Peter Parley’s Tales of an Eclipse, 1836

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They have been the subject of legends, seen as dark omens for kings, and in the lyrics of popular songs. Unless you have been living on the dark side of the moon, you know about the total eclipse coming on Monday, August 21. While looking through Historic Columbia’s museum collection for a particular book, I recently discovered a volume that caught my eye because of its small 4-by-5 inch size.

The book’s cover read: Peter Parley’s Tales About the Sun, Moon, and Stars. With numerous engravings. Philadelphia, Desilver, Thomas & Co. 1836. Curious, I carefully opened it. I was immediately taken by the detailed and artistic engravings scattered through its pages. Going back to the introduction I learned that this was one in a series of children’s books. Since the average fourth grader knows more about astronomy than I do, I kept reading.

Among other astronomical facts and observations that Parley, the pen-name of author and publisher Samuel Griswold Goodrich, described was a total eclipse he had viewed some 20 years before. He observed it all through a piece of smoked glass. He was especially interested in the changes in nature and behavior of the animals around him:

“The air grew chill as if it were evening; the whole face of nature was dark as the evening twilight; the birds ceased their songs and retired to rest. I well remember to have seen an old hen, apparently much disturbed, retire to her accustomed shelter, where she gathered her brood of twelve chickens under her wing, as if for the night.”

The plain language and conversational tone of the book was different than a modern reader might expect from one published in the first half of the 19th century. While written for children, it does not talk down to them.

Some books in our collection are inscribed either on the blank front or back pages. Frederick Foster signed this book with his name multiple times in 1844. He did so in a hand that looks like a young person learning cursive and making the letters his own. Unfortunately, there are no other clues to help know more about Frederick, so for now his story is lost to time.

Goodrich (Parley) did a great job explaining the mechanics of how an eclipse occurs, but he also wrote fondly about their fleeting magic. On August 21, for those brief minutes I will do my best to forget about the how’s and why’s of the eclipse and focus simply on its natural wonder. If only I had some chickens to watch, too.

To learn more about Historic Columbia’s Total Eclipse Weekend programs and our upcoming Happy Hour Water Balloon Battle, visit

By Fielding Freed, director of historic house museums, Historic Columbia

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.

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Holiday Object Highlight

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Porcelain Doll

Guest Blogger: Catherine Davenport Flowers, Curatorial Assistant
As a graduate assistant at Historic Columbia, I have grown attached to a trove of old treasures. I recently lifted one object out of its case for our holiday exhibit: a doll whose delicate frame has somehow managed to stand the test of time. Her dark hair and rosy cheeks remind us that the houses of the past were home not just to adults, but also to children. Their story is as much a part of our history as that of their parents.
Maybe you received a porcelain doll growing up, only to be exhorted by your mother to handle it gingerly. Today, these fragile things are meant more for admiring than for playing. But this German figurine made in the mid-1800s has a more durable construction. In the 19th century, only a doll’s head was porcelain; the body was made of cloth stuffed with sawdust, resin, or cotton. The composition made the doll lightweight and sturdy in small hands.
The doll in our collection is a precursor to Barbie and other fashion dolls that would evolve well into the 20th century. She came bundled with a wooden trunk containing another gown, tiny socks, shoes, and a straw hat. Dolls also presented an opportunity for girls to hone their needlework skills by sewing new garments for the toys from spare fabric. In changing outfits, young girls of means used the doll to embody their own understandings of womanhood and refinement.
If the 19th century doll in our collections has lasted over a century, perhaps yours is still around somewhere, too—waiting someday to be treasured.
You can see this porcelain doll and other Christmas gifts of times gone by at Historic Columbia’s Hampton-Preston Mansion and Robert Mills House, decorated for the holidays until December 31. For images of the houses decorated for the season, CLICK HERE.

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Gee, Do They Still Make Aluminum Christmas Trees?

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IMG_5970 Nope, but we found one!

Urban legend has it that the popularity of aluminum trees like this one declined sharply after the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas Special. In the cartoon, he picks a scrawny but natural tree instead of Lucy’s preference for “the biggest aluminum tree you can find.”  The natural tree leads to Charlie Brown re-discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Once Linus’ blanket was thrown around the base of that needle-dropping pine, the aluminum Christmas tree was doomed.

This glittering survivor, and the suitcase, reminds us that the Hampton-Preston mansion was once a hotel for tourists. At the height of the aluminum Christmas tree fad in the late 1950s and mid-1960s, there were over thirty manufacturers of silver trees in the United States. This tree, made by the Peco Company in Austell, Georgia, had never been opened or used before it was donated to Historic Columbia in 2013.

