Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lost Relics

c. 1892-1893
Taken from the Detroit Publishing Company Photographic Collection
Courtesy of the Library of Congress det 4a15044 LC-D4-21356

This photograph is one of the most significant archival findings related to the late 18th century appearance of the Old Senate Chamber. Found under the heading, "213356, Relics in Museum, U.S. Naval Academy," in the Library of Congress' collection of Maryland photographs, this image depicts fragments of architectural elements from the Old Senate Chamber. Without the keen eye of a past intern, this photograph would have gone unnoticed in the extensive archives of the Library of Congress. 

At first glance this scene looks like a haphazard display of archaic relics; however, enlarging the photograph reveals a label affixed to the fragment on the right. It reads:

 "A portion of the ____back [?] of the Gallery [or balcony] of the Senate Chamber in the State House at Annapolis, Maryland where General Washington surrendered to Congress his Commission as Commander...of the American Army. December 23, 1783."

If all of these 'relics', in fact, are from the gallery--as opposed to the cornice, niche, etc.-- then it appears we are presented with 4 different elements:  section of the entablature with a frieze (left), cast plaster volute from an Ionic column capital (center), section of lathing applied to framing material (laid on the table on its side, serving as support for cornice fragment), and a section of ornamental cornice (right). Historical analyses of this photograph are ongoing, which include comparing this photograph to other historic photographs, drawings, and comparable architectural elements from elsewhere in Annapolis.

A parallel effort is underway to determine the context of this photograph and trace the provenance of these artifacts. First, we must assess the provided date and location of the photograph. The Library of Congress dated this image ca. 1890-1901; however, an 1892 Baltimore Sun article not only pinpoints the year it was taken but also the photographer. 
The article, which detailed Maryland's plans for the 1893 World's Fair, stated:

"In order to make a display of Colonial Maryland at the World's Fair, Governor Brown has employed William H. Jackson, a photographer of the Denver, Co. to take views of the State House and other points of interest in Annapolis for display in the Maryland Building at Chicago. Mr. Jackson was at work yesterday and will be engaged several weeks in getting up the views. Gov. Brown's intention is to have the Senate Chamber taken in a large photograph and attach to the picture a brief sketch of the room, with the information that it was the place in which Washington resigned his Commission..." 

Similarly, a telegraphic brief appeared in the Washington Bee stating stating, "Afraid of loss, Maryland will not send its relics and ancient documents to the World's Fair." Therefore, it can be assumed that these 'relics' did not travel to the 1892 Chicago World's Fair and a photograph-- perhaps part of Governor Brown's planned Old Senate Chamber exhibitions--served as the replacement. 

One question, however, remains to be unanswered: Why were the relics housed at the Naval Academy? The curator of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum recognized collection objects in the background and confirmed the location, yet the general character of the artifact display suggests a temporary storage situation rather than an exhibition space. One can theorize the many possibilities as to why the relics were temporarily housed there, but it is most important to note that what could be considered "debris" were intentionally salvaged and designated a "relic." 

So...where are these relics now? 

If these artifacts were worthy enough to be salvaged and put on display then one has to wonder what other type of "relic" was preserved from the Old Senate Chamber after the 1876 renovations. There will be future blog posts on this subject and how it will inform our interpretation of the late 18th century appearance of the Old Senate Chamber. Still, we need your help. If you have information regarding "relics" from the Old Senate Chamber or any type of evidence (drawings, photographs, scraps of plaster, a column...whatever!) please let us know. Refer to the Media and Contact page for more information.

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