Volunteer Spotlight: Gloria

Each month, we would like to highlight some of our docents and bring them to life for each of you. Our docent staff is made up of individuals from far and wide, of varying ages, and diverse backgrounds. We hope you might consider joining our team after learning more about us. Next up- Gloria!

Name: Gloria Eatroff



When did you begin volunteering? 

Honestly, it has been so long I cannot recall- maybe 1999?


What drew you to volunteer at the Hunter House?

I love all things Victorian- have loved it since childhood. I was born at the wrong time!


What is your favorite item in our collection?

The Renaissance Revival bed and the student relaxer chair


Coffee or Tea?

Tea, black with no sugar or cream


Favorite period television or movie drama, historic novel, or both.

I’m a lover of anything Victorian, however, I love “Brooklyn Bridge”- a series from the 1950s.


Do you have a mantra or favorite quote?

“Could be worse!”


Name a hidden talent of yours.

I am a really good worrier- ask my family.


What has been the highlight of your time as a volunteer with us?

The companionship with lots of nice ladies; learning something new each day; collecting more Victorian ‘facts’


Fill in the blank: When not at the museum, you can find me with a book and a cookie or furiously scribbling letters to my children.


Thanks for sharing with us Gloria! If you would like to know more about joining our family of volunteers, call us at 623-9814 or shoot us an email at hhvm1894@gmail.com.


Volunteer Spotlight: Raven

Each month, we would like to highlight some of our docents and bring them to life for each of you. Our docent staff is made up of individuals from far and wide, of varying ages, and diverse backgrounds. We hope you might consider joining our team after learning more about us. Next up- Raven!

Name: Raven Hudson



When did you begin volunteering? 

November 2017


What drew you to volunteer at the Hunter House?

The Hunter House and the Freemason district as a whole drew me in to moving to Norfolk two years ago. I saw the house when I visited for the first time to see my brother, and it stood out to me as the most beautiful house in Downtown Norfolk (in my humble opinion). I knew from the moment that I saw it that had to visit and learn all I could about the Hunter family.


What is your favorite item in our collection?

I love Mrs. Hunter’s room the most. Her vanity, donned with photos of the family and personal items, always makes me remember that real humans lived and thrived in the home. I like the container that would hold her hair, which is odd but endearing in a way.


Coffee or Tea?

Black tea and agave for life!


Favorite period television or movie drama, historic novel, or both.

I’m obsessed with the popular history novel The Devil in the White City that describes the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago of 1893 in conjunction with the murders of H.H. Holmes. I also love the author Ransom Riggs who scours antique shops looking for old photographs and writes stories about the characters he images from them. Much of the images he uses are from the Victorian period. His recent series Ms. Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children was made into a motion picture, but to see the photographs you must dive into the books. I love all things Sherlock Holmes as well.


Do you have a mantra or favorite quote?

My mantra for 2018 has been to constantly appreciate was I have in front of me rather than looking for the things I desire or the future. I want to make everyday full of things that make a happy and spend time doing fulfilling work.


Name a hidden talent of yours.

I’m pretty good at taking objects that you normally throw away and repurposing them. I reuse used tea bags, cardboard, newspaper, and old book pages a lot in my artwork.


What has been the highlight of your time as a volunteer with us?

I am very new so it’s hard to say what my highlight is just yet, but honestly every moment in this lovely home feels like a dream to me. I particularly love just walking through the house and spotting the rainbow patterns reflecting off the floors and walls from the stained-glass windows. I love seeing how happy the tea party goers are when they visit for the first time and decorating for those teas. I also love hearing all the stories about the Hunter family that the seasoned docents remember.


Fill in the blank: When not at the museum, you can find me exploring other historical areas of Hampton Roads, at the library, antiquing, reading, painting, or traveling if possible.

Thanks for sharing with us Raven! If you would like to know more about joining our family of volunteers, call us at 623-9814 or shoot us an email at hhvm1894@gmail.com.

Volunteer Spotlight: Nathan

Each month, we would like to highlight some of our docents and bring them to life for each of you. Our docent staff is made up of individuals from far and wide, of varying ages, and diverse backgrounds. We hope you might consider joining our team after learning more about us. Next up- Nathan!

Name: Nathan Keckley


When did you begin volunteering? 

