Katharine Hepburn: Rebellious and Sporty

Over the past couple of weeks while preparing for the opening of Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, I’ve been thinking a lot about Katharine Hepburn.

One thing that I keep going back to is her parents – and how much they must have influenced her. Hepburn loved sports and was fiercely competitive. Her father, Dr. Thomas N. Hepburn, was an accomplished athlete, and always pushed his daughter to excel and to never back down from a challenge. I imagine this must have been pretty rare in a pre-title IX world. Continue reading

America’s First “Brown Water” Navy

This past weekend we offered a special Civil War-themed behind the scenes tour at CHS. I spent a day selecting a wide variety of objects, manuscripts and graphics items to include in the tour, including several that I had not used in the past. Among these was a pair of fine photographs of river gunboats being constructed in September 1861. Continue reading

A Good Many Chestnut Trees About


Edwin Whitefield, Old Tavern and Store, Bolton. Drawing, ca. 1880. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1976.68.0

Before the chestnut flight devastated the forests in the early 1900s, American chestnut trees were a prominent feature in the Connecticut landscape. Chestnut trees grew tall and straight and the wood was used in the construction of barns and houses and the making of furniture, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The nuts were used as food by Native Americans and early settlers. When the artist Edwin Whitefield made his drawing of an old tavern and store in Bolton about 1880, he noted that there were “a good many chestnut trees about.” Chestnut trees are frequently noted in John Warner Barber’s drawings of Connecticut towns, dating from the 1830s. If you go to Connecticut History Online and search for “chestnut,” you’ll find lots of pictures of trees–and even more pictures of Chestnut Streets throughout the state, reflecting tree’s former popularity. The fungus that caused the blight was accidentally introduced on imported Japanese chestnut trees in the late 19th century, and within decades, nearly all of Connecticut’s chestnut trees had succumbed to the disease. Today you’ll still find a good many chestnut trees about, though these are usually European or Oriental chestnuts planted in parks and yards. And deep in the forests, the roots of the old American chestnut trees continue to sprout and grow, only to die when they become infected with the fungus, which is still present throughout the state. Efforts to find a disease-resistant strain or hybrid have yielded promising results and perhaps someday this sad story will have a happy ending.

Fancy Pants

Pants running. Pants standing. Best of all, pants doing a handstand. Pants are a perfect symbol of Katharine Hepburn’s unconventional approach to fashion and her exceptional Hollywood career. Decades before mainstream American women would dare to wear pants to work, Hepburn wore jeans on the studio lot in the early 1930s. The story goes that studio executives balked at her casual look (when her starlet contemporaries were dressed to the nines on set and off). They actually took away her jeans when she was busy filming in a desperate bid to make her conform to their ideas of fashion and propriety. Not to be outdone, Hepburn walked around the set in her underwear until her jeans were returned! Continue reading

Being an Intern at CHS: Steve’s Story

IMG_0702“So that’s the broadsword John Brown’s son used in the raid at Harper’s Ferry? Are you kidding me??” ~A scene from my first day at CHS.

From the moment I set foot inside the building, I knew I was in for a truly special experience working at CHS as an education intern. The behind the scenes tour of the museum collection is a fitting place to begin my story, because it reinforced what I already knew about history museums; that is, that they preserve the past, and that they often have incredible artifacts, painstakingly protected for posterity’s sake. However, if there is one thing I have learned in my time here, it is that museums like CHS do not simply safeguard stories and mummify the memories of decades long gone. Rather, they can act as vibrant spaces for discovery and inquiry where the past comes to life before our very eyes. Continue reading

Being an Intern at CHS: Sara’s Story

IMG_0697Our program at UConn requires all fifth-year Education Master’s students to participate in an internship. CHS is the only offered internship in the entire program that does not take place in a school. So when I found out I was assigned to CHS, I was excited about the chance to work in a museum and increase my historical knowledge base. However, I was also wary about what I would gain from the experience. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry because not only did I learn the story behind the Charter Oak and how to tell the difference between a real nutmeg and a fake one sold by Yankee Peddlers, I also learned how to be a better teacher. Continue reading

Hepburn Comes Home

The anticipation has been building for weeks.  All of us here at CHS have been excited to bring Katharine Hepburn home to Hartford in the form of an exhibition on loan from the Kent State University Museum called “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.”  Well…on Thursday of last week she finally arrived and the better part of three days has been spent unpacking, dressing, hanging, and generally preparing the exhibit to open to the public tomorrow.

getting ready to unbox all the Katharine Hepburn items at the Connectictut Histocial Society Continue reading

Just part of the job

KKK rally broadside. CHS 2014-054

KKK rally broadside. CHS 2014-054

Collecting history can sometimes be uncomfortable and it is often hard to retain objectivity. Such was the case with two recent acquisitions—a broadside advertising a Ku Klux Klan demonstration in Woodstock in 1926, and two protest posters from this past Saturday’s rally to repeal Connecticut’s gun laws. Continue reading

What is this?

learn-to-can-thumbOur exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it? To find out more, Continue reading