Monday, August 10, 2015

Bringing Clara Barton Back to Washington D.C.

On Tuesday, July 28th, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine was pleased to dedicate The Clara Barton Missing Soldier’s Office, the living and working space of Clara Barton during, and just after, the American Civil War.  Located on 7th Street in Washington D.C., The Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office is now open to the public thanks to the unique partnership between the General Services Administration and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. 

The original sign.

Clara Barton lived and worked in the space from 1861 to 1869. With the assistance of a handful of clerks, Barton discovered the fate of nearly 22,000 soldiers listed as missing in action and responded to nearly 63,000 pieces of correspondence. Barton financed the Missing Soldiers Office with her own funds out of this very space.

Tom painting the cases.

We had many tasks that needed to be completed to ensure their readiness for both the artifacts as well as our esteemed guests. The original cases that the museum had to spare we incomplete, but we contacted a local plexi glass company, who made us some quality lids.  In addition each received a fresh coat of paint that would complement but not take away from the interpretive space. 

Room 9.

Once the paint had cured and off gassed, the cases were brought up and into the space. We wanted each room to tell a different story of the Missing Soldiers Office.  In one room, we would focus on boarding house life.  In another, we show items that may have belonged to Barton.  In the main room, Room 9, we tell the story of the Missing Soldiers Office, with the original sign and other supplies used in the space.

The original sign on display in Room 9.

With the cases in place, the artifacts were brought in to the space.  By using risers, we were able to elevate the items for the public to view, and to highlight the items.  Labels were also added in the cases to describe the significance of each artifact. 

Edward Shaw's room.

Some of the rooms have been furnished with period items and d├ęcor to give a glimpse into the lives of those who resided there.  Two period ropes beds are seen in the Barton and Shaw rooms we set up two rope beds as well as a desk where a gas lamp would sit.  In the Room 9, we set up two period style desks, along with some crates, to represent items that would have been seen in the Missing Soldiers Office.

The visitor center and bookstore area.

The dedication of the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office was the culmination of a nearly 20 year project that began in 1996 when a GSA employee named Richard Lyons discovered artifacts in the attic that belonged to Clara Barton.  It is entirely due to his diligent observation and persistence that the space once occupied by Clara Barton was discovered and the news of the discovery shared.

Richard Lyon's receiving his plaque at the dedication.

Without his efforts and the contributions of multiple partners and many individuals - the artifacts, this historic space and the CBMSO legacy would have been lost to history. In a moving ceremony, Richard Lyons was presented with a plaque and a standing ovation in honor of his discovery and efforts.

Richard Lyons

Visitors can now walk the steps Barton walked and experience the space as she did more than 150 years ago. The CBMSO is the result of a one-of-a-kind partnership between the General Services Administration (GSA) and the NMCWM. Both are proud of the incredible efforts that went into restoring, preserving and interpreting this historic site. 

The ribbon cutting.

 Thomas Frezza

 Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cigar and Whiskey Night

As the hot wind swept over the fields, Confederate and Union soldiers prepared for battle. They gathered their muskets, stocked gun powder and loaded ammunition into satchels. This was the reason they joined their militaries- to fight for their beliefs.

While the war raged on for four years, Civil War soldiers most of their time in camp-playing cards, sipping whiskey and smoking cigars to pass the time. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine has captured the essence of a soldier’s camp life and recreated it for the present-day experience.

Join us for our 4th Annual Cigar and Whiskey Night 2015, held on Saturday, June 20, and have yourself a true Civil War experience of smoking cigars and sipping whiskey!

Executive Director George Wunderlich will be picking the cigars for the evening, drawing on his experience as a cigar aficionado. Gather around the campfire and listen to George play his banjo and share stories from the past.

We’ve partnered with two craft distilleries- Lyon Distilling Company and Virginia Sweetwater Distillery- who will provide samples of rum, moonshine and whiskey.

Lyon Distilling is a craft distillery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, dedicated to transforming raw ingredients into splendid liquor, step-by-step, in ultra-small batches. Lyon will provide samples of rum and corn whiskey.

Virginia Sweetwater Distillery is the first legal distillery in Southwest Virginia to produce small batch handcrafted whiskies. The distillery will be pouring samples of its War Horn Whiskey, made in tribute to all military personnel who have served.

The Wine Kitchen of Frederick will be providing sustenance including pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw.

Pre-registration is required for the event. For more information and to purchase tickets, please contact the NMCWM at 301-695-1864 or visit

 By Kacie Peterson

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A day at Fort Dix and Lakehurst, NJ

On May 6th, I (Collections Manager and Educator Tom Frezza) traveled to Fort Dix to give a presentation on Civil War Medicine to military medical personnel.  Before making my way to New Jersey, I was asked if I wanted to tour some of the installations and see some of the training that is provided there.  I politely agreed, not knowing what an eye-opening experience I was in store for.

The large hanger in the center is Hanger One.

