Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities: Keepers of History for 150 Years
Step right up and see unique, one-of-a-kind objects. Take a gander at unusual items, some of which have not been seen in over 50 years. Find offbeat and unconventional artifacts, all telling remarkable stories of the past. They’re featured in the new exhibit, Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities: Keepers of History for 150 Years, on view now through January 7, 2018, at The History Museum.
In 1867, a group of 33 residents of St. Joseph County resolved to formally preserve local history. The organization they established 150 years ago is the second oldest historical society in Indiana. Today—as The History Museum—it has over a half million objects in its collection, many of which are showcased in the exhibit Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities. From an iron lung to a voting machine and loving cup, Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities features artifacts—all from The History Museum’s collection–from the past 150 years.
In Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities, one can explore the past through themes that include medicine, armaments, technology, communication, and art. Some items on view demonstrate how technology has changed over time. A circa 1889 camera measuring seven inches tall, in its day deemed light and portable, is far different from the smart phone cameras many of us routinely use today. The Edison phonograph recorder from the early 1900s is vastly different from today’s audio equipment.
Other items seem to transcend time, as exquisite today as when they were first produced. The loving cup presented to James and Susan Catherine Oliver in 1899 by the citizens of South Bend is a stellar example.
Still other artifacts in the exhibit—an upholstered armchair, a wooden desk–appear to be customary objects until explanations of their original functions are understood. Grasping their place in history evokes feelings of awe. The chair, for example, is one that Schuyler Colfax used as Speaker of the House during the administration of President Abraham Lincoln. The desk belonged to J.M. Studebaker, who with his brothers became one of the most important manufacturers of wagons and vehicles in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many of the objects in Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities are truly amazing. A bronze fire bell that stands over five feet tall and boasts an iron clapper was once housed in South Bend Fire Department Station #1. With a clang that is as powerful today as it was decades ago, the bell conjures images of horses galloping through city streets, racing to get firemen to raging blazes. An iron lung on view is a dramatic reminder of an era when some had to depend on the medical apparatus to breathe after polio paralyzed their lungs. Egyptian mummy feet, possibly as old as 2600 BCE, offer a rare glimpse of a very distant past.
In addition to the artifacts on view, Cabinet of Curiosities showcases significant moments of the 150-year history of The History Museum, chronicled by guest writer Peter J. De Kever.
Our Amazing Cabinet of Curiosities invites visitors to experience just some of the amazing artifacts preserved by The History Museum. The collection ranges from furniture to photographs, armaments, blueprints, books, manuscripts, immigrant papers, toys, newspapers, and historic clothing. Also included are film reels, Walkmans, video cassette recorders (VCRs), televisions, and much more. The items are one reason why The History Museum is a thriving, impressive institution, well-poised to educate the public through immersive exhibits like Our Cabinet of Curiosities and interpret history in myriad ways, all of which capture the essence of why history museums exist.