history mannaquinOne of the luxurious gowns on display as part of the Hartshorne exhibit.

muriel j smith 120If you have taken advantage of the opportunity to see the Hartshorne exhibition at the Monmouth County Historical Association in Freehold, you already know is it a most singular historic collection that spans more than 300 years in the lives of one family who for centuries have been a major part of Monmouth County.

If you have not yet seen it, do yourself one favor and put it on your list. But more importantly, make an effort to attend probably one of the most fascinating talks and demonstrations available in any museum nationwide.  Two more are planned for early and late spring and you can visit www.monmouthhistory.org to get all the details when the dates are announced.

The second of four planned very special demonstrations took place last week, when Director of Collections Joe Hammond and  consulting curator Bernadette Rogoff invited just over a dozen persons to view, learn, and participate in the dressing and undressing of a Hartshorne exhibit mannequin, which, incidentally, Bernadette made herself from plumbing and hardware supplies, a story in itself!

How the Museum even has the luxurious gowns is another long story. The Hartshornes, over the centuries, have preserved everything from their households that could conceivably be considered of any importance, from doctor’s bills and bonnets to manuscripts, furniture and paintings. And family members have generously donated or put on loan every one of these items. Hammond, archivist, former director of the Association, and master historian and chronicler of everything, authored a descriptive guide of the 77 boxes in the family papers collection making it available for the general public to see and enjoy. The Hartshorne exhibition opened last year as the primary exhibition at the Museum and, because of its popularity and the large interest it is drawing, will remain on exhibition early July 2017.


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One of the Hartshorne ladies, Julia, who was married to Benjamin Hartshorne in 1862, and lived with him and their three children in San Francisco where Hartshorne was a wealthy businessman, had purchased a dozen or so magnificent dresses for all seasons. But before she was able to wear most of them, she became ill, was under a doctor’s care for several months, and subsequently died. The dresses were preserved, handed down, never worn, and today, thanks to all those efforts and the care of the association, are in perfect condition now, the brilliant reds, blues, and lavenders still very much alive in the silk and cotton materials.

Hammond, in creating the Hartshorne exhibition, working with Rogoff, a master with all textiles, chose to display one gown at a time in the collection. With change of gown time scheduled for last week, the Association invited members and guests to hear the precise care which must be taken to continue preservation, see how a plastic mannequin stuffed with cotton can be dressed from undergarments to bonnet and gloves, and…after duly washing their hands and taking a quick course in how to hold the material, participate in the storing of the red gown which has been on the display and the re-dressing of the same model.  The result is visitors to the Hartshorne Collection over the next few months will see this life-size mannequin dressed in a vibrant blue and black striped gown, complete with hoop skirt, petticoats and long train, gloves and a unique and intricate removable scalloped collar.

During last week’s program, guests also got to go back to the lecture room to see the care and materials Bernadette uses in re-wrapping the gown to continue its magnificent preservation. (She also gave some fascinating tips on how to store wedding gowns or other priceless material purchases today!)

The next fashion change in April will be from the current striking blue and black reception dress to a lush lavender ball gown; the fourth and final exchange will be in May, when Rogoff’s mannequin will don a light cotton whimsically flowered dress perfect for an afternoon tea under the sun.

Hammond and Rogoff are a duo to be admired, especially when considering the vast amount of their knowledge and their obvious love for history. That they can share so much with audiences of all sizes is an opportunity the Monmouth County Historical Association offers at little, sometimes no cost.

We here in the Bayshore, and throughout Monmouth County, have a plethora of history unseen anywhere else. From the recent talk at the Monmouth County Library when Monmouth Battlefield’s Dr. David Martin highlighted how, where and why both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were both at the Battle of Monmouth, to the Hartshorne exhibition that gives visitors a firsthand glimpse into everyday life in the Bayshore over 300 years, we can take pride in every historian, chronicler, writer and archivist who has made this history all possible.  Visiting either the library’s history discussions or the Association’s exhibits and programs almost ensures an entire new and vast pride in the people who have made our area the spectacular place it is today. Try spending an afternoon learning some of this history and you can see for yourself.

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Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, www.venividiscripto.com in...