June 2017


What drew you to volunteer at the Hunter House?

A love of history, culture, and Victorian literature

What is your favorite item in our collection?

A dance card for the Portsmouth Naval Yard belong to Harriet Hunter, in which she has erased several names and written different ones over them. In a museum sadly lacking in any form of diary or personal journal, I find this card to be one of the objects in our collection that best expresses the human psyche and whimsy of the Hunters. It paints Harriet not as a museum piece herself, but as a human being with thoughts and changes of mind.

Coffee or Tea?

Tea. If black, with sugar; otherwise, straight. My favorites are Earl Gray, English Breakfast with cloves and orange peel, and green with mango.

Favorite period television or movie drama, historic novel, or both.

Downton Abbey

Do you have a mantra or favorite quote?

“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century – the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labour, the ruin of women by starvation and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.” – Victor Hugo


Name a hidden talent of yours.

I have an excellent sense of direction. Without a map, I can usually find my way around pretty effectively in an environment to which I’ve been exposed at least once before; when I’m somewhere new, a basic map is usually all I need.


What has been the highlight of your time as a volunteer with us?

The best aspect has been the opportunity to write and compose lectures, articles, and parlor talks for the museum.

Fill in the blank: When not at the museum, you can find me ________________

At the theatre or the library



Thanks for reading! If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please contact us by email at hhvm1894@gmail.com, on Facebook, or by phone at (757) 623-9814.

Volunteer Highlight: Kristen

Each month, we would like to highlight some of our docents and bring them to life for each of you. Our docent staff is made up of individuals from far and wide, of varying ages, and diverse backgrounds. We hope you might consider joining our team after learning more about us.First up- Kristen!

Name: Kristen D.


When did you begin volunteering?April 2015

What drew you to volunteer at the Hunter House? 

I took a tour of the house years ago and remembered it as being a very warm and friendly environment. My therapist recommended that I do some volunteer work and I remembered the Hunter House as a nice place to visit. I interviewed with Jackie and Margaret and felt very welcomed.

What is your favorite item in our collection?

I like Mrs. Hunter’s writing desk upstairs, with all of the items on the desk as well.

Coffee or Tea?

I’m a big tea drinker at the house, when I’m volunteering.

Favorite period television or movie drama, historic novel, or both.

I love Downton Abbey

Do you have a mantra or favorite quote?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Name a hidden talent of yours.

I’m very good at organizing

What has been the highlight of your time as a volunteer with us?

Sharing my time and story with other volunteers, especially Jean, who passed away last year. I loved coming to hear her talk about her life. With her English accent, anything that came out of her mouth seemed precious. Getting to know all our volunteers and staff has been a joy.

Fill in the blank: When not at the museum, you can find me ________________



Thanks for sharing with us Kristen! If you would like to know more about joining our family of volunteers, call us at 623-9814 or shoot us an email at hhvm1894@gmail.com.

It’s Spring! A Spotlight on Seed Catalogs

From our docent and Girl Scout Ambassador, Ava Gonzalez:

In researching Victorian gardening for the Hunter House, my favorite materials to flip through were historic seed catalogues. Through the Smithsonian online collection and the Internet Archive, hundreds of catalogues with their elaborately decorated covers are available for public viewing. Nineteenth century glamour may not scream “Burpee Seeds”, but a lot can be learned from these materials. Traditionally speaking, families were dependent upon themselves and the community to acquire fruits and vegetables. Colonial mothers kept extensive vegetable gardens. Through the World Wars, as fresh
produce was diverted to troops, women and children supplemented their rations through Victory Gardens (In Canada, they could receive “Soldiers of the Soil” pins). There is no question, however, that all classes of Victorian people often found themselves preoccupied with gardening, as it was through gardening that food was produced. Wealthy Victorian families might have hired a gardener to live on the property, and expected him to raise pineapples, grapes, and other exotic fruits all year round. It was only later, in the 19th century that eventual cultural, commercial, and population changes would cause a strong shift from home gardening. The seasonal catalogues reveal a wealth of information about the Victorian lifestyle. Let’s take a look.
The first selection is 1897 Seed Catalogue, distributed by Robert Evans & Co.


http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/SeedNurseryCatalogs/CF/TL_SeedsSelectImagesDTAIL.cfm?image=SIL08-0038- 1

Funnily enough, this catalogue is the only featured under the search tag “cannon balls”. The Queen herself sits in the upper left hand corner, seeming to gaze down upon her soldiers, port, and a wash of ripe vegetables. Above her are several flowers, all labeled with their names; no matter how pretty a piece of artwork might be, it is still an advertisement.

