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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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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