Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Stories in Stones at the Fort Missoula Post Cemetery

Once a year local historians gather at the old Post Cemetery at Fort Missoula to tell the stories of those buried on site. There are a lot of stories to tell, stories of empty graves, stories of a man who died tragically in a hunting accident, stories of soldiers, their wives and their children.

The present Post Cemetery was plotted out when the locations of the buildings and utility areas were being laid out June 1877, the beginning of Fort Missoula. The cemetery is approximately one square acre, about 43,560 square feet and was built to hold as many as 400 burial sites. The main cemetery is divided into two main sections, with each section being divided again into two equal halves.

When walking through the site, it’s obvious there was little planning when it came to the organization of the cemetery. The alignment and spacing of the headstones is not uniform within each section, and there is little organization by date. There are a total of 239 headstones, but upon historical research and information available on the headstones, there are over 250 individuals buried in the cemetery. There are eleven graves with more than one individual buried, including a set of still born twins and the entire Velde family buried together. The headstone of Pvt. Edwin McCall is over an empty grave as the body was removed to another cemetery.

The very first burial in the cemetery occurred in 1878, marked by the headstone of Private William Gerrick. The military caste system is very prevalent in the cemetery as the second oldest grave, that of 1st Lt. Thomas S. Wallace from 1878, is marked far across the cemetery. The first woman to be buried at the site was Mrs. Matilda Clinchey Tatje, a laundress for Co. E, 3rd Infantry.

Join us, Sunday June 10 from 1-3pm to hear the stories of these individuals.  Find out why 37- or perhaps 39- bodies were removed from Fort Ellis, Montana and moved to Fort Missoula, and why there is a two-person discrepancy. Hear the story of the grave marked “U.S. Soldier,” an individual that may actual have the oldest grave, possibly dating back to the War with Mexico from 1846-1848. Find out why the headstone of Lieutenant Thomas Salter Wallace is not quite the same as everyone else around him.

Learn about two Medal of Honor recipients, 1918 Influenza Epidemic victims, S.A.T.C. students, the life of a frontier officer, who the local V.F.W. post is named after, the life of an Ordnance Sergeant, the post mascot, and others.

It’s all Sunday, June 10 from 1-3pm at the Fort Missoula Post Cemetery!

Curious Collections Work

By definition, a Collections Assistant is the Curator’s right hand.  We live and breathe the collection.  It is our job to know the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s of the thousands of artifacts placed into our care.  I always say what you see on display at a museum doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s stored in the basement.  In my time at HMFM, never has this been more apparent to me than right now with the complete inventory that is taking place.  Each day an intern or volunteer says “Do you know what I found?”  This leads to what we in the museum world like to call “curiosities”: items that are bizarre, disturbing, rare, or do not fit with the museum’s mission or purpose.  HMFM plays host to hundreds of such curiosities, and as the inventory progresses there are sure to be even more discoveries.

A disassembled gallows sits in the warehouse at the edge of our 32 acre grounds.  Bread ties of all colors rest comfortably among acid free paper in the photo document room.  Just down the hall is a textile room with a box labeled “Ladies Underwear”.  A bottle of whiskey purchased in 1919 is stored half-full and corked, hidden away in the basement since 1979.  After some recent thought about these lost treasures, and how we could bring them to the public, HMFM decided to use “The Window to the Museum” for a series of curious collections exhibits.  Thus, “Season of the Seldom Viewed HMFM Collections” is born.

This is how we operate at HMFM.  The germination of a small thought or idea can become a 6 month long exhibit series.  What is most attractive about museum work is the ever changing duties.  There is not a “typical day” around here.  One day we are using power tools, hauling lumber, and painting.  The next day we are at Perkins at 7 a.m. to meet with the Society of American Foresters, and then researching the history of household irons that afternoon.  The possibilities here are endless.  Anyone who is lucky enough to pass through the “Staff Only” gate by the front door, and up into the Collections Department will know what I am talking about. 

Window to the Museum: Our E “steam” ed Iron Collection

What’s a collections assistant to do when a major exhibit is successfully installed and done?  Start research on another smaller exhibit of course!  HMFM has a small window just before the Main Gallery called “Window to the Museum”.  We fill it with various small scale exhibits, and also allow local artists, collectors, or educational groups to use it on a month to month basis.

The “Window to the Museum” is beginning a series of monthly exhibits called “Season of the Seldom Viewed HMFM Collections”.  This series will run from May 2012 through January 2013.  There will be a new collection on display monthly so be sure to swing out to the museum often and check it out!

May: “The E “steam” ed Iron Collection”: Exhibit of our household irons ca. 1900-1950.

Here are a few photos of the various irons that will be on display:


1900s Cast Iron Sad Iron- precursor to self-heating irons such as those with fuel or electricity. Imagine ironing with this 8 pounder!


1900s Mrs. Pott's Sad Iron- Mrs. Potts patented her idea of a removable handle for the sad iron in 1871. Most sad iron bases weigh 4 to 8 pounds.



1905 Charcoal Iron- large hollow chamber for placing hot charcoal inside to heat iron. This guy weighs about 6 pounds (empty).













We even have child's size sad irons! This one is complete with a working removable handle and weighs about 9 ounces.



This is my favorite iron, a fuel powered (yes that's a small fuel tank with a pilot light in the rear) "Cool Blue Handle" iron manufactured by Coleman from 1929-1948.



Travel Size "Knapp-Monarch Gad About" Electric Iron- foldable handle with detachable cord, weighing in at 2.5 pounds.