Collection Highlights: Miniatures

This week Summer student Shelby Hamp ends a six-week position as Artifact Photography Assistant at the Huron County Museum thanks to the Government of Ontario’s Summer Experience program. Shelby has been photographing museum artifacts in the Victorian Apartment gallery and main storage. In a guest post for our blog, Shelby shares some of her personal favourites among the artifacts she has taken pictures of. 

 

The Huron County Museum is filled with many weird and incredible things. I have come across little critters in jars, intricate designs on silverware and plates, and the miniature collection.

My job at the museum is to photograph the toy collection, and this week I came across the miniatures. There is a ton of them; little Victorian furniture, coffins, washboards, and many other tiny versions of everyday things. Some were tiny product examples; others were children’s toys. These toys are in very good condition and are toys I wish I had grown up with. The neatest toys I have come across were small parlour items: a clock, couch, dinner gong, and a few other items. Everything is gold and the sofas and chairs have mauve fabric as cushioning. These toys were used between 1890 and 1910; the donor’s mother originally played with them and then the donor and her sister also played with them. Other doll items were also donated with this accession (gift to the museum) in 1995, and all have a history that dates to the late 1800s. The best part is: everything is still in mint condition.

 

Visit the Huron County Museum at 110 North Street, Goderich to see more of our collection! Do you have a favourite artefact? Share with us on Instagram or Twitter

Unsafe in any County: Windshields

This is the second instalment of a four-part series, Unsafe in any County, by Special Project Coordinator Jeremy Dechert. The series focuses on the dangers posed by historic automobiles or automobile components and is inspired by the Museum’s growing database of digitized historical newspapers from across Huron County. These newspapers can be accessed by visiting our website. In our first instalment, we focused on the dangers of the 1953 Buick Roadmaster’s braking system.

This week, we will be focusing on the dangers and innovations of early automobile windshields. Windshields were first introduced as optional vehicle components in 1904. Automobile manufacturers such as Ford and Cadillac offered windshields as standard equipment as early as 1911 while other manufacturers such as Studebaker, EMF, and Flanders offered windshields as optional equipment available at an extra cost. Windshields were not standard features on most vehicles until 1915.

The Herald. May 24, 1912 p.5

Originally, windshields were made with single sheet plate glass. The 1925/1926 Essex Super Six, originally owned by the Museum’s founder Mr. Neil, and on display here at the Huron County Museum, has a windshield made of plate glass. This glass was effective for keeping bugs, debris, water and snow out of a vehicle. However, should an accident occur, it was less successful at keeping the driver or passenger(s) in. They could easily be ejected through the window or the glass could break into large, sharp pieces which were liable to cause injuries. There are numerous accounts of such injuries occurring in Huron County as seen in local newspaper articles.

The Seaforth News. September 15, 1938 p.2

 

The Wingham Advance. May 15, 1930 p.1

The Signal. April 29, 1920 p.8

The Signal. June 21, 1917 p.7

In 1909, there was a major development in glass technology: safety glass. Safety glass does not break as easily as plate glass. It is intended to crack and splinter rather than shatter when impacted. This type of glass helps to prevent occupants from being ejected from the vehicle in the case of a crash, provides more rigidity to the car frame in the case of a rollover, and makes it more difficult for thieves to break into a vehicle. The August 2, 1956 edition of the Zurich Herald included a concise explanation of how safety glass was invented by French Chemist Edouard Benedict…by accident.

Zurich Herald. August 2, 1956 p.6

Wingham Advance-Times. July 18, 1929 p.2

Two decades after its invention, Ford was the first vehicle manufacturer to include safety glass as a standard feature on a vehicle under $1500. Meaning, Ford was the first company to put this new windshield in front of the average consumer. Beginning in 1929, triplex safety glass windshields were a standard feature on all Ford models. This triplex glass consisted of three layers. The outer two layers were made of regular sheet glass and the inner layer was made of cellulose, giving the windshield rigidity and form. In 1928, The Seaforth News ran an article describing the manufacturing process for “Non-Shatterable Glass.”