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Historic Artifact Spotlight: The Horses of Hampton-Preston

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This guest blog was written by HC Director of Cultural Resources John Sherrer.

For many Columbians the Carolina Cup marks the beginning of spring and an opportunity to don festive clothing and dust off tailgating finery for one of the social events of the year. More often than not, eyes are trained on the latest fashions—Lilly Pulitzer, LaRoque and Vineyard Vines—than on the four-legged fascinations charging along the racecourse. While the “look” may be quite different, the pastimes contemporary partygoers pursue nonetheless have deep roots in local history. Camden and Aiken may hold the distinction of being horse towns today but Columbia claimed that moniker during the 19th century.

Connections to that Columbia’s equine past remain within Historic Columbia’s museum collection, which features no fewer than five very significant artifacts formerly owned by the socially prominent Hampton and Preston families, the former of which was well known for its breeding of fine race horses. Two of the most famous pieces are portraits by artist Edward Troye (1808-1874). The first, HCF1972.104, portrays Marie West and foal, Cornelia, sired by Priam, and the second, HCF 1972.105, showcases another Hampton family horse, “Fannie.” Celebrated for their anatomically accurate depictions, Troye portraits remain highly prized artifacts among art collectors today.

The families’ interest in horse racing was also manifested in two silver vessels. Inscribed, “Won by Ormond for Harriet,” HCF1972.143.1, is a coin silver ewer made by the Baltimore silversmith firm of S. Kirk and Son. The other coin silver piece, HCF1972.144.1, is the work of Bailey and Kitchens from Philadelphia, and includes likenesses of a mare and foal among its extensive repoussè details. Lastly, the international appreciation of horse mastery is embodied in a delicate gold and amber riding crop (HCF1985.4.1) formerly owned by Sarah Buchanan Campbell Preston, aka “Buckie” Preston. Famed for her beauty, Buckie’s prowess in the equine arts caught the attention of Napoleon III, Emperor of the Second French Empire, during her time abroad before the Civil War. His thoughtful gift to her bears her nickname and retains its original presentation case!

These tangible links to the past tell us much about those citizens who came before us while illustrating how the foundation of today’s interests was established long ago. To learn more about the Historic Columbia’s museum collection or to visit the historic house museums under the stewardship of Historic Columbia, visit

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Woodrow Wilson Wednesday: A Bird’s Eye View

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When you tour the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, you will see Columbia as Tommy Wilson knew it with our interactive touchscreen map. Traveling artist and topographer Camille N. Drie drew this complete bird’s eye view depiction of the capital city nearly 142 years ago, when Tommy and his family would have been able to buy a copy of this map of their new home for five dollars.

Drie’s map features many familiar historic sites, including the Robert Mills House, University of South Carolina, the State House and many familiar streets- though Huger Street is quite a bit smaller than we know it today. During your tour, we encourage you to zoom in and click on the sites to explore Columbia in the midst of the Reconstruction Era.

Take a tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home before the Great Columbia Quest this Saturday and see what famously historic sites you can find before you compete in our third annual citywide scavenger hunt!

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Woodrow Wilson Wednesday: A Tale of Two Red Shirts

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If you’ve visited the Woodrow Wilson Family Home since it opened, you might’ve thought you were seeing double. Have you wondered why we have not one, but two red shirts on display?

The shirt you see in the picture to the right is a reproduction of a red shirt made specifically for Historic Columbia and the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz, owner of Dancing Leaf Designs, Inc., made this piece based on what an actual Reconstruction-era red shirt would look like. As these shirts would have been made at home by the Red Shirts’ wives, there was some variation. After much research, Sholtz discovered that the shirts were designed as overshirts that could be worn on top of other clothes and that mother-of-pearl was a popular button style, allowing Mackenzie to arrive this particular reproduction.

The second red shirt in the Woodrow Wilson Family Home lives in a drawer to the right of its twin. On loan from the South Carolina State Museum, this circa-1875 red shirt is the real deal, but displaying it presented some issues. Over time, exposure to light will cause fabrics to fade, particularly for a bright red color like this. To keep this artifact out of the damaging sunlight, we created a display that will keep it tucked away until you want to see it – just pull the drawer open to take a look! The specially-designed drawer will automatically retract for additional protection. By combining a reproduction and an original, we were able to solve a preservation puzzle and keep a red shirt on display at all times while taking care of a piece of South Carolina history.

