ITHACA, N.Y. — A clothes wringer, a xylophone, an old city directory, and the Ithaca Kitty were just a few of the items that passed through the hands of more than 200 people who became a part of the History Center in Tompkins County’s story. On Sunday, the brigade of volunteers helped move some of the center’s artifacts to their new home on the Ithaca Commons.
The History Center put out a call for volunteers to take part in the event, “Moving History Forward,” and enough people responded to create a human chain from the History Center’s current location at 401 E. State St. about a third of a mile to the new location at 110 Tioga St., which will soon be the Tompkins Center for History and Culture.
As an item passed along the chain, so did little stories about the object’s history. It was like a long game of telephone. Sometimes they stayed pretty accurate, such as when a bellows passed by. But some veered a bit off course. A fritter mold turned into a bed warmer somewhere along the way. A clothes wringer ended up as a pasta maker. And a large basket transformed into Toto’s basket about by the end of the line. It was all in good fun though, and part of the experience.
Donna Eschenbrenner, director of archives and research services at the History Center, said they picked 35 representative samples from the collection. Objects that were safe, light, durable and gave a sense of what is in the collection were selected for the event, she said.
“This gives people an idea of just how broad the collection is,” Eschenbrenner said.
A couple of Eschenbrenner’s favorites passed through the line Sunday — a scrapbook and a city directory from the 1930s.
“For me the written word is everything,” she said “The scrapbooks are really interesting, filled with information about births and deaths and marriages and just all kinds of pieces of local history.”
Likewise the city directory contains information about people and businesses that were part of the city’s fabric at the time.
As time ticks down until the new building is complete, the main area of the History Center is packed with about 650 boxes. All of the boxes have been carefully packed and documented for months. The very first box was packed last December and contains milk bottles and a milk carrier.
Rod Howe, executive director of the History Center, said the event was a fun and educational way to get the community involved with their collection.
It will take a lot more than a human brigade to move the full collection, which contains several thousand artifacts, thousands of textiles, more than 400 scrapbooks, hundreds of paintings, more than 600 archival collections, about 3,500 books and periodicals, 1,200 historic maps, several hundred old newspapers and more than 100,000 photographs.
“That’s why we’re not moving it all out today,” Howe said.
The move-in date at the new building will be around the end of January. However, it will take several weeks to unpack and organize. Howe said they will likely be open to the public around March.
The new location will mark a new chapter for the History Center. Howe said he is excited that they will be located in the heart of downtown. The History Center also won’t be the sole occupant of the new building. When complete, the Tompkins Center for History and Culture will be a home for local culture, tourism and history. Other partners will co-habitate the space, such as the Visitor Bureau’s Visitor Center, the Community Arts Partnership, the Dorothy Cotton Institute and others.
“History comes alive in many different ways,” Howe said. “One is when you start learning names of folks who were part of our everyday life in the past. The other is to actually touch artifacts. So, we think that there’s an educational element to today as well that connects people more fully to the past.”
The final item that passed through the chain Sunday afternoon was the Ithaca Kitty, a local icon and mascot for the History Center. The stuffed cat was designed by Ithacan Celia Hazlitt Smith and her sister Charity in 1886. It was patterned after their family pet, Caesar Grimalkin. The information card at the History Center says when Celia received a patent for the design in 1892, she had it printed on cloth and people could cut, sew, and stuff the popular toy at home. It was even featured at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
That much history didn’t make it down the line, but the Ithaca Kitty was celebrated all the way down the line until it arrived safely at 110 N. Tioga St.
Here are a few moments from the brigade Sunday. All photos by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice.