Today (September 19, 2012) is Ask a Curator Day!  I encourage those of you on Twitter to make good use of the opportunity; the website gives hints on what to ask, and lists participating museums.  Since MCHS does not (yet?) have a Twitter account, we’re doing this a little informally, through Facebook and WordPress.  So pretend this photo* is me, eagerly awaiting your questions!

Our Facebook page has yielded one question for today’s blog: Was author Upton Sinclair – full name Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. – related to Upton Beall of Rockville?  The answer is a qualified Yes.  Jane Sween** and I spent some time in the MCHS Library this morning trying to track down the exact relationship, with no immediate results; but we do believe that he is related to ‘our’ Upton (1770-1827), the first owner of the Beall-Dawson House (now our museum).  Though our Upton’s line did not continue past his daughters, he was from a large family, and the name Upton pops up here and there.  (Jane suggested I recommend that the questioner come in and help us out by doing some genealogical research; otherwise, I’ll post an update if/when I sort it out.)  On a more concrete note, I did learn this morning that Upton Sinclair lived in Bethesda’s Grosvenor Park apartments in 1966, so there’s another local connection for you!

The fourth and fifth grade students who visit us on school tours always ask fantastic questions.  My favorite came several years ago: What pets did the Bealls and Dawsons have, and were there any veterinarians in Rockville?  The latter part is somewhat long and involved and will probably end up on a future blog, but to answer the first part, we know both families had cats.  In 1837, Upton’s daughter Jane wrote to her sister Matilda in Georgetown, reporting on the doings at home: “We are all quite well except [sister] Peggy’s pretty kitten, which she thinks has the whooping cough.”  A few generations later, Rockville’s student-run Midget newspaper reported on March 25, 1909 that John Dawson’s 12 year old cat was “killed by the electric cars” (that is, he or she was hit by the streetcar, which ran down West Montgomery Avenue).  There were probably many other cats, and perhaps dogs as well, who lived at the Beall-Dawson House over the years; but in the way of these things, their lives were not recorded.

Have these answers brought other questions to your mind?  Let me know!   (They don’t have to be about the Beall-Dawson House, I promise.)  Leave a comment here, or post on our Facebook page. And don’t forget to tweet some questions at other curators around the world today!

* This photo actually shows an unidentified woman participating in a radio interview with Stella Werner and Judge Charles Woodward on WBCC, circa 1955.

** Jane was our Librarian for many years; if Jane thinks Sinclair is related to our Bealls, he probably is.


It’s time for some happy photos.

Above: Sallie Cook of Sandy Spring, 1917. MCHS Library, Mary Warner Cook Baily collection.

I considered doing another post about disaster recovery, and what we try to save from the rubble. Much of the news from Joplin, MO is focusing on that topic, including a moving article in the New York Times about one family salvaging what they can from what’s left of their house. But then there were even more photos and stories from Oklahoma, and after looking at so many terrible images, I just can’t do it. Today the Fine Collection is taking a break from reality and going to its happy place.

Above: Fishing in the C&O Canal, 1966. MCHS Library, donated by the Sentinel.

Above: Sisters Kathryn, Eleanor and Clara Beall of Olney on a summer outing, 1894. MCHS Library, donated by Katherine Beall Adams.

Above: Billy and Edith Hazard, with their nursemaid Nettie Kane, Garrett Park, 1917.  MCHS Library, donated by the Barth family.

Above: Lloyd Brewer, Jr. of Rockville settles in with a good book, late 1920s.  MCHS Library, donated by the Brewer family.

Above: The Casanges family’s cat takes a nap, Brookeville, circa 1960.  MCHS Library, donated by the Casanges family.

I hope at least some of my ‘happy photos’ provided you with a brief antidote to anything unpleasant in your day!

Photo disclaimer: These images were donated to our collections. Some may have copyright restrictions.  Please see the “About This Blog” page for more info.

February is, among other things, National Pet Dental Health Month. As the postcard from my veterinarian reminds me, dogs have 42 permanent teeth and cats have 30; like human teeth, those pearly whites need care and attention. Today’s artifact, then, comes from our veterinary collection (a subset of our medical collections): an anesthesia face mask, used on cats and small dogs in the mid 20th century.

The mask is made of a light, flexible metal, wrapped into a cone shape, with mesh across the smaller opening and surgical tape around the larger end (2.25″ diameter), to protect the animal’s face. A cloth soaked in the chosen anesthetic agent was put inside, and then the cone was placed over the patient’s nose and mouth until the animal breathed enough and fell asleep. (No doubt a veterinary textbook would explain that better, but that’s the gist.) It’s very similar in shape and function to the masks used for modern face-mask induction anesthesia, although those masks are rubber or plastic.

This instrument was used, and donated, by Dr. Bill Gay, a veterinarian who worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. The photo below shows Dr. Gay and an assistant working at NIH in the 1950s. (In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that the image shows Dr. Gay removing a foreign body from the cat’s throat, not actually cleaning his or her teeth, but it’s such a great photo that I’m using it anyway.) According to Mrs. Gay, her husband “always got along well with cats” – and the assistant shown here was “very good at holding the cats” – so Dr. Gay did not always use anesthesia when doing a basic dental cleaning, although it was necessary when performing extractions and other surgeries. With the advent of sharper tools like ultrasonic scalers, most vets today use anesthesia for cleanings, for the safety of both the patient and the doctor.

Dr. Gay at NIH, circa 1950s. Photo owned by, and courtesy of, Bill and Millicent Gay.

There are at least two animal hospitals in Montgomery County that have been around since the 1950s, but they were not the first in the county. Specialization in small animal (i.e., domestic pet) medicine became more common in America in the 1930s, and we followed that trend; many local vets found themselves focusing on small animals by default, as the county became more suburban and there were fewer large farm animals that needed their care. The 1949 Montgomery County telephone directory included five animal hospitals, ten single-doctor practices and one veterinary supply store, and the numbers have only been increasing since then. Next time you bring your cat, dog or guinea pig in for a dental check-up, take a moment to think of all the many veterinarians who have done the same for county pets over the decades.

Horses can be pets, too. This equine dental float, also used and donated by Dr. Gay, was used to file down horses' overgrown molars. The instrument is 17 inches long - a little more hardcore than what you need for a cat.

Thanks to Bill and Millicent Gay for the additional information, and the use of the fabulous photograph.