I'm certain that each of us can think of one or more events in their life that sparked a life-long interest. One such occurrence in my own life was a high school class trip to the Harvard Peabody Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
Despite my best teen-aged effort to act grownup, I stared wide-eyed at the museum's amazing collection of mummies, glittering jeweled artifacts, weaponry, tools, clothing and photographs. Every artifact whispered to me that it had an amazing story to tell. I had to be dragged away when it was time to leave.
And so this year, as I looked around my own home, I remembered that wonderful trip. I saw objects and keepsakes tucked away that whispered tales of my own family. I began to think about what would happen to them when I am gone. There is never a guarantee that our personal artifacts will always be as treasured by others (even our own family).
And so, surprisingly with less reluctance than I expected, I've begun donating family keepsakes and collectibles to New Hampshire's Museum of History. The first group of objects donated were related to my grandfather Webster's work–he was the station agent and telegraph operator for the B&M Railroad in Merrimack New Hampshire.
The Reeds Ferry station building has long ago disappeared, but a lovely sepia-toned photograph captured Gramp's then youthful image (along with his favorite dog) standing in front of the structure. Donated along with this photograph were his conductor's cap, his stop watch, station agent book, B&M Railroad Free Pass Card, and a used ticket stub.
Also recently I remembered a small coin my father had given me. Although Civil War “dog tags” were not issued by the government during that war, many of the soldiers bought them and had them engraved. Wearing a tag with their name and company was seen as an advantage for identity purposes if they were injured or killed. In the best scenario they would have a memento of their service.
My second great-uncle Daniel P. Kilbourn was just 16 when he enlisted for the first time, as a musician, specifically a bugler, in New Hampshire's 1st Regiment Sharpshooters Company E. Mustered out in 1862 due to a disability, he enlisted a second time in 1862 in Company H of New Hamphire's 14th Regiment. Eventually promoted from corporal to the rank of second sergeant, he was given temporary leave, returning home to Webster, New Hampshire. Once there, his health much affected by the toils of service, he died of pneumonia in 1864 at the tender age of 19.
And so now this unique coin has become part of the permanent collection of the New Hampshire Museum of History. Possibly it will be displayed with copies of his official papers from the National Archives that I also provided to them. Viewers may learn a few things about the horrible “War of the Rebellion,” when children went to war, when families were divided, when the best and the worst of humankind was exposed on the battlefield and in the prison of war camps.
Perhaps now someone young, old, or in between, will look at these artifacts, and also be inspired to learn about, and preserve New Hampshire's history. As for me, I sleep better not worrying whether these objects, separated forever from their whispered story, will end up on eBay, or in someone's private numismatic collection.
I'm grateful that my ancestors thought enough to save these precious items of yesterday. If they were able to talk with me, I know they would be glad that I've decided to share them.
P.S. Also see “Giving Thanks for Mississippi's Yesterday“