of History

Jenny Barker Devine
Associate Professor of History
Illinois College

I am a lone arranger at Illinois College. I manage and coordinate our archive and museum, and I also teach courses in public history, offered in the Department of History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion.

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is the oldest degree-granting institution in the state and is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. In 2014 the College received a $200,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), resulting in its first archive – a state of the art facility, the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives at Illinois College. As a three-year old young archive for a 188-year old institution, there is much to do. The campus also is home to the Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum, one of the few museums of its kind in the nation. There are daily “found in the collections” moments, each revealing information and often prompting questions. I share with our students that each artifact and every document has a story. Here are two stories.

A Piece of “Hair-itage”

It is Friday, April 17, 2009. There is no modern archive – or an archivist – at Illinois College. Searching through stacks of papers, oversized leather-bond texts, and collapsing boxes, an unopened envelope postmarked 1983 is spotted on a shelf in the library. Dr. Jenny Barker-Devine, associate professor of history, and the campus reference librarian at the time, Mike Westbrook, opened the 26-year old envelope. Inside the sealed package was a picture of Mount Vernon, embroidered in 1815 with human hair.

Hair Piece (pre conservation)
1815 embroidery of Mt. Vernon by Frances “Fanny” Macklin Ellis Wilkinson, using human hair, pre-conservation. Photo of Jenny Barker Devine, Associate Professor of History, Illinois College.

After a little detective work, the ad hoc archivists discovered the piece was embroidered by a young Frances “Fanny” Macklin Ellis Wilkinson, aged fourteen or fifteen, living in Virginia. Born in 1801, Fanny would be married a couple years after completing this piece in 1818, before dying almost two years later at the age of 19, shortly after the death of her son, Ira Wilkinson. Young Ira and his father then left Virginia, first to the frontier of Kentucky and then further out west to Jacksonville, Illinois in 1830, when the town was just five years old. Ira went on to become a prominent citizen of Jacksonville and a law partner with the future Civil War governor of Illinois, Richard Yates (a 1835 graduate of Illinois College).

The skills and artwork shown in this picture grant some insight to the life of a young middle-class woman at the start of the nineteenth century. The embroidered image of Mount Vernon is significant, showing that just fifteen years after George Washington’s death, his home was already considered a landmark. Today, the piece has seen been conserved and enjoys a nice climate controlled storage space in the new archive. To learn more about this piece and its history, explore Dr. Barker-Devine’s reflection of its discovery on her blog in a post from 2012.

post conservation
1815 embroidery of Mt. Vernon by Frances “Fanny” Macklin Ellis Wilkinson, using human hair, post-conservation. Photo courtesy of the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives at Illinois College.


The Lobster’s Tale

Congressman Paul Findley is a 1943 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Illinois College. Established in 2011, the museum serves to collect, preserve, and make available manuscripts and artifacts related to his life and career.   The museum’s collection contains material related to Findley’s career in the U.S. House of Representatives, his lifelong interest in Abraham Lincoln, and his involvement in the quest for universal human rights and justice in the Middle East. Congressman Findley represented the 20th Illinois Congressional District from 1961 to 1983. The museum is in historic Whipple Hall, on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois. Nestled on a shelf between his congressional office desk and Abraham Lincoln’s law office sofa is a preserved lobster.

The lobster, a gift to Representative Findley in 1974 from Mohammed Motie, foreign minister of South Yemen, is a unique crustacean. (As far as I know, it is the only such lobster in our collections and the area.) The crustacean is also an artifact of Representative Findley’s inaugural visit to the Middle East – the “Mission to Aden.”

Lobster gifted to Congressman Paul Findley from Mohammed Motie, foreign minister of South Yemen, during Findley’s “Mission to Aiden,” in May 1974. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Papp, Public History Graduate Intern, Illinois College.

In May 1974 Paul Findley visited the Middle East for the first time. In Findley’s words – his goal was to “end the abuse of the human rights inflicted on one of my constituents by an Arab Government.” The constituent was a young man, Ed Franklin, serving a five year solitary imprisonment in Aden, the capital of the then People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, best known as South Yemen. Franklin had been traveling from Ethiopia to Kuwait, with the airplane landing briefly in Aden for repairs. While waiting, Franklin snapped photos of the harbor and airport, before the police mistook him for a spy. A year later, Franklin was still in prison. The U.S. Government did not have a presence in the country. Representative Findley’s mission was considered an act of desperation and would prove to be Findley’s most “substantial effort in constituent service.”

To free Franklin, Findley traveled to South Yemen and met with President Salim Rubyai Ali and Foreign Minister Mohammed Motie. Meetings involved an exchange of gifts, including a piece of pottery made by Findley’s young daughter and an Arabic edition of an Abraham Lincoln biography. After further discussion, the Congressman’s well-rehearsed plea was interrupted by President Ali, who quickly agreed to release Franklin. Findley would later describe the trip as the most “productive of many foreign trips [during] Congress and since.”

Findley received unique gifts from the leaders – an antique ceremonial dagger, an oil painting of rural Yemen, and the mounted lobster. Each of these gifts are currently on display in the Congressional Office Museum, helping document the Representative’s first of many trips to the Middle East. Of all the objects on display in the museum gallery, the lobster gets the most questions.