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The Jennie Wade Museum: It's rediscovered history and provenance for the museum's battlefield Relics

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The Jennie Wade Museum: It's rediscovered history and provenance for the museum's battlefield Relics
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     This article is to shed some light on the Jennie Wade Museum of Gettysburg. Previously very little had been known about the museum or at least much of what had been known was lost over time. However due to recent research, much information has been learned or rediscovered. Based on previous limited knowledge about the museum, collectors often did not think too highly or have much confidence in the provenance of relics that came from the Jennie Wade Museum. However, as we shall see, such concerns are not justified and in fact the museum's relics rivaled the Danner Museum in provenance if not even exceeded it.

      Many had previously thought the Jennie Wade Museum was founded by the former Gettysburg Mayor William Weaver sometime in the 1920s. The museum is much older than previously thought and was actually founded in 1901 by William Weaver's father-in-law Robert C. Miller, the former Postmaster of Gettysburg. The fact that it began in 1901 makes it a contemporary of the Danner Museum. The Danner Museum did not close until later 1904. In fact, in an article featured in the Gettysburg Compiler on March 7, 1906, the newspaper expresses gratitude for the existence of the Jennie Wade Museum and had it had not been for the museum the town of Gettysburg would have been without any such institution due to the passing of Burt Danner.

     The creation of a museum in the Jennie Wade house was the idea of Robert C. Miller. It was through his wife's family (he had married Anna Kitzmiller whose family had bought the home in 1866) that he obtained access to the Jennie Wade home. Years before he started the museum he observed people expressing great interest in the house and thus thought up the idea of converting it into a museum. Robert C. Miller immediately began displaying relics from the battlefield in the new museum.

     A critical question is what was the source of the relics for the museum? In that same article just quoted in the previous paragraph from the Gettysburg Compiler in 1906 it states, "He has collections of relics and souvenirs the boys daily bring to him that the visitor thirsts to see".  We know now that the local youth were still finding items from the woods and fields. Another article documents the Jennie Wade Museum obtaining a famous relic from the Danner Museum.  In essence, the Jennie Wade Museum had the same source of relics as the Danner Museum. It is also quite possible that the Jennie Wade Museum had access to the Kitzmiller family collection. It is known that there was a collection of battlefield relics called the Kitzmiller Collection. It is not clear if it was the same Kitzmiller family. However, many of the local families who had been in Gettysburg at the time of the battle had a collection of one size or another. Worth noting is the following, many of the relics from the Jennie Wade Museum had Culp's Hill or Cemetery Hill provenance. It is likely that this is not coincidence as Robert C. Miller's wife's family grew up right at the base of E. Cemetery Hill and likely played on those parts of the battlefield. Of course this cannot be proven, however it is worth noting this possibility.

     The following discussion is perhaps what bolsters the provenance the most for the Jennie Wade Museum battlefield relics and also what sets it apart the most from the Danner Museum. It has been confirmed that the battlefield relics from the Jennie Wade Museum were not for sale. In essence, unlike the Danner "Museum", it was a true museum where its contents were not always for sale. There is little doubt (though many collectors do not want to believe it) that "Burt" Danner was under incredible pressure to replace his inventory. There is no doubt that through the 1860s and 1870s he had good access to legitimate battlefield relics however they weren't quite as bountiful by the late 1880s. This has been confirmed though newspaper articles at the time. Ominously, as early as September 10, 1895 there was an article describing the selling of fake Gettysburg items. There is no doubt that items were to be found on the battlefield well into the 1900s, especially on the wooded hills, however not likely at the volume and pace to replace the masses of relics that Danner was selling. Research shows that Danner was selling relics by the "caseload" through 1904. Of further concern is that shells have been seen in old photos of the Danner Museum that were not used at Gettysburg. Of even more concern is a story from a physician who lived in Gettysburg during the existence of the Danner Museum who stated, "I don't know how many times old Burt Danner sold the bullet that killed General Reynolds".