I left Frederick at about 4 AM, with a hot cup of coffee and plenty of National Museum of Civil War Medicine handouts.  I arrived at the restaurant where I would be speaking around 8 AM, and was then picked up by my host, Captain Michelle Imlay.  She asked if I wanted to go to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) first, to see the hangers and exhibits.  “Of Course!” was my answer, trying to contain my excitement.  I had read about this base long before I ever started working for the museum and before this day was unsure that I would ever have the opportunity to see it.  Before being named Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL), this area was known as Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst.  The United States Navy purchased the property in 1921 for use as an airship station and renamed it Naval Air Station Lakehurst.

Inside Hanger One.
The Navy's lighter-than-air program was conducted at Lakehurst through the 1930s. NAS Lakehurst was the center of airship development in the United States and housed three of the U.S. Navy's four rigid airships, (ZR-1) Shenandoah, (ZR-3) Los Angeles, and (ZRS-4) Akron. A number of the airship hangars built to berth these ships still survive. Hangar One, in which the Shenandoah was built, held the record for the largest "single room" in the world.

It is also the site of the May 6, 1937 LZ 129 Hindenburg airship disaster. Despite the notoriety and well documented nature of this incident, today there is a simple memorial that denotes the location of the crash at then-NAS Lakehurst in the field behind the large airship hangars on base. A ground marker, painted black, and rimmed by a bright yellow painted chain, locates where the gondola of the German zeppelin Hindenburg hit the ground.

The Memorial with Hanger One in the background.
We toured the hanger and museum, and went to site of the memorial, where we realized that we were at the site on the anniversary.  The guides asked if we wanted to go to the wreath laying ceremony that evening. Who among us would want to miss something like that?  I, of course, said that I would come back that evening for the chance to see the ceremony.

After touring the hanger, we went back to Sebastian's Schnitzelhaus, the restaurant that I would be giving the talk at.  The German food was great, and the talk went really well.  It was more of a discussion than a presentation, with the attendees asking a lot of questions creating a dialogue between us..  They were able to learn where the some of the current policies and procedures originated from during the Civil War, and were educated about the difference between civil war medicine myth and fact.

Captain Imlay and Tom.
Captain Imlay then took me to the Medical Simulation Training Centers (MSTC).  There, I was able to observe a class of soldiers who were training to be first responders on the battlefield.  At the MSTC, they deliver effective medical training with a standardized training platform for both classroom and simulated battlefield conditions. The MSTC training components include a computerized bleed-breathe mannequin that is weighted and airway equipped, partial task trainers and associated equipment. Enabling technology includes audiovisual enhancements, camera surveillance capability, computer labs, and control rooms with a remotely managed training platform.

The MSTC program supports training for medical and non-medical personnel including Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard, with priority given to deploying units. The MSTC’s goal is to better prepare Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines for the application of medical interventions under combat conditions.

Tourniquet training.

What really amazed me was that they were learning some of the same things that were developed during the Civil War, just modernized.  Some of the students even asked me if there was even training like this during the Civil War.  I pulled out my phone and pulled up the photo of the famous ambulance drill, where they are not only using an ambulance, but bandages and splints.

As the evening drew to a close we went to the ceremony honoring the lost passengers and crew from the Hindenburg disaster. It was an honor to witness.  There were descendants of those lost, people who had ridden on the airships, members of the ground crew, and those who had helped design her.  To hear their stories and to be on the exact spot, at the exact moment, left me in awe.

Disasters like the Hindenburg tragedy and the readiness of the first responders who delivered aid brought me right back to the Civil War.  , The aid system that the soldiers were learning the day I visited, the aid system that the ground crew gave to the wounded from the Hindenburg 78 years before, were all developed during the American Civil War, Over 150 years ago through the pioneering efforts of men like Major Johnathan Letterman.

I want to thank my host, Captain Michelle Imlay, for taking her day to show me numerous great sites, and for showing the same level of excitement to see all of the extraordinary things Fort Dix has to offer. 

~T. Frezza

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Civil War Social 2.0

On Sunday, March 15th, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine hosted a Civil War Social on behalf of The Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area.  It was an “Instameet” program which featured a special behind-the-scenes tour and a chance to network with fellow social media followers.

Photo Credit: Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area

There were twelve Civil War enthusiasts in the group, who during the tour, took photos of various points of interest and posted them on their social media outlets.  

 Photo Credit:

The event was advertised exclusively on social media by the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, and it’s the first time that the National Museum of Civil War Medicine has participated in such a venture.

Photo Credit:   Kristen Butler

While some participants were quite familiar with the museum, others had never been inside its doors.  After meeting in the conference room, Tom took them to the third floor to begin the tour.  Not many visitors have the privilege to visit the third floor, since it is mostly just administrative offices, but in Frederick, there are links to the past in the least likely of places. For instance the original weight operated doorbell to the Carty building which now houses The National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

 Photo Credit:   Kristen Butler

The next stop on their exclusive tour was the rear of the building to the collections room.  It is here where they got an up-close and personal look at many interesting and iconic artifacts from the American Civil War.  All the while they were asking questions and posting photos.

 Photo Credit:   Kristen Butler

In addition to their tour they got an exclusive sneak- peek of a new collection which is currently in quarantine.

Photo Credit: 

Exclusive behind the scenes tours are available by appointment for small groups only. 

Tom Frezza