Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Great Monthly Museum Challenge: #1(b) The Christian C. Sanderson Museum

So, when I read about the museum here, I thought that it would be a pair of crazypants full of awesome sauce. I also wondered why I had driven by several times (it's on the way to and, indeed, walking distance from, The Brandywine River Museum) and not stopped in to check it out. It did NOT disappoint.....

"Anyone born in the twentieth century should see this museum. It's a history lesson, a nostalgia trip, a fascinating look at one man's life." - Therese Boyd
The Best Places You've Never Seen: Pennsylvania's Small Museums, A Traveler's Guide

Within this small, modest, Colonial-era house lies a world of wonders. From his Wikipedia page:

"Christian Carmack Sanderson (1882 – 1966) was a teacher, fiddler, square-dance caller, poet, and noted local historian in southeastern Pennsylvania in the early to mid-20th century. He corresponded with a wide range of notable people of his time and was a remarkable collector of historical memorabilia. Sanderson lived the latter part of his life in Chadds Ford and was friends with the Wyeth family there. From 1906-1922, Sanderson lived in the Benjamin Ring House, which was Washington's Headquarters before and after the Battle of Brandywine and 'more than any individual in his time, Christian Sanderson focused attention on the Battle.' Chris Sanderson is the subject of a biography written by his friend Thomas R. Thompson and a documentary film by Karen Kuder."

We were greeted at the front door by two friendly and knowledgeable volunteers, Norma and Jean (totally their real names). They gave us an introduction, made sure we didn't miss anything important, and answered all of our questions in detail, but they also allowed us to explore in whatever order and pace we liked. It was obvious that they love what they do and were happy to see us. In other words, they were fantastic docents.

What follows are some highlights from each of the rooms, but the museum really has to be experienced to be believed. To give you an idea of what you're in for, one of the upstairs rooms has a vertical display case/bulletin board with all sorts of small things pinned to it, among them this mind-boggling gem: a piece of folded paper, maybe 1" x 3", in a correspondingly miniscule hand-made waxed-paper envelope, with the label "Paper that Mom used winter of 1940-41 to keep cold out. Stuffed in cracks of windows." First of all, who saves something like that? Second of all, who types a LABEL for it?!?

Chris Sanderson, that's who. He was one part hoarder, one part collector, one part archivist, all parts fascinating. Evidently, no item was too small, too obscure, or too mundane for Sanderson to collect and label. In his day, he was known far and wide, and was much more famous than his neighbors, the Wyeths, who were referred to as "those painter fellows who are friends with Chris Sanderson." He was so well-known that when a popular actor from the 1890s named Joe Jefferson repeatedly ignored his letters asking for an autograph for his collection, he shamelessly went over his head. To his buddy, Grover Cleveland. Who was the current President of the United States. President Cleveland wrote a letter to Jefferson demanding that he honor Sanderson's request, so, of course, he did.

Here are some highlights of each room, followed by my scavenger hunt of awesome things that you should  look for.

First Floor: Entry Room
It was hard for me to absorb a lot of specifics in this room because we stepped directly into it upon entering and were fully taking in the task (and delight) we had ahead of us. There are some toys of Sanderson's, arrowheads and Revolutionary War nails, a gunpowder flask (Sanderson was a guide at the Brandywine Battlefield and found all sorts of things there, in his yards, and in the yards of his neighbors), pieces of WWI and WWII aircraft, a piece of wire from Westminster Abbey, and the spectacular Wyeth-Sanderson Historic Map of Chester County.

First Floor: Battlefield Room
I liked the super-cool propeller from a WWI fighter plane, the painting of Sanderson done by his good friend Andrew Wyeth, the Jennie Wade pocket book, and the Barbara Fritchie embroidery. And the canon balls. Ohhhh, soooooo many cannon balls.

First Floor: Chadds Ford Room
Want to see a jar of melted ice from the South Pole? It's here. Another one with water from the River Jordan? It's here. A jar of sand from the Panama Canal? It's here. A poster from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping? It's here.

Second Floor: Hallway
Along the hall upstairs is a truly impressive collection of mostly late 19th- and early-to-mid-20th-century autographs, mostly from sports figures, politicians, and Hollywood stars. See how many you can recognize. And there's also a piece of Caesar's bathtub tile. Just because.

Second Floor: Brandywine Room
A select but unique collection of drawings and items from his friends N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, some of which were created specifically of or for Sanderson himself. It was fun to see this room after being at the Brandywine all morning.

Second Floor: Music Room
There is the expected: violins, an Edison phonograph, posters for local concerts and dances, dance cards, a zither. Then there is the unexpected: a miner's cap, an ostrich egg, a mastodon tooth, a piece of petrified wood. Don't ask why. It's the Sanderson Museum, that's why.

Second Floor: School Room
One of my favorites. Sanderson kept meticulous, decades-long class photos and lists of every single student he taught, as well as personal notes from some of them.

Second Floor: Carmack Room & Pocopson Room
These two rooms are just stuffed with things to look at, many of them miniscule (including dried flowers, burnt matchsticks, vintage candy wrappers, and other minutiae), so take your time and look around. And you can't miss the wonderful barber shop sign, painted by N.C. Wyeth.

Things to find throughout the museum:
  • the small piece of paper mentioned in the introduction
  • the photograph of Joe Jefferson and letter to Grover Cleveland mentioned in the introduction
  • a taxidermied (and quite antique) bobcat and hyena
  • a piece of the bandage used on Abraham Lincoln's head when he was shot
  • a photograph of a cat in a high chair
  • a tiny piece of tile from Eva Braun's bathroom
  • hand-drawn maps of the 1904 World's Fair
  • the sign from outside Washington's Headquarters (painted by N.C. Wyeth)
  • Valentines given to Sanderson by some of his students (be sure to read the comments)

Overall experience/For the kids: The main thing I liked about the museum, in addition to the bizarre and random nature of the collection overall, was that there is truly something for everyone. There are items that only teens and adults will think are interesting. I mean, how many 6-year-olds know or care who Eva Braun was? But I can bet that most school-age kids will get a charge out of quite a bit of Sanderson's immense and detailed collections, and at only $5 per person, you'll certainly get your money's worth with this visit.

Estimated time to see everything: One hour or so, unless you read every single label on every single item; then add at least another half-hour. You can visit the Brandywine first, take a break for lunch, then head over to the Sanderson. They're only about a block apart, but you'll want to to get back in the car and drive over; crossing Rt.1 on foot might be a little too treacherous, especially with young children.

Details on hours, admission, directions, and other info can be found at the museum's web site.

NEXT POST IN THE SERIES: The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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