Robert Evans & Co. was a seed company based in Hamilton, Ontario; one of the only records I have found of it is a passage of the book, Hamilton: The Birmingham of Canada (1892). A line on page 101 reads, “Wherever there is a farm or a garden, or a
lover of flowering bulbs and plants, the name of Robert Evans is a household word, and ample guarantee for the name, germinating qualities, and value of the seeds sent out”.
See more about it here: https://archive.org/details/hamiltonbirmingh00hami

The next piece is the back cover of the Parker and Wood Seeds, Plants, and Bulbs of 1892.


http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/SeedNurseryCatalogs/CF/TL_SeedsSelectImagesDTAIL.cfm?image=SIL08-32645- b

A young lady stands holding a bouquet of wildflowers. I find the image reminiscent of the earlier Ophelia, by Sir John Everett Millais. The young woman on this plant catalogue stands in front of a stream, and looks out into the distance. In fact, the Smithsonian Blog Unbound pairs it with a short quote by late docent and writer Elizabeth Periale.
“Everything is flowering, there are still a few cherry blossoms to see, so I might as well wisp downtown to catch today’s parade and other events, a garland in my hair, my ethereal gown trailing along the Mall. . .”

Many Victorian catalogues featured women as models, touting bunches of flowers or baskets of veggies. One might say that it idealized farming; they showed women hoeing or raking in a field of crops, with perfect hair, makeup, and dresses, despite the grueling activity.

The last cover is from Vaughan’s Seed Store Autumn Bulbs and Plants (1898).


http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollections/SeedNurseryCatalogs/CF/TL_SeedsSelectImagesDTAIL.cfm?image=SIL08-09365- a

In contrast to the Canadian pride shown in the first catalogue, a row of flag colored hyacinths aim to create nostalgia for the past days of summer. Most early Victorian  publications featured detailed chromolithographs of the new offerings for the upcoming year. In fact, seeds salesmen of the 19th century are responsible for the popularization of most new species among the general public. Landreth’s Seed Co. introduced The United States’ first white potato is 1811. Clever marketing, like seen on this cover, draws in even the most conservative gardeners. Written just above two waving American flags, Vaughan’s has printed, “Gardening is an employment for which no man is too high or too low”.

To read more about Vaughan’s Seed Store, visit the Western Springs Historical Society website: http://www.westernspringshistory.org/2012/10/01/vaughans-from- grass-seed- to-catalog- sales/

There are hundreds of seed catalogue covers I haven’t mentioned, with countless strange features. Carnivals, children, and flocks of cherubs all grace the front page. Not to mention how many quirky descriptions fill their pages. Please feel inspired to take a look for yourself, or ask neighbors if they have any extra gardening papers in their sheds. Many a grandparent squirreled them away, only to be found year later, stacked like National Geographic in the attic. You’d be surprised what you might find!


***Ava is responsible for the creation of our new Victorian Kitchen Garden exhibit, which is opening this spring. We are indebted to her for her efforts.***

That’s a Wrap: A Look Back on 2017

From Museum Director Jackie Spainhour:

Our halls are decked and our last two days of teas are filling- in one week the museum will close for tours and our rooms will be a little less bustling. It is a fun and exciting time of year, but also when we begin to wind down and look ahead. Sitting down to write this, I realized this month marks two years since I took on the Director position at the Hunter House Victorian Museum. It has taken me a while to get me footing, but once I figured out which direction I want the museum to take, my staff and volunteers have helped me make that a reality. Many of you wonderful people have commented on it- through quick emails encouraging me along the way or handwritten notes delivered via snail mail. I am so appreciative of the support I have received as I attempted to take a new, more community-driven direction with our programming and outreach.

