Haven History: How to speak museum

By Lou Bernard in Arts & Entertainment

February 9, 2012

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It’s the beginning of another year here at 362 East Water Street. If you’re new to Lock Haven, that’s the Heisey Museum, the oldest building in town. And in answer to your next couple of questions: No, the world is not really going to end in 2012. And yes, we welcome the college students. Students are welcome to come in for tours, or research, or internships. And, of course, I’ll be writing for the Eagle Eye.

I was in college myself when I first learned the term “argot,” which means a sort of slang language used in a specific profession. Though I couldn’t think of any examples back then, when my grade depended on it, I know several now. Some of these are standard museum terms, and others are specific to the Heisey, where I work. As an introduction this semester, I thought I’d share them with you—Provide sort of a Museum/English dictionary.

Accession: Every item that comes into the museum is given a serial number. This number is placed on the item, and recorded in a logbook and database. The process of recording this (or, if you’re in a mood, making your intern do it) is called accessioning the item. The reverse, removing an item from the collection, is called de-accessioning.

Archival: Most papers, inks, and other supplies are made with a certain amount of acid. This means that when you write something, the clock is ticking. It’s only a matter of time—Years, but still—Before the paper is eaten away. Museums use archival pens, paper, and folders, which are made without acid, to preserve their documents. Also known as “acid-free” or “museum quality.”

Being Clause:  When doing property research, every deed has a paragraph that gives directions to the previous deed. It begins with the word “being”, as in,”Being the same property sold in 1887…” (Also remember “Improvements Clause,” the clause on a deed that lists improvements made to the property.)

The Click: When working on an intriguing research job, or learning about local history, there is a moment when you get interested and stay interested. This moment, when you realize you’re going to continue learning and researching because you’re fascinated, we call “The Click.” It’s fun to see in the interns, when they find out that one of Lock Haven’s early settlers was a pirate, and they won’t let go until they know more.  (If you just felt the Click while reading this, stay tuned—We’ll learn more about the pirate later in the semester.)

Cow Deed: When doing property research in the courthouse, there is a sort of guideline to the deeds. The further back you go, the more likely you are to encounter a cow deed. The people of the 1800s would include a simple house number over their cold dead bodies. Their descriptions were not easy to follow—Usually, they would read something like,”Beginning at a point by the Susquehanna River, and moving north forty feet to where the cow stands in the afternoon, then proceeding west to where the old oak tree used to be….”

Daughtered Out: This is a genealogy term. Last names tend to be handed down by males, since females change their names when they marry. (I don’t even want to think about hyphens here; names like “Everett-George-Betts-Miller” are a genealogy nightmare.) When a male has only girl children, who then marry, and his last name is not passed on, the line is said to have daughtered out.

Doom List: This is a term created by one of my student volunteers. It refers to a list of persons know to be buried in a certain cemetery, but whom have no markers. This can get a little creepy. (“Are you able to find that grave?” “No, she’s on the Doom List.”)

Shoemakered: The writer Henry Wharton Shoemaker lived in McElhattan. He wrote down a lot of local legends, and told some fascinating stories. He was also known to have done for poetic license what Stonehenge did for rocks. After his death, he was accused of fictionalizing and embellishing many of his stories. To be Shoemakered means to quote a fact, only to find out later that the person you heard it from completely made it up.

Smoke And Soak: Occasionally, we hand out old-looking documents as souvenirs. The museum has been known to give out fake copies of the original map of Lock Haven, similar to the authentic-looking Declarations of Independence some of you own from your class trip to Philadelphia. These can be made to look old by soaking them in coffee and then burning the edges with a cigar, which is known as a smoke and soak. It gives the impression that you’re holding a fragile, ancient document, when the paper is in fact a two-week-old photocopy.

I hope this article has given you some insight into the museum business. I’d like to invite all the students to come visit at the museum. Take the tour, learn about the county. Without these handy terms, the museum business wouldn’t make any sense—And of course, we wouldn’t want that.

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