Hartford Outside the Box: The first six months

Back in June I started a series on my professional blog about archival materials available for research in Hartford. I have reached the halfway point (yay!) and decided I would share the posts over here.

Introduction – An explanation of why I am doing this, and some of the thoughts I had as to how I would be going about it.

July: Music in Bushnell Park

August: Eliza Read Sunderland

August/September Extra

September: H[amilton] Outside the Box – Eliza Eaton

(I had to concentrate on a post I was asked to write for an archives group, so there was no entry for October.)

November: Harriet Jacobs

December: Caroline Hewins

I have an idea for January, but February – June are completely open at this point. I hope you enjoy these, and Happy New Year!

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Buses, beauty, and bikes

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How do you get a Nutmegger to try something they’ve pretty much been against throughout its construction? Use the word “free.” That is how CTFastrak got me, and plenty of others, aboard their buses this weekend. I wasn’t excited enough about it go walk around in the snow on Saturday, but the bright sunshine lured me out today.

While Google Maps seems to think the Parrkville [sic] Station (or as I shall now refer to it, the Talk Like a Pirate Station) is closest to me, I chose to walk to the Kane Street Station. It isn’t a pretty walk, at least not one I would choose to do with any regularity. The most attractive portion is the convent, though the nuns don’t seem to forgive those who trespass.

The station is still clean and new, with plenty of amenities.

Once on board, it was, well, like riding a bus. I appreciate that the names of the stops are announced. When it snows, I take the bus downtown instead of biking, and I wish that feature were on the regular city buses. I had already read that the Fastrak wifi wasn’t working, but decided to try it anyway.

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Nope, not working.

I didn’t time the ride, but there were no issues, and I was soon in downtown New Britain. This was my first time walking in the city, though not my first time in town. Like many cities, New Britain has attractive architecture,

a public library, and buildings that have changed use (I walked past a synagogue now housing a church). Yesterday my friends were Instagraming photos from Polish restaurants. My destination, though, was the New Britain Museum of American Art. Last summer, when I rode in the Mandell JCC’s Poker Bike Ride, I received a free Guest Pass to the museum (notice a theme here?).

The NBMAA is pretty much the only reason I ever go to New Britain, and I don’t even go that often. Because I work two doors down from the Wadsworth Atheneum, I’m far more likely to go there for a cultural fix.  It’s great having access to both, though. As soon as I saw Custer’s Gun by Otis Kaye, I thought it looked a lot like The Faithful Colt, which I often see at the Wadsworth. Yup, there’s a reason for that!

My favorite piece of the day was this one, which I neglected to find the label for.

The best surprise, though, was the view of bicycle racing!

View of the race from the museum
View of the race from the museum

The 2015 Ronde de Walnut Hill was taking place, and a friend of mine was even riding. Hardly the Tour de France, but much less jet lag. After saying hello to my friend, I made my way back to the station.

The bus was overcrowded, and more than once the driver had trouble getting the rear door to close. But I made it back. I don’t foresee becoming a busway regular. For trips to downtown Hartford, it’s out of the way. And as I said, New Britain isn’t a big draw for me. When it warms up a bit, I would like to try the multiuse path that runs from Newington to New Britain. That’s more my speed.

Field Museum of Natural History

My grandfather has a louse named after him.
How did that happen? Research.
Where did that happen? Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

I have been thinking a lot about the Field Museum in the past two days, since they announced they will be cutting staff, research, and refocusing their mission. As a professional in the library/archives/museum field, this deeply saddens me. It saddens me even more as the granddaughter of a Field Museum research scientist.

My grandfather, Melvin Alvah Traylor, Jr., spent the bulk of his career researching for the Field Museum. In our family, it is simply known as “the museum.” Though our visits to the Midwest were more often to the family lake house, no trip to Chicago was complete without a day spent at the museum. My most vivid memories are the visits behind the scenes, viewing specimens that Grandpa collected over the years. On his collecting trips they acquired more birds than anyone would today, using methods that are no longer best practice. I remember the smell of the chemical preservatives as each cabinet drawer was opened, the birds neatly arranged, all with paper identification tags attached with string. Audrey Niffenegger writes of this so well in The Time Traveler’s Wife, that I felt as if she’d stolen my memory.

Years after he retired, Grandpa continued his work. The “new guys” welcomed him, and he enjoyed working and learning with them, as well. I have met some of these people. Even if they didn’t continue to praise his work, I would still think of them as wonderful. They came to his funeral, and afterward to the house. One regaled us with stories from his own research.

To me, the Field Museum embodies research. To cut research is to change its entire spirit; a spirit that is not meant to change. Want to switch from handwriting notes to typewriting them and later to word processing them? Fine, that is progress. Want to switch from shooting massive numbers of a single species of bird to methods that are better for everyone and everything around us? Excellent, social responsibility must be valued. Regardless of the methods, the products of research are unique and invaluable. There is nothing unique or valuable about raising admission prices so a visitor – from in or out of town – can view a commodified exhibit and purchase a chain hamburger or latte.

Research lives on, long after the researcher. It is meant to be built upon. Last I knew, my grandfather’s papers are still in desks and file cabinets in the Bird Division. While I was in graduate school, I spoke with the department about possibly processing the collection. Now, as a slightly more seasoned archivist, I am glad I did not. This wonderful body of work needs to be added to the archives by someone with a much greater knowledge of the subject than I have, so it is in the best condition for future researchers to reference.

So please, Field Museum, reconsider. Think about all the wonderful material at your disposal that can continue to grow and provide knowledge. Continue to provide a unique and valuable experience for your visitors. Give them something they can not find on every street corner. Research, teach, and inspire both your staff and the public. Allow someone else’s grandchild to blog, years from now, about their love for an institution that has always been 900 miles from home, but deeply rooted in their heart.