So, what exactly has changed this year? To the shock of many, we began going through our museum collection and deaccessioning items that will not fit into our mission moving forward. To some this was sacrilegious; to others it was viewed as a necessary step to efficiently maintain the best parts of our collection. Obviously, I belong to the latter school of thought. We have had to make some tough choices as a museum, but we are firm in our belief that the money we raised from deaccession and the removal of those items are allowing us to house our collection in a manner more in-line with museum standards, which is very difficult to do with a small museum operating on an even smaller budget. Our Collections Manager has been able to purchase dress forms to display our clothing collection, shelving units for our basement and third floor archive, and acid-free paper and storage boxes- all because of the money earned through deaccessioning, donations, and the support of our museum members. Please, continue to support our Friends of the Hunter House Membership program. Your support made and continues to make a tangible difference in how we store and display our collection.

Apart from reorganizing our archives and raising them closer to museum standards, we have witnessed significant growth in electronic communication with all of you- through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even this blog.  Our followers on Facebook have increased over 2.5 times, and we continue to be amazed at the number of likes, shares, and messages we receive through these sites. Many of you have noticed this change- praising our expansion into the technological world time and time again. We are beyond thankful that you continue to find us relevant and intriguing; please, keep following us!

In terms of events, we have ‘leveled up’. It is hard for me to think of a week throughout this entire season wherein we did not host some form of special programming.  You asked for bigger, better, more- and we listened. We have offered more seatings for our teas, sometimes over multiple days. We have been more mindful to offer programs on evenings after work for those with tight schedules. We have found community partners in the Slover Library, Freemason Abbey Restaurant, and Quixotic Arts. Of all of the good fortune we have had this past year, the best by far has been adding so many quality people to our family of volunteers. They are the heartbeat of this museum; we quite literally could not function without them. 2017 has been so good to us- and if you’re reading this you are a big part of our success. Thank you.

If you liked us this year, just wait for 2018. First and foremost- it’s our birthday! My mother may want to be 29 forever, but this museum is proud to be turning 30 next year. To celebrate, we are having a birthday party in April when we reopen, which will be open to the public and will feature tea and cake. If you aren’t on either our electronic or physical mailing list, you will want to sign up! Each month we will host a “30th Anniversary Throwback” event featuring reinventions of some of our favorite programs from over the past thirty years.  The ones I am looking forward to most are a nineteenth century themed fashion show, Tea with the First Ladies, and the return of our interactive children’s program Night before Christmas. If you have children between the ages of 4 and 10, you should check out our inaugural children’s membership program for 2018. For $30 annually, your child will be invited to one event each month designed solely for children- think teas in our parlor, an Easter celebration with Beatrix Potter, and Victorian field days in the garden. There are discounts available if you have multiple children you would like to enroll- just give us a call for more information.  It is going to be a fantastically nostalgic year and we are simply giddy with excitement.

As we bid adieu to 2017, we are thrilled to usher in 2018. I am so thankful for your support his year and am looking forward to seeing you all virtually and in person next year. Let’s make it one to remember!


P.S. We hear you- our website is not very user-friendly. I will be creating a new site, with the same URL, that will launch in February; be sure to be on the lookout!

Monsters and Machines: Science Fiction in the Victorian Era

From Intern Nathan Keckley:

The Victorian era introduced many of the concepts, traditions, and inventions familiar to us today, from toilets to modern education. Science fiction is one of these inheritances. Science fiction – often called “speculative fiction” – permeates our society with countless television shows, films, video games, books, and comics. Like most genres, it has acquired a very specific style: gleaming spaceships traveling faster than light; human good guys and arthropod alien baddies; superhuman powers and beeping computer consoles. Sci-fi wasn’t always covered in chrome and hemolymph, however, and many Warsies and Trekkies might drop their bickering to gape in confusion at what was once considered part of the realm of “science fiction” by the Victorians. While the Victorians’ works may seem obsolete at first glance, however, in reality they are extremely contemporary and topical, and many of the ideas and tropes modern sci-fi concerns itself with were introduced by the Victorians. This essay will demonstrate the remarkable similarities of nineteenth century science fiction to that of our age.

While scholars have credited authors from the ancient to Medieval eras as “pioneers” of the science fiction genre, one of the most important works of literature to deal with fantastical elements in a scientific light was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is often associated with that time period due to the 1931 film adaptation – yes, the black-and-white one you always watched on Halloween – which is set in what appears to be Oktoberfest in Victorian Busch Gardens. Though pop culture and this film have indelibly associated Frankenstein with Victorian Gothic, Shelley published her magnum opus in 1808 – nearly twenty years before the Victorian era.

