Tuesday, June 24, 2014

WWII Military Mapping Maidens

A few years back (more than I'd like to admit!) I did an exhibition in the Keller Gallery called "Letters Home: Stories from the Front."  It featured letters written by soldiers and sailors in almost every war from the Civil War to the first Gulf War (which was an email).

Some were letters from our collection, and others were borrowed from the community.  It was the very first time one of my exhibitions was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed across the country.

It was very emotional to read through all of the letters.  In some cases they had re-sealed themselves, so I felt like I was opening someone else's mail from the past.  Occasionally I had been told that the young man didn't come home, and I was waiting to see what the final letter in the stack said.

Sometimes the final letter from the soldier's commanding officer was the last piece of mail I read for that individual, informing his family of how he had died.  I read letters written to parents, friends, and lovers.  It was very difficult to figure out which letters to feature.  I read over 400 letters during my research for "Letters Home."

The exhibition has been turned into a program which I have given at the Museum as part of our Soup at Six series, as well as various community organizations.  Although I have read them several times, some letters still give me a knot in my throat.

Back to the original purpose of this post.

I first met Bea McPherson while collecting letters for the exhibition.  During World War II, her then-fiance Jim (known as "Bill") was a Marine, and she was a mapmaker.  Military censors would cut out or black out any specific references to location, so before he left they devised a secret code so Bea would always know where he was.

He would put an unobtrusive slash mark across the top of some the individual letters in the words he wrote.  If you read them from top to bottom, it would spell out a clue for Bea so she could figure out his location:

The circles are mine.  The original letter has only the slash marks.  There are more pages of this letter, but I'm still not sure what clue Bill was sending Bea with this one!
As a mapmaker, Bea was far more familiar with world geography than most civilians.  Bill would also drop her hints like this:

The phrase "any we took" refers to the island "Enewetak" in the Marshall Islands.  The average person would most likely have missed this reference, but Bea knew exactly what he meant.
A few days ago, Bea came in with a textile donation.  She told me that she had been recently honored as a pioneer "Military Mapping Maiden" at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

Bea with Allen Anderson, who had been searching for a female WWII mapmaker for two years before he found her.
She was also featured in the Winter 2014 issue of NGA PathfinderClick here for a PDF of the entire issue.  It is a wonderful story of how women were trained to make maps for the war effort.

It has been delightful to get to know Bea.  Sadly, her husband passed away a few years after we did the exhibition.  I was glad to be able to honor him as a Stark County veteran while he was still around to enjoy the recognition.

Bea has donated many artifacts over the years, and I'm always glad to be able to chat with her for a little while when she drops them off.  When I read the article, I was proud to be able to say that I know her!

Friday, June 20, 2014

New York Times

How exciting is THIS???

It's not every day that you get to see your name in the New York Times!  I bought the last copy they had at Drug Mart on Hills & Dales this morning. 

You can view the story online by clicking here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Another tiara donation

So it seems the post office is still delivering exciting things in the mail!

We received this letter and a check for $322 today from Woodridge Primary School's 2nd graders.  They come on a field trip every year, even though they almost always have to reschedule their trip due to a Snow Day.  (I'm not kidding.  Almost every single year!)

This is a great example of how this campaign reached out to so many people.  We had an outpouring of support from students (a first grader asked me on his way in the door for a field trip if we "had Mrs. McKinley's crown yet!"), other local historical societies, social clubs and organizations, and many, many individuals.  Members of the Ohio Pawnbrokers Association sent a total of $1800.  The money came from all over the place!

We are planning to use the donation Woodridge sent us to purchase a secure case for the tiara.  We believe it will be on display in early July.  Details coming soon!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Life after a successful campaign.....

While the concert was certainly a PERFECT ending to a wildly successful campaign, I wasn't able to enjoy our amazing achievement for long! 

By 6AM the next morning, Chris and I were headed out of town for a vacation we scheduled months ago!  And we're still old fashioned about vacations -- we actually unplug.  No computers come with us, and neither of us have smart phones.  So we were out of touch for some much-needed R&R!

I came back to work this morning to a flood of emails, voicemails, and messages to congratulate us on our success.

Since the Repository sent a photographer to the concert, we had instant media coverage that we had reached our goal.  Special thanks to Stephanie Span for handling the media calls on Friday when Joyce, Chris, and I were all out of town!

When we got back, we were beyond excited to see the editorial in the Repository about the success of the tiara fundraising effort.  Click here to read it!

The tiara is not here yet.  We are making arrangements now, and we don't have a timeline in place yet.  As soon as we know when it will be on display to the public, we will be announcing it EVERYWHERE.  We are anxious to share it with our visitors as soon as we can.  There will be no delays in getting this on exhibit in the McKinley Gallery.

Again, many thanks to everyone who contributed.  There were more than 300 people who sent donations in the mail, over the phone, or online via PayPal.  The entire list of donors will be displayed in the McKinley Gallery.

This was very much a grassroots campaign, with mostly small donors giving what they could to a cause they believed in.  We've been smiling at the similarities between this campaign and how the Monument was funded more than a century ago.  We have a vast support network of thousands of ordinary people, who believe in us and what we're doing.  Not every museum has that.  And we are eternally grateful.

Stay tuned for the big annoucement of WHEN you can come see Ida's tiara for yourself!

Thursday, June 5, 2014


The last guests to arrive tonight pushed us to our goal!

I just made the announcement to a room full of people, which was PERFECT.

The concert is underway and I want to go watch it, but I wanted to let the world know that we DID IT!!!

Stay tuned for when YOU can come see the tiara on display!

$1000 left to go!

I just finished coloring in the next-to-last diamond!

The timing is absolutely amazing.  The pre-sale tickets for tonight's concert are already included in the totals.  We will need just 40 people at the door tonight to meet our goal TODAY!  And the mail hasn't even come yet!

We are all so very excited and humbled and thrilled and amazed that we have [almost!] pulled this off.  This was a big goal to set for ourselves, and there were times when we all were wondering if we would make it. 

Would the tiara slip through our hands? 

Would Rick extend our deadline? 

Should we plan another event? 

Would we really reach our goal?

Just in case we didn't make it, we have kept meticulous records of each and every donation.  Our intention was to return 100% of the donations if we didn't reach the goal.

But we are thrilled that we won't have to do that! 

Your donations -- big and small -- have totaled just over $42,000 as of this very minute.  We had some big donors at $5000 or $1000, which we very much appreciate, but the vast majority of donations have been $10 to $100.  People who gave what they could to be part of a very exciting campaign to bring a First Lady's diamond tiara back home.

THANK YOU to everyone who has participated by donating yourself or helping to spread the word.  Both were equally valuable.  This was a grassroots effort, which is how this museum works best.  Just like the "pennies of schoolchildren" paid for so much of the Monument's construction over 100 years ago, the donations of ordinary citizens have helped us reach this goal.

As soon as we have reached the $43,000 mark, we'll be making the big announcement!

Monday, June 2, 2014

We're at $40,000!!!

After a big weekend of donations, I was able to color in THREE diamonds this morning!

When we first started this journey back in April, my Diamond Chart sure looked daunting.  All those blank diamonds!  But step by step, donation by donation, we've filled them up.

We owe this community (and beyond) a debt of gratitude for your support in our efforts to bring this tiara home.  We are so close, we can taste victory! 

One day soon, I'll be announcing when the tiara will be on display.