Mount Airy News

Museum opens traveling exhibit

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The new exhibit opens today to run through Sept. 3 at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.  “A Forest Journey” was created by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It sheds new light on the history of the use of wood throughout the world, on forest products (from paper to lifesaving pharmaceuticals) and on the relationship between forests  and the benefits of trees.  “We’ve got some pretty lackluster instructions,” said museum director Matt Edwards as he and a group of volunteers and staffers struggled on Wednesday to set up the new traveling exhibit.  The exhibit arrived in eight large crates, only one of which fit into the museum’s elevator.  “We were unpacking them in the gift shop, and ferrying them upstairs,” said Edwards.

The exhibit is the second in a series that are science-related and address a push for STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art and math). Last year’s dinosaur exhibit was the first in the series.  “We got funds from the N.C. Museum of Natural Science for the series,” said Edwards, “and they also fund our educational director position.”  “It’s part of our broader mission. Art, natural history and science are not something we have focused on until the last few years.”  Within those parameters, Edwards said the forestry exhibit was chosen primarily because of its size.  “It was the smallest one available, and we are limited in space to about 1,500 square feet,” said Edwards. “Some of the others we were looking at required as much as 5,000 square feet.”

“This exhibit is highly interactive. We look for new and engaging ways to interact with our visitors. Most of the time, museums are telling everyone to ‘not touch,’ but people like to touch things, and this exhibit gives them a chance to do that.”  “Seeing, reading, hearing hit different parts of your brain. This hits something else,” said events coordinator Kate Rauhauser-Smith, as she steadied a large, still precariously placed piece of the exhibit. “What’s it called?”  “It’s called “kinesthetic learning,” answered Sonya Laney, director of education and programs, while crouched on the floor bolting exhibit pieces together.  “We’ve got a pretty aggressive calendar of programs coordinated with the exhibit through Labor Day,” said Edwards.

“The last of the spring History Talks will be a screening of ‘America’s First Forest’ and discussion of the history and science of forestry in North Carolina,” said Laney, after freeing herself from her floor-bound crouch.  “We hope schools who came to see the dinosaur exhibit will return,” said Edwards. “It’s hard to beat the wow factor of dinosaurs. That’s partly why we did dinosaurs the first year, to tell people we’re here.  "While forestry may not seem to have the wow of dinosaurs, a good number of folks have a connection with forestry. It’s part of our human culture. The timber industry was big here, early on, and there were the furniture factories.”

The exhibit was inspired by the Harvard classic “A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization” by science writer John Perlin. 

• Jamie Lewis, historian at the Forest History Society, will present the museum’s final History Talk, “America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment,” on April 15, from 2-3:30 p.m.with a film screening of “America’s First Forest” and discussion of the history and science of forestry in North Carolina. History Talks are held on the third floor of the Museum and are free to the public.

• Homeschool Day at the Museum will be April 17, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. when students can spend the day at the museum and participate in a variety of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics-based activities, as well as history, tour the museum and check out “A Forest Journey.”  The cost is $7 per student, which includes all materials for crafts, hands-on activities, and museum admission. The cost is $5 per chaperone.

History Talk focuses on women in wartime

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High winds and residual power outages on Saturday did not keep a capacity crowd from coming out to Mount Airy Museum of Regional History to hear Dr. Angela Robbins’ presentation “North Carolina Women Do Their Bit During World War I.”

Robbins, a “Road Scholar” with the North Carolina Humanities Council, was second in a series of Spring 2018 History Talks at the museum. She received her Ph.D. in U.S. history from UNC Greensboro, where she specialized in women’s history. Saturday’s presentation was based on her dissertation research. She teaches at Meredith College and delivers similar presentations around the state.  “‘Do your bit’ was a popular phrase at the time” began Robbins, a slogan which she adapted to “Do your BIG bit,” to highlight the enormous contributions made by women to the war effort.  Robbins said that American women at the beginning of the twentieth century were already organized into women’s clubs which did civic and humanitarian work in their communities. In North Carolina and most of the South, economies were still suffering following the Civil War, and the women worked through their clubs to do charitable work in their communities.  When Belgium was invaded by Germany, and news reached America of civilians being slaughtered and burned out of their homes, the women tuned their attention to providing relief to them, using the techniques and organization they already had in place.  A State Council of Defense and a National Council of Defense was set up, and a complicated system of committees was developed. Women worked independently of men in women’s auxiliaries. Committees were segregated by race as well as gender. African-American women formed committees to make “comfort kits” to send to black soldiers, not expecting them to receive any of the kits made by white women.

