Friday, August 8, 2014

Lighting the State House: Charles Kaflinski and the OSC’s Chandelier

In June 1837, the Niles’ Weekly Register reported on a new addition to the Old Senate Chamber. “A splendid chandelier” had been provided by Cornelius & Son of Philadelphia and was described to be “one of the most beautiful things of the kind that we have ever seen.”[1] Only a few months later, however, the chandelier fell down while being lit, breaking several of the branches and the glass shades.[2] Surely, when mass efforts were made under the contractor Lind & Murdoch in 1858-1860 to refit the entire State House with gas light, a chandelier that had required repair after only a few months would not have survived the renovation.

However, research shows that the 1830s chandelier in the Old Senate Chamber survived much longer than originally thought, and even makes an appearance in one of the earliest images of the room, a c.1868 stereoview taken by William M. Chase. But who would have refitted the chandelier?

The OSC chandelier c.1868, refitted for gas lighting by Charles Kaflinski, taken by William M. Chase. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5907-1-1.

Charles Kaflinski was a Polish immigrant who arrived in Baltimore as an adult around 1856. Very soon after his arrival, he established a gas fitting business with Thomas Dukehart in Baltimore. The partnership ended in 1858, but Kaflinski continued his gas fitting business while his wife, Susan, worked as a dress maker. The Kaflinski family is a perfect example of one where census records become a valuable resource for understanding their personal lives. By the late nineteenth-century, the family moved frequently around Baltimore, sometimes living with their son, Charles Kaflinski Jr., who occasionally appeared under various aliases like Potterfield Kaflinski, Kagee Kaflinski, and Lexington Kaflinski. Kaflinski Jr. also held several jobs including fruit seller, harness maker, laborer, and, in 1904, even appeared in the Baltimore Sun for participating in a corn eating competition.[3] The senior Charles Kaflinski died in 1901 intestate, survived by his son and two daughters.

However, it is Kaflinski Sr.’s work between 1858 and 1860 that is of particular interest to those of us working on the Old Senate Chamber restoration. During this time, Kaflinski Sr. was contracted by Lind & Murdoch to be the first person to bring gas lighting to the Maryland State House. Kaflinski’s name appears on several state receipts in this period, but two became of particular interest to researchers. They pertained to chandeliers already in the building. The receipts emphasize that Kaflinski only provided two new 12 light chandeliers for the Old House of Delegates Chamber, while all other chandeliers seem to have been regilded and refitted. Though the Old Senate Chamber is never specifically mentioned in Kaflinski’s state accounts, the emphasis on refitting rather than providing new chandeliers, and the stereographic evidence by Chase that there was a gas chandelier in 1868, indicate that what we see in Chase’s stereograph is actually the 1837 chandelier.

Receipt to Charles Kaflinski for the installation of gas fixtures in the State House. Maryland State Archives, Governor (Miscellaneous Papers), 1859, MSA S1274-58, MdHR 6636-26-9.

Some readers may be wondering how a nineteenth-century gas refitter fits into the story of the restoration of the eighteenth-century room. To understand how the Old Senate Chamber looked in 1783, we need to understand the entire history of the room, and how it changed over time. The eighteenth-century restoration fits into a much larger narrative of the several centuries of history represented in the Maryland State House. By learning that the 1837 chandelier had been refitted in 1858, we can better understand what we see in the stereograph image, and the state’s practices in the mid-nineteenth century. Thanks to Kaflinski’s work, like the evidence left behind by many laborers of the State House, we know how the Old Senate Chamber was lit just before the first image was taken of it.

But did Washington stand under a chandelier when he resigned his commission in December 1783? That is a mystery that you will have to find out more about when the exhibit opens at the end of this year!

[1] Niles’ Weekly Register, 24 June 1837.
[2] Phoenix Civilian, Cumberland, MD, 13 January 1838.
[3] “Progressive Corn Eating,” Baltimore Sun, 3 September 1904.

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