Inspecting items more closely at Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Inspecting items more closely at Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Jennifer Capps, Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site vice president of curatorship & exhibition, held her 50th First Friday Coffee with the Curator program last week.

Hidden under holiday wrapped boxes were three of her of-the-moment-favorite-items culled from the site’s collection of 10,000 items of local and national consequence.

First to be revealed, a beautifully gold-thread braided, beaded, tassled and fringed dark brown velveteen capelet, circa 1889-92, worn by Harrison’s daughter, Mary Harrison McKee. It was in the trunk the McKee family sent back to the Presidential site in the 1940s.

Second was a vegetable serving dish from the Havilland wedding china owned by Alberta J. Sharp, who had been a neighbor of the Harrisons. Capps explained that no original Harrison china was left at the Victorian home, so the Sharp china is a 1892 stand-in.

The third revelation tied us directly to the Dec. 7 date: a circa 1890 silver spoon from Honolulu, given to the family’s seamstress, Josephine Kneip, around the time of Caroline Harrison’s death, and memorabilia connected with the building of the U.S.S. Battleship Indiana, which figured prominently in Harrison’s commitment to growing the United State naval forces.

Benjamin Harrison, grandson of the ninth President, William Henry Harrison, was born Aug. 20, 1833 in North Bend, Ohio. In 1854, with his wife Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison, he settled in Indianapolis. Afterwards, he started his law practice. He served in the Civil War, and in 1880, was elected to the U.S. Senate and as President in 1888 by out-polling Grover Cleveland in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote. However, he lost his bid for a second term.

Caroline Harrison died in 1892 during the campaign. Harrison returned to practicing law in Indianapolis. In 1896 he married his deceased wife’s niece and caretaker, Mary Lord Dimmick.  Benjamin Harrison died in Indianapolis on March 13, 1901. Mary Harrison is credited with sensing the importance of keeping Harrison family memorabilia. She died in 1948

Harrison Presidential Site President & CEO Charles A. Hyde shared with NUVO the newest programming that recently gained the site continuing accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums [AAM], including an innovative pilot program, New Avenues Collaborative, in partnership with Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, “to create a two-part curriculum consisting of students first interacting with 3-D scanned and printed artifacts and concluding with a visit to the Harrison site.”

This tactile experience to provide far-reaching engagement value for people of all ages is funded by a Humanities Initiative Grant from Indiana Humanities with support by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Hyde also shared plans for the newly popular Old Whiskers Escapes picture book to be translated into Mandarin and Spanish. Benjamin Harrison during his lifetime had significant connections with both cultures; he opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and sanctioned the Pan-American Union of 1889.

The Six Degrees of Benjamin Harrison exhibit, which shows how Harrison is connected with a vast array of people, including Marilyn Monroe, runs until Dec. 30. Catch it and the Victorian holidays decor throughout the house.

 

Dan Grossman, Arts Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at dgrossman@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @nuvoartsdan.

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