Regardless of Frankenstein’s precise time period, it was a work that dealt with a very scientific (and, as is typical of science fiction, very speculative) idea: the creation of new life from non-life. It also deals with this idea in a scientific manner . . . sort of. Victor never actually reveals how he managed to animate his creation, only giving very vague descriptions of arcane and forbidden lore he has uncovered. This, of course, quite conveniently masks Shelley’s own lack of knowledge about anatomy and biology. In addition, this cover-up would set the precedent for modern sci-fi “techno-jargon.”[1]

Shelley’s work dealt heavily with life – specifically the creation and modification of it –and to what degree humans have a right to control and manipulate it. This weighty topic is brought up frequently in modern sci-fi franchises as well. Examples include the mentally-modified River from Firefly, the Cybermen from Doctor Who, and the entire premise of Jurassic Park. Star Trek’s Khan, with his Promethean role as the ultimate human, represents Victor’s most noble aspirations in the creation of his monster. Perhaps one of the most obvious similarities is Lieutenant Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Throughout the series, the android Data seeks to attain human emotions and feelings, mimicking the species as Victor’s monster does. Data’s nefarious twin, Lore, on the other hand, sees his physical and intellectual superiority to humans as a right to rule over them, embodying the most ignoble feelings of the monster.

While Frankenstein wasn’t technically Victorian, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde most certainly was. Published in 1886, Stevenson’s novella has now become as iconic as Frankenstein, and for similar reasons. Though it doesn’t deal with the creation of life itself, it deals with the various facets of that life. Like Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde features a protagonist with a medical background. The doctor’s serums showcase the Victorian fascination with the advancements made in modern chemistry, as well as identifying the dangerous Freudian consequences of the Victorians’ emphasis on restraint and suppression of baser, “bestial” instincts. With the advent of Freud and his work, this idea has perhaps become even more prevalent in our society than it was in Stevenson’s. Again, Star Trek’s writers drew heavily from Victorian literature like Jekyll & Hyde. Those who have lazily binged their way through the original Star Trek on a rainy weekend may recall one of the earliest episodes, “The Enemy Within.” In this episode, the transporter malfunctions (big surprise), splitting Captain Kirk into two entities: a wishy-washy loser who can barely stand on his own two feet, and a feral, violent beast who craves alcohol and sex (foreshadowing Wesley Crusher and Commander Riker, respectively).

Science-minded protagonists are, understandably, very common in science fiction. One of the most famous science fiction authors, H. G. Wells, featured the chemist Griffin in one of his works, The Invisible Man. Fitting the archetype of mad scientist to a tee, Griffin’s lust for scientific knowledge and the power accompanying it leads him into a downward spiral. In another of Wells’ works, The Island of Doctor Moreau, the titular vivisectionist lives in isolation on an island, stitching together animals, heedless of the consequences. This trope of the mad scientist continues to saturate science fiction well after the days of Frankenstein, Jekyll, Moreau, and Griffin. Sometimes they are well-meaning, sometimes megalomaniacal. Famous (or infamous) specimens include Einstein look-alike Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy, Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor, and Dr. Wu,  Jurassic Park’s dinosaur-breeder extraordinaire, to name a few.

Wells also penned The Time Machine, in which . . . you guessed it! Someone finds a time machine.[2] The protagonist (identified only as The Time Traveler) travels into the future, where he encounters humanity’s future: a stunted, unhealthy species which has overrun the natural world with technology, rendering intellectual and physical exertion unnecessary and, as a result, obsolete. Naturally, Wells had the twenty-first century in mind when he wrote the novel. His book conveys a very cynical view of the future, compared to Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic utopia, in which everyone is fit, healthy, and can rock a jumpsuit. This idea of a feebler, stupider humanity has been reiterated in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the Pixar film WALL-E. The Time Machine would set the precedent for many, many time-travel books, films, and television shows to come, including the Back to the Future trilogy, every other episode of the original Star Trek, and, perhaps most obviously, Doctor Who.

