We spent this past weekend at a friend's place on Peaks Island and received a special "behind the scenes" tour of the Fifth Maine Museum. For more info on the museum see this link here.
It is not your typical Civil War museum.
One of the many highlights of the visit was meeting historian C. Ian Stevenson, who has found this site to be an important part of his soon to be published book, "This Summer-Home of the Survivors": The Civil War Vacation in Architecture and Landscape, 1878-1918. It explores communal vacation cottages and campgrounds constructed by Civil War veterans as places to merge memory and leisure among their comrades and families.
As you can see from the photo above, the building is surrounded by ten foot wide wrap around veranda. The view from the back is not too shabby with its...
...view of the dramatic cliffs and caves of Whitehead on the eastern end of Cushing Island.
Inside the building portraits, prints, sculptures, maps, artifacts and stained glass windows honor the fallen and the memories of their brothers in arms.
Built in 1888, it was used by the local chapter of the GAR
(Grand Army of the Republic), a nation wide fraternal organization
composed of Civil War veterans.
This "sacred-secular" architecture of grief and relief made me think a lot about the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The GAR and their women's auxiliary are the ones who helped make Memorial Day a national holiday. Holidays can be an important part of healing. The building served (and still serves) as a tonic. For many years Civil War veterans and their families summered here, enjoying the cooling ocean breezes and magnificent views.
The building still serves as a cultural center and community meeting space and can be rented for weddings, etc. The museum continues its focus on the "summer cure." The power of story to heal and create community is explored in this summer's special exhibition “Weathering the Storm: Five Centuries of Resilience on Peaks Island” slated to open on July 7, 2021. Curator, Holly Hurd-Forsyth's exhibit starts at the point of European contact with the indigenous Wabanaki people in the early 1600s and explores a defining hardship for each of the next five centuries, asking the question “Is resilience and community more meaningful here on Peaks Island, where outside assistance is not always accessible?”
Back in Conway, an important treasure of the Conway Public Library is this flag from our own local GAR post (Custer Post #47).
We also have the post register...
the name, age, birthplace, residence, occupation, and military record
of the post members from 1879 to 1924 when the last member
The Conway Historical Society also has an important collection of Civil War related items including this wonderful plaque.
Sunbeams and Sparks
Flags and banners were a part of dealing with the uncertainty of the Civil War beginning as early as 1861, when Frederic Edwin Church used this image to meditate on the idea of a higher meaning, to understand the reasons, and to lift the spirits in the midst of the ongoing carnage.
One of several versions he did to explore the theme, this one is an oil on paper and more can be found out about it here. Note the light of the camp fire on the distant shore (more on camp fires later).
You might want to consider becoming a member of the cloud appreciation society here.
In a number of cases, artists used New England's bucolic farming traditions as a symbolic way to comment on life after war such as Homer's "Harrowing" experience here,
harvesting in a New Field here, and ...
...hiking and mountain climbing here.
Storytelling was part of the therapeutic activities of the GAR.
Have we wet your appetite to do your own research into your family's military history? We would be happy to help you.
The Conway Public Library's Henney History Room provides free assistance with saving, searching and sharing your family history. First there is the physical care of your heirloom objects themselves. Did you know that the ferrotype photo above must be stored differently than an ambrotype photo? Do you know how to tell the difference? (Hint: The answer involves a magnet and a piece of black velvet). Do you know how to tell the difference between a good plastic or paper enclosure and a bad one? We can help you with that.
We can also help you search our powerful ancestry library edition database, available from within the library building at this link here.
This photo above of my great-grandfather, Stephen Cottrell, can be found on the library's ancestry database along with his signature on this volunteer enlistment document for the Civil War.
He joined the war on February 1, 1862 at 23 years old. For many years our family story was that he died at
Lookout Point at the corners of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. It was a highlight to stop there when we visited Civil War sites on frequent trips from our home in Florida to visit our grandmother in Ohio.
when we read his letters more carefully and did some research we
realized he actually died at Point Lookout Maryland.
The document below from the library's ancestry database confirms he was a member of the sixth regiment infantry and died March 4, 1864 at Point Lookout Maryland of an unspecified disease.
That document helps clarify the obscured regiment number on his gravestone (findagrave has his last name spelled wrong here).
Note the GAR grave marker on my great grandfather's tombstone. After a few hours climbing up and down the family tree I found my father's draft registration card posted on ancestry.
Starting with this document we can add personalized historical tidbits such as who Mrs. Walter Johnson was (his sister, our Aunt Katherine who lived in the house at 155 and 1/2 in the back), photos of his house from Google maps and street view here, the fact that both houses were built by his dad and older brother who were carpenters and stories of some of the adventures he told us about in and around Tampa Bay such as sailing his little boat in a hurricane and being greeted by the police when he beached it. They say history has a way of repeating itself and yes, the same thing happened to me years later.
The Conway Public Library has created a guide to visiting local veteran memorials. You can check it out here.