5 Reasons to Look Forward to Fall on the Trails of History

It's been busy here, what with Ask A Curator Day falling in the middle of the week. Whether you were able to participate or missed it this year, Storify has a recap of the Q & A with three PHMC curators, Todd Galle (Pennsbury Manor), Sarah Buffington (Old Economy Village), and Susan Beates (Drake Well Museum), moderated by PHMC's information specialist for social media, Sean Adkins.

We still have two weekends of September to go, so the program listings for this month are posted under "About Us."

Harvest_Days_at_Landis_Valley_via_Facebook
Fall harvest goodies at Landis Valley via Facebook

So, it's almost officially fall, my favorite season. We had a blissfully mild summer in my part of the state, but I still welcome that almost imperceptible change in the coolness of the air, followed by the need for a jacket or sweater. And while I'm not really a big fan of pumpkin spice (fill-in-the-blank), any season that involves more apples and cinnamon has my vote.

There are many more than 5 reasons to look forward to fall at our historic sites and museums, but 5 is a good start:
  • Reason #1: enjoying the smell of wood smoke without having to clean up the ashes. You can find open-hearth cooking at our sites throughout the year, but it takes on a different aspect when the weather starts to cool - Autumnfest, Old Economy Village (this weekend, Sept. 20 & 21); Harvest Days, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum (Oct. 11 & 12); The 17th-century Confectioner, Pennsbury Manor (Nov. 16)
  • Reason #2: seeing Trails of History sites in a new light. Generally, our sites are open during the day; in the fall (okay, and some other times too, humor me) evening programs give you another perspective - Drake Well by Moonlight, Drake Well Museum (Oct. 4); Bonfire Harvest Festival, Scranton Iron Furnaces (Oct. 18); Candlelight Tours, Conrad Weiser Homestead (Nov. 22)
  • Reason #3: Halloween!! This is not an exhaustive list - Haunted Halloween Lantern Tours, Eckley Miners' Village (Oct. 10-11, 17-18, 24-25); Haunted Halloween Tours, Graeme Park (Oct. 24); Historical Halloween, Somerset Historical Center (Oct. 25)
  • Reason #4: Autumn Colors. Pennsylvania is beautiful in the fall, so take a road trip or enjoy an outdoor program - Garden Railways Tour, Railroad Museum of PA (Oct. 5); Fall Antiques and Collectibles Show, PA Lumber Museum (Oct. 11-12); Heritage Day, Daniel Boone Homestead (Oct. 19)
  • Reason #5: Whatever interests you most. Watch for the October program listings next week (or Oct. 3 if I don't get it pulled together in time).

Have a question? #AskaCurator

Sarah Buffington, curator of Old Economy Village, cleans a historic quilt in storage.  Buffington is one of three curators who will take part in #AskaCurator Day on Wednesday.  (Photo courtesy of Old Economy Village) 

Nearly every guest who strolls through a museum has questions beyond what the exhibits and volunteers can answer.  

Here's your chance to dig deep and quell your curiosity.



On Wednesday, curators from three stops along the Pennsylvania Trails of History will break free from their jobs and log on to Twitter for International Ask a Curator Day.  

From 11 a.m. to noon, Todd Galle, a curator at Pennsbury Manor in Bucks County, will field questions on military history, specifically World War I and the American Civil War. 

Previously, Todd served as assistant curator of military, political and industrial history at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 


Do you have questions about historic clothing and textiles? Between 1 and 2 p.m., Sarah Buffington, curator at Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Pa., will offer insights on furniture, pottery, communalism, archival arrangement and exhibit production.  


Next, join Susan Beates, curator at Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Pa., between 2:15 and 3:15 p.m. as she answers questions regarding historic photographs, archives and oil technology.  

Susan received a Master of Arts in Public History from West Virginia University and Bachelor of Arts in History & Folk Arts from the same university.  She's been floating in oil since February 1998.  

Want to participate in the Q&As? 
Tweet your questions to @PHMC using the hashtag #AskaCurator . 
Not sure what to ask?  Here's a short list of questions visitors often ask of curators: 
-- What is it like to be a curator?
-- What is your favorite artifact?
-- What is the oldest piece in your collection?
-- Which artifact has the best story?
-- Which artifact makes you laugh and/or cry?
-- How do you know when to wear gloves?
-- How do you decide which artifacts go on display. 

*Please refrain from asking for item appraisals or artifact identification. 

Everything you always wanted to know about curating, but were afraid to ask

Looking for something to do on the Trails of History this weekend? Be sure to check out the September program listings; there have been some updates since they were posted a couple of weeks ago.

Ask_a_curator_day_2014_photo_by_Amy_K_Fox
Confused? Unclear? Curious? #AskACurator
For the past several years (since, I think, 2010), museums worldwide have been participating in Ask A Curator Day, an initiative using social media to connect museum staff with the public. This year, on Wednesday, September 17, PHMC will take part for the first time. I don't have all the details yet regarding which curators are going to be in the mix, but I hope you'll check back here next week for more info. The primary source of information will be the Pennsylvania Trails of History page on Facebook and @PHMC on Twitter. On the day, you can submit questions via Twitter using the hashtag #AskACurator.

So, not sure where to start? Don't be scared. Curators are people, just like you and me. Well almost. Except for the white gloves. And the need to label everything (literally, not metaphorically). And the way they gasp when you innocently set down a lid-less cup of coffee next to an 18th-century textile. (I just made up that last one, I swear!) Seriously, some of my best friends colleagues are curators. Bazinga!

All kidding aside, some very helpful curators have provided tips for playing along. Thanks to BHSM's Lauren Jaeger for links to the National Museum of American History's "O Say Can You See" blog posts for Ask A Curator Day 2012 and Ask a Curator Day 2013. I've selected a few highlights (text not in quotation marks is paraphrased or added to make them more PHMC-specific).
  • "Some questions can’t be answered in 140 characters, the limit Twitter puts on tweets." Depending on how things go with this first year's effort, we'll try to use these as a springboard for future blog posts or other communications.
  • "Questions about what it’s like to work in a museum, how curators got where they are today, and what a typical work day is like are most welcome. Our curators appreciate the opportunity to reflect on their work and increase awareness about the jobs they do."
  • "Asking a question out of the blue can be intimidating. 'I'm interested in ___. Can you tell me more about it?' is a classic and will be sure to get our curators talking."
My plan is to update this information early next week with more details on the participating curators, their areas of expertise/interest, and any additional instructions for how to join in. In the meantime, you can think about what you'd like to know about PHMC's collections and its curatorial staff. However you spend the coming weekend, I hope you have a great time!