The Wells novel that takes the fake Portal cake is, however, The War of the Worlds. In this novel, Wells covers yet another huge trope of science fiction: aliens – specifically Martians – invading the Earth. This is brought up in countless films (Independence Day), shows (the Daleks of Doctor Who), and video games (Halo). On a less significant note, the Martian tripods may have been a very prototypical inspiration for the AT-AT and AT-ST walkers in the Star Wars saga. In addition to its initial success, The War of the Worlds received national fame in America on Halloween of 1938 when CBS aired a radio dramatization of the novel. Directed by Orson Welles, the program included quite realistic special effects – for the time at least. The majority of the broadcast was presented in the form of news bulletins and announcements. As a result, uninformed listeners tuning into the channel were greeted, apparently, with the news that Martians were invading Earth. Indeed, many listeners were not aware that the broadcast was fictional. It was not, as is sometimes sensationally put, a nation-wide crisis, but some areas did experience panic-stricken mobs, and the broadcast had to be shut down by the police, securing The War of the Worlds’ place in infamy.

There is one Victorian author who tops Wells, however, for sheer volume of literature, and that is Frenchman Jules Verne. Over the course of his prolific career, Verne would publish over fifty novels and plays, including Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mysterious Island, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Many of Verne’s novels are speculative adventure stories in which characters travel underground, in the deep sea, in balloons, on a comet, and to the moon in a rocket ship, to name a few. Verne’s settings include the core of the earth, the depths of the ocean, the lunar surface, and a forgotten island. This coupling of adventure and science fiction would later culminate in Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and numerous other franchises. Furthermore, both Journey and Twenty Thousand Leagues carry on the sci-fi trope of mad scientist, with the monomaniac Professor Lidenbrock and the Ahab-like misanthrope Captain Nemo.

The presence of these sci-fi authors would seem to indicate that the Victorians were keenly interested in science and science fiction, and indeed the Victorians were! In the century between 1820 and 1920, the world, most notably Europe and America, were transformed irrevocably by scientific advances. The Industrial Revolution, occurring between the twenties and forties, brought numerous inventions and methods of increasing production, just as our own technological revolution has brought massive improvements to computer technology. For us it is the Information Era; for the Victorians it was the Industrial Era. Along with these advancements in the sciences came a new interest in chemistry, anatomy, geology, astronomy, engineering, and other fields of research. Those works of the time which we now call science fiction often reflected that fascination, as in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or Journey to the Center of the Earth. The characters of Victor Frankenstein and Professor Lidenbrock embody the delight with modern science and a thirst for knowledge which the Victorians possessed in such quantities.

There were some, however, who were less than enthusiastic about these scientific and technological advancements. Appearing on the cusp of the Victorian era, the Romantic poets were the first to voice this displeasure. Wordsmiths such as Coleridge or Wordsworth exhibit a scorn for the smoggy machinations of London and Manchester, lauding instead peaceful copses, awesome mountains, and verdant glades. Mary Shelley was one such writer. While Frankenstein the film may be a gripping thriller, Frankenstein the novel has long, often dull passages describing the glories of nature. Such oppositions to industrialization continued on into the Victorian era proper and were often reflected in the literature of the time. Science fiction in particular was the perfect medium through which authors could explore the era’s conflicting views of science and technology. The mad scientists of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Robert Louis Stevenson all serve as cautionary stories, like the faerie tales of Germany, warning their society that too much of a good thing can have sinister consequences. Victor Frankenstein is the prototype and epitome of this motif: the Faustian man of brilliance, brought low through his blind meddling.

It is a testimony to the timelessness of these concerns that science fiction has so heavily saturated our society even to this day. Now our fascination with the brilliant unknown is embodied in the wonder-filled exploits of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the TARDIS in addition to The Nautilus and the time machine. We explore the Delta Quadrant along with mysterious islands and dormant volcanoes. Our concerns, fears, and doubts are now addressed by the dystopias of Star Trek, Maze Runner, and Mad Max. The scientists of Jurassic Park and Back to the Future typify our Jekylls and Griffins. Our fears of environmental destruction are still alive and well. Now, however, it is not only coal smog we fear, but oil spills, chemical refuse, and nuclear waste. For us lab experiments no longer hold the threat of mutation, but genetically modified foodstuffs and chemical preservatives have created new worries for us. We are even able to clone living creatures now – perhaps Frankenstein’s dilemma of the sanctity of life will be pushed to the front of the table once more.