      The grandson of Robert C. Miller, who spent much time in the museum growing up, was recently consulted. He confirmed that the only items sold from the Jennie Wade Museum when the original families owned it were the souvenirs, such as the Gettysburg themed pennants, battlefield guides, ashtrays, etc. The only relics that were sold were shell fragments and miniballs. The larger items displayed in the museum were not for sale. There is also photographic evidence to support this. Old photos dating back to the late 1950s show the front room with souvenirs with price tags. This room contained the cash register and the room was filled with "nick knacks". However, the items from the museum showed no signs of being for sale and did not have price tags. The displays in the Jennie Wade Museum rivaled if not exceeded the Danner Museum's when it was at its peak. Furthermore, an ad for the Jennie Wade Museum in 1938 only advertises the sale of a newly released Gettysburg book, there is not mention of relics for sale.

       Also, throughout the years of the Danner Museum's existence, the local newspaper ran one mention after another of any significant sale the Danner Museum made, whether it was a case of relics or a sword. However, there has not been seen one mention of the Jennie Wade Museum ever selling relics in the local newspaper, the only mention is of people coming to "see" the museum's relics. Robert C. Miller was in very good financial shape and did not need the museum to provide income. Both he and his wife came from distinguished backgrounds. Danner clearly was dependent upon the museum's income more so than Robert C. Miller. In essence, the Jennie Wade Museum was a true museum that had a far more stable inventory than the Danner Museum and was under no pressure to replace sold relics.

     Sometime in 1930 Robert C. Miller passed away and his son-in-law William Weaver took over the museum as a manager. The widow of Robert C. Miller and her sister Mrs. Jacob Mumper maintained ownership of the museum (The Kitzmiller family did not give up ownership of the Jennie Wade house). However, after they (The Kitzmiller daughters) both passed, William Weaver purchased the museum in 1948. William Weaver maintained ownership and control of the museum until August 9, 1960 at which point, for the first time, it left the family's hands and was sold to L.E. Smith. L.E. Smith was a local businessman who was not well versed in battlefield relics. It is at this point that the collection started to become no longer "untouched". Up until this point the Museum was looked after by local families who wanted to preserve the contents. Around this time the Jennie Wade Museum's history starts to get confused with the Soldier's Museum which was started by the actor Arquette on February 28, 1959. In 1966, Arquette and L.E. Smith joined together and it is around this time relics started getting moved out of the Jennie Wade Museum. Sadly, it seems, when the contents were moved to the Soldier's Museum and mixed with Arquette's items, no records were kept as to what exactly was from the Jennie Wade Museum.  It is known that two collectors whose names will remain anonymous approached L.E.Smith right around the time of the sale and asked if he would sell some relics. He parted with items he did not want. These were items from when the original families who started the museum owned it. L.E.Smith was not a relic man and parted with many of the battlefield items that looked worn and battered while keeping other items. The Horse Soldier in Gettysburg recently was able to purchase many of the items sold to these two collectors after they had passed away recently (2014).

     To summarize, if it can be proven that a battlefield relic came from the Jennie Wade Museum between 1901 and 1960 then the provenance is very good. Unfortunately, items from the collection from this time period would be difficult to obtain unless they were among the few items that made their way out of the collection. If an item came out of the collection during the early 1960s then the provenance starts to be diminished as the collection fell into the hands of those not familiar with the preservation of battlefield relics and the museum was not as well protected. After 1966 the provenance becomes even more shaky as the collection was moved to and mixed with items in the Soldier's Museum. If a collector encounters an item from the Jennie Wade Museum, they should make sure to ask and find out how and when it was obtained. As always, the collector needs to do the "sniff test", i.e. does it look like a battlefield relic? An item that is "too clean" or looks like an attic find that has no rust or wear should be approached with extreme caution if not avoided all together if that individual is seeking a true battlefield relic. In light of the information shared in this article, it is hoped that the old Jennie Wade Museum elicits the respect it deserves and that indeed the items from the Museum that may have leaked out from that golden era might be considered hidden gems.

 

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