Take a tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, open Tuesdays through Sundays, to see these two artifacts and more!

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Woodrow Wilson Wednesday: Mrs. Wilson’s Crazy Quilt!

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The Woodrow Wilson Family Home will contain several artifacts owned by the family of our 28th president, including this crazy quilt. Made of intricately stitched and carefully selected patches of silk, this bed covering was presented to Woodrow Wilson’s mother, Jessie Wilson, by the ladies of Augusta’s Presbyterian Church when the Wilson family moved from Augusta to Columbia in 1870. The geometric design of Mrs. Wilson’s former keepsake illustrates a quilt pattern that found favor with women across the country during the mid- to later-19th century.

There are many problems inherent in preserving weighted silk fabrics, so unfortunately, the quilt is in poor condition today and has only been publicly displayed twice since 1996. However, thanks to special precautions, this rare artifact will make a reappearance when the Woodrow Wilson Family Home reopens on Saturday, February 15. Join us on Presidents Day weekend for your chance to see this and other important artifacts in the new museum!

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Don’t Miss Your Chance to Visit From Landrum to Leeds: Common Ceramics in 19th-Century Columbia!

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Visit the Robert Mills House before January 31 for your last chance to see From Landrum to Leeds: Common Ceramics in 19th-Century Columbia! Presented by Wooten & Wooten, Auctions of Fine Art, Antiques & Great Estates, this exhibit has given the public a look at Historic Columbia’s growing collection of locally made and imported ceramics.

From Landrum to Leeds explores the various dining, cooking and storage wares common in 19th-century Columbia, South Carolina, and the exhibit features ceramics in a focus gallery, as well as displayed in period-appropriate settings throughout the house. Highlights include examples from the Landrum-Stork pottery, which was located in what is today Forest Acres, Edgefield pottery and a variety of imported English ceramics.

The exhibit is shown as part of the regularly-scheduled guided tours of the Robert Mills House. Tours run at the top of the hour Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm (last tour starts at 3 pm) and Sunday, 1 – 5 pm. (last tour starts at 4 pm), and are free for HC members, $8 for non-member adults and $5 for non-member youth. Purchase tour admission at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills, 1616 Blanding Street. For more information, please contact us at 803.252.1770 x 23 or

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Woodrow Wilson Wednesday: Picking Up the Birth Bed!

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Our Director of Cultural Resources, John Sherrer, and Director of House Museums, Fielding Freed, traveled to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum last week to pick up one of the most famous artifacts associated with our 28th president: the bed in which he was born.

On loan to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum from Historic Columbia since 2005, this important artifact returns in time for the reopening of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home on February 15. For more information about the opening weekend events, click here!

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Collection Item of the Month | Jo Jo flask from the South Carolina Dispensary

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As the Foundation continues it’s 50th Anniversary Year, we want to give you a closer look into our collection.

Historic Columbia Foundation maintains a permanent collection of more than 6,500 historic artifacts.  The collections span the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and form the basis of interpretation at our historic houses.  Objects vary in composition, size and value with major categories in the permanent collection including textiles, decorative arts, fine arts, tools and historic images.  A portion of collection items are viewable here.

Take a look at this month’s featured Collection Item, the Jo Jo Flask, early 1900s. This piece will be on display at the Robert Mills House in a new exhibit opening at the end of July. Stay tuned for more information on the new exhibit!

Nick-named “Ben Tillman’s Baby” by his critics, the South Carolina Dispensary was founded by Governor Ben Tillman in 1893 and was located in Edgefield, South Carolina. This was the first and only attempt by any state to control the production and sale of all forms of liquor; the experiment lasted from 1893 until 1907 state-wide and as late as 1916 in some counties. From 1898 to 1907, the building that currently houses the Publix grocery store, 501 Gervias Street, was used as a liquor-bottling warehouse for the South Carolina Dispensary.

The bottles used by the Dispensary were available in four different sizes and came with varying logos. One of the more common bottles was called the “Jo Jo flask”. The most recognizable logos are the Palmetto tree and the Dispensary’s monogram- an interlocking “S”, “C”, and “D”. Featuring a similar interlocking “SC”, the University of South Carolina baseball team’s new logo bears a “strike”-ing resemblance to the SC Dispensary’s iconic monogram.

If you wish to donate historic artifacts from your personal collection to Historic Columbia Foundation, please contact John Sherrer, Director of Cultural Resources at or 803.252.1770 ext. 28.

HCF’s Historic House Museums feature a variety of collection pieces. To learn more about visiting, click here.

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