Poltergeist: Huguenot Street

By Jessica Dow

This week’s object is a little old stereograph. It’s a rather spooky little thing – when I looked through it, I saw a haunting in action!  The image shows two women in a sitting room, and between them is a half-transparent third woman who seems to be trying to interact with them.  As a bit of a horror buff, I loved the vintage scariness of this object.


Since stereographs are very much novelty objects which aren’t exactly commonplace any longer, here is a brief overview of what a stereograph actually is:

In the early 19th century, the invention of photography and the market industry which arose around the medium led to a desire for innovation in the field.  The stereograph arose from the desire to immerse oneself more fully into a photograph, which was at this time generally small and colorless.  This new invention used a simple combination of lenses and duplicate images carefully placed so that when a user looked through the lenses as if they were looking into binoculars, they would see an illusion of a 3D image.  An individual could purchase a Stereograph for personal use or for their family, and then could get a number of interchangeable slides to fit into the viewing slot so that one could look at whatever they chose, and feel as if they were “in” the image.

Many popular photographers produced 3D slides for stereographs, such as Timothy O’Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, and Eadweard Muybridge.  Images which were used for journalism, education, and entertainment were translated into stereograph slides so that the public could learn from and enjoy a wide variety of scenes and images.  The buying and selling of stereograph slides became a very profitable business.

Despite the fact that Huguenot Street’s stereograph is currently filled with the image which I have been fondly referring to as “the Huguenot Horror,” our archives also hold a larger selection of slides with a variety of images which must have been a source of great entertainment when they were used (including a scene of Satan’s marriage amongst local Hudson Valley scenery).





Mrs. Smith’s Writing Box

This week’s Object Of The Week is a portable desk from the late 19th century. It was donated by Mrs. Arden D. Smith. The desk is made of wood, velvet, and mother of pearl. It is square shaped with a slated piece of wood that is hinged and when folded down, reveals a velvet covered surface for writing. At the top, when opened, there are multiple compartments as well as an ink well. The velvet writing surface opens, showing a storage compartment. The outside of the portable desk is black lacquer with gold paint for decoration with a mother of pearl inlay. There is a lock in the back of the portable desk.

portable desk 1

portable desk 3

portable desk 2

Portable desks have been around way before the 18th century but the portable desk that influenced this one has a place in our nation’s history. Thomas Jefferson used a device that he invented and called a “writing box” to draft the Declaration of Independence on. He designed the desk at a delegate in 1776 to the Continental Congress. From that point, the desk took off in popularity and eventually there were many different designs of this writing box. As time went on, and people were using the desk more and more, this writing box soon became known as a lap desk. Towards the end of the 19th century, the use of lap desks diminished as technology advanced.  Today, the box that Jefferson used for over 50 years is currently on display at the Smithsonian in the Presidency exhibition. This portable desk is currently on display in the Deyo House.

Antique Writing Boxes and Lap Desks Notes for an Interview with Nick Girdler.” Antique Writing Boxes and Lap Desks Notes for an Interview with Nick Girdler. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Lap Desk.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Small, Lawrence M. “Mr. Jefferson’s Writing Box.” Smithsonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Inside “Blood, Pills, and Bullets,” a New Exhibit at Historic Huguenot Street

Blood, Pills, and Bullets
Exhibition by the Curatorial Department

Hello, it’s Jessica, here to tell you about our latest collections project! These past couple of weeks, the curatorial interns have been researching and putting together a display for the DuBois Fort all about 19th century medical practices. We learned about some truly gnarly practices, and some medical tools that resemble works of art more than doctor’s tools. An example of this is the scarificator, a beautiful brass container with etched decorations, as well as a number of spring-loaded sharp blades used for bloodletting.

Alongside some similarly frightening tools such as bullet extractors and bloodletting fleams, we also have a large collection of medicines which would have been prescribed by physicians at the time. If you are curious about how 19th century doctors treated aches, pains, and any number of illnesses, this display is definitely something to visit. Additionally, we have displayed the step-by-step process of pill-making, when doctors had to order their own raw materials and grind and press pills by hand.

This exhibit will be on view beginning Saturday, April 11 in the DuBois Fort.



The Beginning of Modern Medicine

This week’s object is a pill roller from the Civil War time period. It has a two piece wooden body with brass cylindrical grooves on top. During the American Civil War, this object was a technologically advanced way to get medicine to soldiers in a quick and efficient manner. The physician would mix up the ingredients for the medicine in a mortar and grinded it with a pestle. When the ingredients were ground up into a dry substance, they would pour a binding agent into the mixture and dampen it. Next, the mixture would be placed onto the brass grooves, with the moveable top over the grooves. When the top was secure, the physician would carefully roll the top back and forth in order to create divided up, spherical pills.

pill roller

This was a time for experimentation with various ingredients to develop the perfect medication in an effort by doctors to stop infections or illnesses that took the lives of many soldiers on the battlefield. Drug regulations during this time period were non-existent and doctors often experimented with dangerous ingredients such as mercury.

Before the nineteenth century, doctors focused on balancing the humors of the body which consisted of yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. If these humors were in perfect harmony, a person was healthy, but if off balance, a person was ill. As the Civil War began, doctors were in transition from balancing the humors as a treatment, to treating illnesses with medication. This was the beginning of modern medicine.

This pill roller will be on display in the DuBois Fort (81 Huguenot Street) later this month as part of an exhibit of medical objects from our historic collections.


Civil War Reenactment ~ Apothecary ~ Pill Making Machine.” YouTube (TreseMari). November 2010.

Graf, John. Warman’s Civil War Collectibles Field Guide: Values and Identification. Krause Publications. March 2005. Page 347.

Hasegawa, Guy R. “Preparing and Dispensing Prescriptions during the Civil War Era.” Apothecary’s Cabinet. No. 10, Fall 2006. The American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.

tomlinsons chemists lytham victorian pharmacist demonstrating making pills.” YouTube (tomlinsonschemists). July 2009.