Robbins showed a series of posters that adapted a two-pronged approach to war propaganda involving women. Some of the posters showed wise, nurturing maternal figures and others focused on flirtatious images of scantily clad women.  Early on in the war effort, women did the kind of work traditionally considered “women’s work.” “Girls, you were born knowing how to sew and change a diaper, weren’t you?” Robbins asked the audience.  Women were expected to help with shortages of wheat, meat, dairy and sugar by observing “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to help starving women and children in Belgium. Home demonstration agents taught women the newly developed techniques of home canning food and provided a recipe for a butter substitute, consisting of gelatin, milk and oleomargarine.

By the time the United States finally entered the war in 1917, groups of college women had taken on typically male roles and were actually growing food.  These “farmerettes,” as they called themselves, donned middy blouses, khaki skirts and brogans to go out to farms and drive the tractors themselves. Motorized tractors were a relatively new technology at the time and not many male farmers drove them, much less women. The farmerettes, Robbins noted, prepared their own lunch, and did not rely on farmer’s wives to cook for them as the men did.  Two causes for which women had been organizing even before the war, temperance and women’s suffrage, took the back burner for some women during the war, but not for others. This was a point of contention, but within two years of war’s end the temperance movement had brought about Prohibition and the suffragettes gained the vote for women.

The traveling exhibit, “North Carolina in the Great War,” exhibit will be at the museum until March 24. The final Spring 2018 History Talk, “First in Forestry” will be April 15 at 2 p.m. It will be a combination film screening and talk, presented by James Lewis, historian of the Forest History Center and the Emmy-winning film, “First in Forestry: Carl Schenk and the Biltmore Forest School,” will be screened.

Surry WWI general is museum talk topic

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One hundred years ago, what was then known as The Great War was raging in Europe — but many area residents might be unaware of the key role a Surry Countian played in that conflict. This will be highlighted Saturday during a presentation at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History which will focus on Henry Butner, an accomplished World War I Army general who was born and raised in Pinnacle.

The program titled “General Henry Wolfe Butner: From Farm to Military Fame” is scheduled at 2 p.m. on the third floor of the museum in downtown Mount Airy and is free and open to the public. That “fame” included Butner briefly serving as the commanding officer of Fort Bragg. During World War I, he was sent to France with the American Expeditionary Force and commanded an artillery brigade as a brigadier general. Butner was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Saturday’s program will be led by local historian Marion Venable, with the event kicking off a spring History Talks series at the museum which has been under way for more than a decade. Two other sessions are slated in March and April, including a focus on how North Carolina women aided America’s cause in World War I on March 3.

That war is being highlighted through programming this year at the local museum, which also includes its recent opening of a World War I exhibit, as part of statewide efforts celebrating the centennial of the conflict’s end in November 1918. Special programs such as the one Saturday are helping people today understand a war that in many ways has been under-represented compared to the wealth of material produced about World War II and the Civil War. But that century-old conflict has special significance, according to Sonya Laney, director of education and programs at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. “World War I was nicknamed ‘the war to end all wars,”’ Laney said, “which ended up being quite ironic.” Only about 20 years later, another world war would be getting under way which proved to be the most massive conflict in the history of mankind. Harsh conditions in Germany after 1918 fueled the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in the 1930s. Historians also consider World War I to be the first “modern” conflict. “It is really a fascinating war — the technological advances,” Laney said.

On March 3 at 2 p.m. at the museum, North Carolina Humanities Council “Road Scholar” Dr. Angela Robbins is scheduled to discuss the ways North Carolina women contributed to the World War I effort. This will include both the home front and overseas. That program is made possible by funding from the council, a statewide non-profit organization and an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Family searches yield results

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A massive search was waged this past weekend in which members of multiple families were sought. It didn’t involve rescue crews scouring the countryside for missing children or senior citizens, but an effort staged quietly Saturday within the confines of Mount Airy Museum of Regional History — though almost as intense in terms of motivation.

The Surry County Genealogical Association Ancestor Fair, held at the museum for the fourth year, attracted people searching for something reflecting a unique brand of elusiveness: information about folks from whom they are descended. Researching one’s family tree can be a tedious, challenging — and sometimes-frustrating — process filled with dead ends, wild goose chases and other pitfalls in the seemingly never-ending quest for names, dates and other facts. But Saturday’s Ancestor Fair provided a fertile ground for those wanting to connect to their roots.

