I always loved history growing up, but preferred learning about the daily life of people rather than the big battles and political affairs. In my opinion, history needs to be understood in context and context includes topics like what people wore, what they ate, family dynamics, and everything else that makes up daily life. Even extraordinary figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were just men. We get so caught up in the extraordinary and forget the ordinary that made these people who they were and influenced what they did. Historical understanding is incomplete if we do this.
In college, I also learned about something called material culture. Basically, it is using objects to understand history. Clearly, museums are all about material culture, however the majority of history teachers rarely talk about using objects to understand history. I remember learning a lot about primary sources in high school, but no one ever mentioned that stuff could be primary sources too until I was a junior in college. Considering stuff is a bigger part of our lives than political treaties, diaries, and essays, this seems like a huge oversight in history education. Even in the world of professional historians, material culture is still fighting for recognition.
So with these things in mind, I decided to create a blog called Extraordinarily Ordinary History, which is inspired by Emily Graslie and her blog & YouTube series called The Brain Scoop in order to explore these topics. I am so lucky that I intern here at the Watkins and that the staff here supports my new endeavor.
Since you are fans of the Watkins, here is a sneak peek of one of my posts! Please check out http://www.extraordinarilyordinaryhistory.tumblr.com for more looks at the Watkins.
-Jilliene, Public Programs Intern
Working in a museum that is also a historical building is an interesting experience. You always find remanence of the building’s original features tucked away among the modern adaptations. The weirdest one in the Watkins Museum is definitely the washroom up in collections storage.
The little wood paneled room, original to the building, is complete with a sink and bathtub. There are two theories about why this room exists. One is that JB Watkins, the owner of the bank, had an apartment in what is now collections storage. However, at the time this space wasn’t heated so it is unlikely he would have stayed in his own bank. In addition, there are records of him staying at the Eldridge Hotel a few block away. The theory that the director and curator both favor is that it served as a washroom for employees. Employees might have needed to visit to distant or rural places to survey sites or meet with clients. Since this was rural Kansas in the 1800s, meaning no cars with protective windows, people tended to get dirty pretty fast. Once employees returned to the bank, they could wash up and return to looking like proper Victorian bankers.
However, the bigger mystery is why in the world is there a little door at the top of the room?
Clearly, there is no easy way to reach it and if you did go through it all you’ve accomplished is reaching the attic, which is accessible by a set of stair. Also, it is small. Can you imagine a Victorian banker shimmying in or out of that thing?
So for now the mystery of the door remains. Was it a highly impractical fire escape? Did it once lead to Narnia?
Share your theories!