Seaforth News. July 12, 1928 p.7

Although the invention of safety glass undoubtedly saved many drivers and passengers from injury and death, it did not avoid criticism. In 1937, The Department of Highways (US) outlined the shortcomings of safety glass in an article titled Automobiles – and Sudden Death. Though sensationalist in tone, the article notes the danger of partial occupant ejection during automobile accidents. According to the article, the safety glass could “guillotine.” Ralph Nader echoed this concern in 1965. He specifically criticized the quality of safety glass. He named safety glass windshields as the third greatest culprit in causing injury during automobile accidents. He argued that while safety glass windshields often prevented an occupant from fully leaving the vehicle, they did not protect occupants who were only partially ejected. The glass would act as a jaw when the occupant’s momentum came back towards the vehicle following the initial impact. Safety glass has progressed immensely since 1965 but this great innovation was not an instant solution to a serious safety issue facing motorists. For more automobile history, visit our website and search our growing collection of digitized newspapers from across Huron County.

 

excerpt: “Automobiles – and Sudden Death,” Clinton News Record September 2, 1937 p.7

 

Unsafe in any County: The 1953 Buick Roadmaster

This is the first of a four part series on vehicle safety, inspired by articles found in digitized historical newspapers from across Huron County. Many of these newspapers can now be accessed by visiting our website. The story of vehicle safety is protracted and involves many actors. In this series on the history of vehicle safety, Special Project Coordinator Jeremy Dechert will shed light on particular vehicles and vehicle components which were discovered to be dangerous through either design flaws or negligence.

 
According to the above advertisement for the 1953 Buick Roadmaster, “all this flash-fast getaway, this new quiet, this stepped-up efficiency, this more spirited performance, can be judged only for the driver’s seat.” I disagree; this car can also be judged by those who have never driven one. On January 18, 1954, Leon Friend drove his 1953 Buick Roadmaster to the Lawless Buick Company in Ferndale Michigan for service. The previous day he had experienced a total loss of braking power. Clifford Wentworth, the assistant service manager, was pulling Mr. Friend’s car into the garage when the brakes failed yet again. Unable to stop, Mr. Wentworth crushed the leg of mechanic Robert Comstock between the Buick and another vehicle he was working on. Comstock lost his leg as a result of his injury.

The negligence of General Motors in dealing with the ‘53 Roadmaster’s known braking issue was highlighted during the course of the lawsuit brought by Comstock and his workmen’s compensation carrier against General Motors and Clifford Wentworth, the assistant service manager. The Roadmaster’s hydraulic breaking system had faulty ‘o’ rings. The ‘o’ rings acted as a seal between the master cylinder and vacuum cylinder of the power braking system. Because they created a poor seal, brake fluid would be sucked out of the braking system and up into the engine where it was burned off. With the brake fluid depleted, when the brakes were engaged the amount of pressure required to stop the vehicle could not build up in the brake lines.

Wentworth testified that General Motors was aware of the braking issue problem with the Roadmaster by November of 1953. Garages were told to fix the problem when vehicles came in for service. However, Buick’s Service Department advised garage operators not to preventatively warn known Roadmaster owners of the danger they faced. Only if an owner brought their vehicle in for service were garage mechanics were to fix the issue. Further, if a Roadmaster owner did bring their vehicle in for service but the garage did not have the parts to fix the braking issue, the garage owner was pressured by General Motors not to inform the vehicle owner of the issue. Comstock lost the case in circuit court but upon appeal to the Supreme Court of Michigan, he was granted a new trial. However, before the re-trial began, GM settled the case out of court to the tune of $75 000. This example of negligence was featured in Ralph Nader’s 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed, an explosive exposé on safety standards in the automobile industry. This work changed the nature of vehicle safety in North America.

*Details for this story were taken from Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, 1965.

Children in the Huron Jail

May 18th is International Museum Day! Museums and historic sites across the world are opening their doors for free today. For those whom cannot visit the Huron Historic Gaol in person, Student Museum Assistant Jacob Smith delves into the building’s past to reveal how some of Huron’s youngest prisoners ended up behind bars. 

During its operation [1841-1972], hundreds of children were arrested and sent to the Huron Jail. Their crimes ranged from arson and theft to drunkenness and vagrancy. The most common crime that children committed was theft. In total, thefts made up over half of all youth charges between 1841 and 1911. In total, children under the age of 18 made up 7% of the gaol population during that time.*

 
Occasionally, young people were sent to gaol for serious crimes. In 1870, William Mercer, age 17, was brought to the Huron Gaol and charged with murder. He was sentenced to die and was to be hanged on December 29, 1870. Thankfully for Mercer, his sentence was reduced to life in prison and was sent to a penitentiary. This is an example of an extreme crime for a young offender.

