This post was written by Camille Westmont, a graduate student from the University of Maryland. Camille decided to write a post about the collections she has viewed in the last two weeks in town:
Greetings! My name is Camille and I recently graduated from the University of Kentucky. I will be starting graduate school at the University of Maryland in the fall and was invited by Dr. Shackel and Mike to join them in Pardeesville this summer. I’ve only been here about a week and a half, but it’s been a blast! Everyone out here is incredibly friendly, the local history reads like an action novel (think mobsters and secret societies), and the archaeology is excellent!
My first time in Northeastern Pennsylvania has been colored by scores of cultural experiences and dozens wonderful people. However, as both Dr. Shackel and Mike will tell you, I have been most intrigued by the collections of ‘stuff’ stashed away in buildings, businesses, and basements.
These places hold anything (and everything) you could possibly imagine. From tomato sauce canned over 30 years ago and scavenged mining tools to a 1900 Webster’s dictionary and antique transits, the range of ‘stuff’ accumulated by years of collecting is as impressive as it is vast. While some collections can be contained in a room, others can hardly be contained within brick buildings. The variety of the collections and their presentation are astounding.
These collections are more than simply ‘stuff’. Every collector I have talked to can tell you a story behind every item they have. While some of the items in the collections are worth hundreds of dollars, their value is intangible: it’s the memories, stories, and people associated with the objects that define their value. And although each collector prizes his collection, collection envy is not unheard of. As one native of Pardeesville marveled about a fellow collector, “I’ll bet he’s been collecting for decades!”
Although the collectors never explain exactly why they chose to save these items, we have a couple theories. For some, their collections represent a physical link to their past. Reviewing their collections remind them of happy times with family and friends and anecdotes they might otherwise forget. It’s like a three-dimensional scrapbook that you can touch. One of the things that most surprised me about the collections is how much I have been encouraged by the owners to touch things. In the past week, I’ve touched Native American axe heads, mine tunnel maps, and whale oil lamps, just to name a few.
For others, I think their collections represent a link to local history that is quickly disappearing. Over the weekend, Mike, Myles, and I were treated to the self-proclaimed largest privately owned anthracite mining collection in the world. Although the owner, Bill Ferri of Moscow, PA, has never been a coal miner, his connection to coal mining is obvious as soon as you walk into Ferri’s Pizza. His shop is decorated with antique mining tools and murals of breakers, not to mention a historically accurate mine tunnel mock-up at the entrance! It’s definitely the best pizza I’ve ever had, and if you’re ever in Moscow, PA, you should visit. (The photo above and below are from the restaurant and a link to his website can be found here).
I wanted to write about collections because I believe archaeologists are collectors, too. Although we don’t excavate and curate our father’s violin or a World War II jeep (though we conceivably might…), we search out items that elicit stories and memories from the community. We collect clay marbles and perfume bottle stoppers so we can tell stories about the people who used to live here. And as we collect more things, they become personal stories for us, too.