Old, but what is it?

The Geary County Historical Society is open by appointment, so be sure to call if you are interested in touring the museum, have a potential donation, or research questions! We sure do appreciate you wearing a mask and we have ours on as well.

As the Programs and Education Director, I have missed our visitors and volunteers, and especially all of the school and homeschool friends this spring. The Hands On History programs went online, but the traveling trunk presentations and field trip groups were all cancelled. Staying connected is important during this time of distancing, so here is a fun way to get your participation in museum activities. Look at the photographs of the numbered artifacts above and guess what they are. Be sure to ask children, because their answers are often funny! To see if you are correct, find the matching number in the article and read about the object.    

#1  If you guessed a DEATH MASK you are correct! The mask is made of clay and is a mold of a deceased person’s face that is painted to match skin tone and hair color. It is meant to be a keepsake of the dead, and before photography it was one of the only ways to remember a loved one’s face after they died. Other masks have been made from wax or plaster and are portraits of the individual. The eyes are often given lifelike features with false eye lashes.

Robert D. Johnson made this mask while earning his embalming and funeral director’s license shortly after returning from WWII. He was asked to join the Johnson Funeral Home, later called the Johnson Funeral Chapel, Inc., by his brother Norman Johnson.

#2  DRIVING GOGGLES were popular in early 1900s open-air cars such as the Studebaker Gasoline automobile. The goggles helped prevent debris and dirt from blurring eye vision of the drivers. “Motoring clothes” were stylish during this period and included men’s driving coats which oftentimes had matching hats or caps, and driving gloves. They also wore heavy-weight boots in case of a stalled car or punctured tire. Ladies also had fashionable waterproof taffeta hats!

#3  Do you think you know what this item is? It is a CAST IRON SHOE LAST on a cobbler’s anvil! This vintage shoe last was used for repairing shoes. The flat shape does not indicate whether it is a right or left shoe meaning it was not used for making new shoes. Early cobblers were not allowed to make shoes, but could repair them with used leather. Today cobblers are known for shoemaking and repair. Early shoe lasts were made from cast iron or wood, whereas more modern ones are made from dense plastic. The iron shoe last was turned upside down on a cobbler’s anvil to be shaped and mended.

#4  If you guessed a terrestrial globe, which is a model of the Earth, then you better take a closer look! This is a CELESTIAL GLOBE from 1860 set on a wooden stand with a circular horizon ring displaying a printed zodiac table, and an outer brass full ring meridian. It shows the positions of 5000 stars in the sky, constellations, and zodiac figures. This celestial globe was manufactured and published under the superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge by Malby and Son.

Guessing artifacts is always a fun game, so for more of Old, But What Is It? join us for our online program July 15 at 10 am! The program will be posted on our Facebook page at Geary County Historical Society and Museums or on YouTube search for GCHS: Old, But What Is IT? Please let me know if you have questions by emailing GearyHistoryPrograms@gmail.com or call (785) 238-1666.

JENNIFER DIXON is the Director of Programs and Education at the Geary County Historical Society in Junction City.

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