On many occasions, children were sent to gaol because they were petty thieves. Many young people who were committed for these types of crimes would only spend a few days in gaol. If the crime was more severe, children would be transferred from the gaol to a reformatory, usually for three to five years.

The youngest inmates that were charged with a crime were both seven years old. The first, Thomas McGinn, was charged in 1888 for larceny. He was discharged five days later and was sentenced to five years in a reformatory. The second, John Scott, was charged in 1900 for truancy; he was discharged the next day.

First floor cell block at the Huron Historic Gaol.

Unfortunately, some children were brought into gaol with their families because they were homeless or destitute. An example of this was in 1858, when Margaret Bird, age 8, Marion Bird, 6, and Jane Bird, 2, spent 25 days in gaol with a woman committed for ‘destitution’ (presumably their mother). Some children were also brought to the Huron Jail because their parents committed a crime and they had nowhere else to go while their parents were incarcerated. Samuel Worms, age 7, was sent to gaol with his parents because they were charged with fraud in 1865. He spent one day in the Gaol.

When reading through the Gaol’s registry, it is clear that times have certainly changed for young offenders. Most of the crimes committed by the young prisoners of the past would not receive as serious punishments today.

Here are some examples of their crimes in newspapers from around Huron County:

Richard Cain, 16, spent two days in jail.
The Huron Signal, 1896-09-17, pg 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philip Butler, 15, spent eleven days in the Huron Jail.
The Exeter Advocate, 1901-08-29, pg 4.

Sources came from the Gaol’s 1841-1911 registry and Huron County’s digitized newspapers.

*Dates for which the gaol registry is available & transcribed. There were young people in the Huron jail throughout its history, into the twentieth century. 

The Gathering Place, Part 4: The Opening of the Presumably Absent Meeting Place

Guest blogger and local Wingham artist Becca Marshall finishes her series on the museum as ‘gathering place’ with a behind the scenes look at her exhibit on display now at Brock University. 

After a long year of photographing, developing, printing, and researching, we have finally made it to the finish line. As such, the end of my project was marked with a gallery exhibition of the photographs I took throughout the year accompanied by text and installation pieces on April 13th at the Marilynn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in St. Catharines, ON. I thought I would include some photos and descriptions of the pieces below for those who wish to see the end result, or, if you are in the area you can go to the gallery and see the installation in person (On display Tuesday-Saturday from 1-5 pm until May 5th).

A couple of photos from the installation process.

Over the course of a couple of days and with the assistance of Matthew Tegal and Marcie Bronson from Rodman Hall, and Professor Amy Friend and Lesley Bell from Brock University, we were able to set up and install the show.

Step Lightly (2017) Pigment print on luster paper and graphite This is the beginning piece of the exhibition. The photo features the train of Jean (Scott) Taylor’s wedding dress and is accompanied by personal writing in graphite directly on the wall next to the image so that it can only be seen up close. A smaller image is hidden to the side of the text of an old bottle of Potassium Chlorate medication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelf Life (2017) Assortment of boxes This piece takes up the span of the long wall. The eclectic boxes are a stand in for the discovery process that a person experiences in the museum. Visitors are encouraged to take their time opening the boxes and looking for things that might have been left behind.

Pulling Threads (2017) Pigment print on luster paper, graphite, and archival tissue paper This piece consists of the large format print of the child’s sewing machine from the museum coupled with a collage of tissue paper with fragmented writing. Beneath these sheets are more hidden photos. The viewer either has to lift the pages up to view the smaller pieces, or they might catch a glimpse when someone walks by and the breeze lifts up the pages for a few moments, exposing the photos underneath.

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Parts Fragile (2017) Pigment print on cotton rag paper The final piece of the show is a series of artifact photographs presented side by side so that they read like a sentence. This piece ties together the nature of the museum- the bringing together of like and unlike things to share their stories.

 


In many ways, I still cannot believe that this project is over. It was the experience of a lifetime and I am so grateful to the incredible staff at the museum who so generously gave their time and resources to help me better understand the nature of collections, curation, and our relationship to artifact display.

Additionally, without the support of my supervising instructors, Professor Amy
Friend and Dr. Keri Cronin, along with the advice and aid of Matthew Tegal, Marcie Bronson, and Lesley Bell, this project would never have gotten off the ground. Their constant support was of the utmost value. Overall, I learned so much about the silent conversations and nuances that inform our interactions with artifacts from the past – and I am so grateful for those of you who followed
me along on this journey.