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Museum showing collection of of ‘bizarre’ objects

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

You are invited to see some out-of-the-ordinary objects at the Sophienburg Museum. When? Tues.-Sat.10am-4pm. Some things could even be described as “weird”, “unexpected”, “rare”, “unusual” and even “bizarre”.

In the pharmacy exhibit is a hanging glass show globe. It holds about five gallons of colored water and it hung in the Schumann Pharmacy window. Different colors were achieved by mixing distilled water and various chemicals. According to Museum records, “red” signified that there was a health risk in the community and “blue” meant no contagious diseases existed. In the early days the pharmacist made diagnoses, and mixed and dispensed natural and patented medicines. According to David Hartmann, who is very knowledgeable about pharmacies in NB, show globes go back to ancient times when certain colors symbolized certain diseases. He says that later they became more of a symbol showing where the pharmacy was located.

The doctor’s office exhibit has a real wooden leg. Mildred Schlichting recently donated her grandfather’s leg to the Museum. The story behind the leg is interesting. She said that when her grandfather was 18 years old he cut his leg quite badly with a draw knife. It was healing. Then a country doctor said it didn’t look right, so he ripped off the scab which developed into blood poisoning. The leg had to be removed. To do his farm work, he wore the wooden leg strapped to his waist and shoulders. He had to swing it forward in order to walk. Anyway, it worked because he lived to a ripe old age of 83.

Hanging in the general store section of the museum are two small red glass globes that were actually the first home fire extinguishers. They were hung over the kitchen stove. If something caught on fire the hot flame would melt the seal on the bottom of the globe. This would release a chemical that took oxygen out of the air and smother the fire. That’s clever when you think about it.

There’s a barber pole in the museum. Not so weird, right? Perhaps you haven’t run into the “rest of the story”. In the good old days your local hair cutting barber was also the dentist and the surgeon. When he was in his surgeon clothes, the barber practiced “blood letting” to get rid of sick blood. That little instrument is really wicked looking. Now back to the barber pole: the red of the pole stood for blood and the white for gauze. The barber shop was also a favorite place for men to hang out to play instruments and sing. Thus the Barbershop Quartet.

It seems to me that there is something creepy about making something out of human hair. I guess I’ve seen too many horror movies. Anyway, hanging on the wall in the museum is a wreath made of hair from 1873. I decided to pursue more about this old practice so I went to the collection building where the ladies were putting textiles in acid-free boxes.

Helen Hoffman, Virginia Nowotny, Yvonne Rahe, Ora Mae Pfeuffer, and Georgia Banta showed me a nice collection of wreaths made of hair. The “root of the hair” was not ghoulish, as I imagined, but sentimental. For example, in the 1800s before the emigrants left Germany, they collected hair from their loved ones as a tangible remembrance. This hair was intricately woven into tiny flowers, acorns, and some adorned with beads and feathers. There is a thick braid that never made it to the creative hands of its owner from 1845. Keva Boardman said that the jewelry and watch fobs in the collection were made of the hair of the deceased and worn as part of the mourning process.

The Tacoma, Washington Museum of History displays a sign that says “History is not for wimps”. OK, maybe they’re right.

Helen Hoffman shows artifacts from the old pharmacy.

Helen Hoffman shows artifacts from the old pharmacy.