The genre we now know as science fiction was to the Victorians what it is to us: entertainment; a conduit for our concerns and fears; and tangible evidence of our hopes, aspirations, and wildest dreams.

[1] “Techno-jargon” refers to a method of scriptwriting used in the Star Trek franchise. In an interview, Jonathan Frakes explained that whenever the writers of the show decided to introduce some scientific concept when, say, the warp core was breeched, rather than pulling an explanation out of their hats they would instead hand the script over to a team of actual scientists with the section marked “TECHNO-JARGON.” These scientists would promptly proceed to pull an explanation out of their hats, but their explanation at least sounded feasible.

[2] In fact, Wells coined the term “time machine.”

Confessions of a Workaholic: A Love Story

It’s mid-afternoon on a Tuesday and I am sitting on a beach in the Outer Banks, supposedly relaxing. The backstory to getting here is that I realized this was my last chance for a getaway before the madness of our fall season sets in at the museum, so I made the decision to visit a beach house my grandmother rented for the week with my mother, sans the husband and kiddo.  Well, the best laid plans…

There was a tropical storm. My mom was stung by a bee. My beach chair broke. A wave attempted to take my mom’s shoe out to sea. I got sick off of She-Crab soup.

Let’s just say it wasn’t the vacation I had planned to have to help me wind down a bit.

But let’s be honest here, does a Historic House Museum Director ever really wind down? The truth is, I am always working. When I go to the grocery store, I pick up drinks and snacks for my docents. When I head off to Target, I buy trash bags and light bulbs. I grab toilet paper and paper towels at Sam’s Club. I go to bakeries and harass the owners about just how small they can make their sweets- can we have tea sized cakes, mini pies, eclairs the size of my pinky finger? When browsing the décor at Tuesday Morning, I end up with office organizers, display items for the gift shop, and specialty napkins for our teas and hand towels for the bathroom. I have hair epiphanies in the shower regarding special events- we should set the tables up this way, such-and-such would love classical guitar music, this-or-that intern would be great for readings at that program. I pass out business cards at every craft show, social event, and party. When I order books on Amazon, I throw in one or two good ones for the museum library. Honestly, this job is a part of me- in many ways, it’s who I am.

You, as a visitor, intern, or staff member, may only see me a few days each week- but rest assured that I am working. 40 hours? Pshh! There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to grow this museum into the integral part of the community I truly believe it is destined to be. Thank the heavens for my two part-time staffers, who squeeze full-time work into partial work weeks. They too have hair epiphanies and moments of brilliance at the grocery store. Don’t even get me started on how much I adore my interns and volunteers, who spend their free time with us and only requests bribes in the form of tea and sweets.  I guess you could say working for this museum is a labor of love, for all involved.

So, why am I writing this to you? Well, because we would like to invite you to labor in love with us. Working for this museum is so much more than work- it is forging friendships that extend past our garden gate; it is using talents you never realized you had to entertain strangers who become family; it is investing in something greater than yourself or your ambitions. Working for this museum is working for the good of our community. And right now, in the midst of everything this country is going through, wouldn’t you like to be a part of something as positive as that?

Come. Join us. Make a difference. I will have a hot pot of tea and sweets waiting for you.


If you would like more information regarding volunteering or interning for the museum, please contact Museum Director Jackie Spainhour or Asst. Directors Kelly Kubiak and Ella Swain at 623-9814. Not a phone person? Email us at hhvm1894@gmail.com.

Lewis Carroll and Victorian Children’s Literature

From Intern Nathan Keckley:


Some people fell in love with the works of Lewis Carroll as children; others consider them to be opium-induced nightmares. Personally, I just want Tim Burton to stop drenching them in guyliner and angst. Regardless, it can’t be denied that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass; and What Alice Found There remain some of the most popular children’s literature to this day.

As with many books, however, this wasn’t always so. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (who understandably used the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) was a mathematician and logician, and friend of the Liddell family. Charles famously began the work as a story to three children, including the not-so-coincidentally-named Alice Liddell. Allegedly, Alice requested that Charles write the story down, and so the novel began to take shape.