The third floor of the downtown museum was abuzz with activity, including computer stations offering free and unencumbered access to online genealogy services including and FamilySearch, which normally require paying fees or establishing accounts. Non-digital resources also were well-represented with tables displaying genealogy charts, tax and other public records, books on area history and information assembled to aid others interested in surnames common to this region. “People have brought their family histories to show people … scrapbooks — everything,” said President Esther Johnson of the Surry County Genealogical Association. Aside from the records aspect, members of the association were out in force to provide assistance, along with representatives of historical organizations in Patrick and Carroll counties in Virginia.

The Ancestor Fair drew folks from near and far. “I think it’s well done,” said Joyce Lee Kanter of Winston-Salem, who was attending the local genealogy event for the first time. “And the folks I’ve talked to have been very knowledgeable and very approachable,” added Kanter. “If they have any information, they’re willing to share.” The Winston-Salem resident specifically came looking for her ancestral details about Johnsons who lived in Stokes and Patrick counties, and also the Thore surname. Betty Rogers of Pilot Mountain, meanwhile, was making good use of the and FamilySearch station, where she sought information about a great-grandmother named Hayes who long ago migrated from Statesville to Surry County by wagon. As is often the case with genealogy, some family lines are easier to track than others, which Rogers exemplified Saturday while holding up a copy of the Surry County Heritage Book, Volume II. It is a thick tome containing a wealth of information — but not everything. “I’ve got my story in here,” Rogers said of her basic family history, “but I don’t know much about the Hayeses.”

While ferreting out such history can be painstaking and often tests researchers’ patience, Johnson, the Genealogical Association president, said computer technology has been a tremendous boost in streamlining information collection. To a large extent, the digital indexing of birth, marriage, death and other records has eliminated the need to pore through dusty materials — which was once the only method available. “It was a slow process,” Johnson said of the time when hitting the “print” button wasn’t an option for persons retrieving vital information. “They had to write it down.”

Museum to host Ancestor Fair on Saturday 1/27

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Though its name has changed, an annual event on Saturday at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History has the same goal: helping individuals and families connect with their past.  The Surry County Genealogical Association Ancestor Fair formerly was known as the Family History and Genealogy Swap Meet.  A decision was made to drop the “swap meet” terminology, which generally refers to flea markets or venues where auto enthusiasts go to trade parts, and add ancestor fair to the title. This better reflects the historical nature of the event now in its fourth year, explained Esther Johnson, Genealogical Association president.

“This is the swap meet we have been having,” Johnson added in assuring that the gathering held each winter will feature the same attractions for genealogy buffs. “We’re pretty much sticking to the same things this year.” Also as in the past, everyone interested in genealogy is invited to the ancestor fair and admission is free, except for a small fee to copy records using a machine to be available Saturday.

Roots resources

A variety of resources will be highlighted during the event scheduled Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the third floor of the museum on North Main Street. “We will have someone there who can help you look up your family on or FamilySearch,” Johnson mentioned in reference to one attraction, access to online services that normally require paying fees or establishing accounts. “Also, we can go on our computers,” she said of ones to be brought by Genealogical Association members. Laptops are welcome Saturday. An array of family history information, such as genealogy charts and records for various lines, tends to be on display at the fair. “Bring your genealogy and history on your family,” Johnson urged participants, “old pictures, scrapbooks, family group sheets.” One never knows what might be encountered at the event, which sometimes includes stumbling onto previously elusive information that can provide a genealogical breakthrough. “This is a good time to find people who are doing research on your family,” Johnson commented regarding the presence of a clearinghouse for an array of records. Those connected with a history or genealogy group also are invited to set up at the fair, where they can advertise their group and sell its items such as books and maps free of charge. And authors may offer their books for sale.

DNA attraction

A recent rage in the genealogy world is DNA testing, which offers an alternative to tracing one’s family tree rather than relying strictly on written or oral records. It allows genealogists and family researchers to benefit from established scientific methods to confirm ancestry and relationships. “Everybody wants to have their DNA done,” Johnson said of the popularity of testing, which she will be available to explain Saturday to ancestor fair attendees. “I’ve had my DNA done and I can show them what it looks like,” Johnson said of the breakdown that results.

Classes offered

While Saturday’s fair will be of special interest to students of a beginners genealogy class sponsored by the museum and taught by Johnson, it also is a prelude for the next round of classes. The five sessions are scheduled on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., beginning on Feb. 6 and ending on March 6. The first two are to be held in the second-floor classroom of the museum, the third and fourth at locations in Dobson and the fifth back at the museum. Fee and other information is available on the museum’s website. In addition, the Surry County Genealogical Association meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the Teaching Auditorium at Surry Community College in Dobson.

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