When Alice’s Adventures Underground, to use its original and less enthralling title,[1] first hit the shops in 1865, however, critics were not grinning like Cheshire cats at what they read. To be fair, it’s easy to understand why people think Charles Dodgson took laudanum when one reads the book, particularly near the end when a bunch of sea creatures begin to sing about soup; the famous “Jabberwocky” poem itself is just a hop and a skip of the white rabbit’s legs from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium-saturated “Kubla Kan.” Actually, perhaps it’s no wonder Tim Burton wanted in on this level of strange.

In addition to its rather psychedelic episodes, however, Alice was simply not the sort of children’s book the Victorians approved of. While eighteenth-century morality stories had been replaced by a more entertaining genre, young adult and children’s books still exhibited a desire to better their readers through example. One of the most obvious instances is Little Lord Fauntleroy, the most popular children’s book of the time period (so popular, in fact, that the Hunters owned two copies). Books like Little Lord Fauntleroy, with their sickeningly sweet child protagonists, were meant to set an example for Victorian children, just like the Captain Underpants books most definitely do not do in this century. Other children’s books favored a more realistic setting, with mischievous characters, seeking to empathize with their readers, such as Tom Brown’s School Days and the novels of Mark Twain. The Hunters themselves owned both Tom Brown and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Later on, however, these goody-goody and picaresque books were replaced with the faerie tale collections of Hans Christian Anderson and Andrew Lang, the latter bringing over a dozen of his chromatic faerie-books to thousands of avid adolescent readers. I myself have fond memories of listening to public domain recordings of Lang’s Blue, Lilac, and every other color under the sun faerie books, proof of their timelessness.

The Alice books, on the other hand, were just plain weird. Amidst hearts hidden in needles and magical pumpkin coaches, traditional faerie tales at least maintained some sense of reality. With Carroll, however, all bets were off: shops could become rivers; chess pieces and playing cards walked and talked as people. Despite this, by the time Through the Looking Glass rolled off the press six years later, the first novel shared in its sequel’s success, eventually rising to take its place among the paragons of preteen literature. Notably, the famous playwright and all-round fabulous Irishman Oscar Wilde read and enjoyed the Alice books. Joining the fan club as well was Her Majesty Queen Victoria herself, then in her mid-forties. Apparently the taciturn monarch finally found something that amused her.

One of the reasons for their popularity is that despite their sheer amount of weird, the Alice books actually contain a multitude of clever jokes in subjects such as mathematics, logical semantics, French vocabulary, and Latin grammar. For instance, at one point a monkey named Pat digs for apples in the ground; pomme de terre, the French word for potato, literally translates as “apple of the earth.” All these are topics Victorian children would be very familiar with (particularly if they were upper class). Dodgson clearly knew his audience, and his works are by no means simply a bad acid trip.

Furthermore, the books heralded a new era of literature. Dodgson’s Alice books helped to introduce the concept of fantasy works lasting longer than a few pages, as faerie tales had done. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of the first fantasy adventure novels, a genre which would later be elaborated on by George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin[2] and L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, finally culminating in the works of Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and the despicable authors of the pulp fantasy genre. Carroll’s works were also some of the first children’s works to make extensive use of illustrations in the form of John Tenniel’s delightfully iconic drawings. This idea would be carried on by Beatrix Potter and other children’s authors before culminating in full-on picture books near the end of the Victorian era.

Finally, Carroll was not alone in his nonsense literature. The poet Edward Lear was, during the same time period, writing extensive works of nonsense poetry, including “The Owl and the Pussycat,” which were received very favorably by the public.

Now Lewis Carroll’s books are some of the most popular works among children and adults the world over. They have been adapted into numerous dramatic performances and films, including Disney’s charming animated one and Tim Burton’s horrid emo one. I feel certain that if Mr. Dodgson could see what a delight his stories are to readers of all ages, his ghostly grin would be wider than any cat’s.

[1] Another title Carroll considered was Alice’s Golden Hour, which would make an excellent title for an alt rock band.

[2] The Hunters owned its sequel, The Princess and Curdie, both of which are delightful and charming children’s chapter books.

Why Women Cover their ‘Naughty Bits’

On an uncharacteristically humid day last week, I felt beads of sweat dripping down my brow as I pushed back the stubbornly flippant hair that stuck to my face like glue. It was miserably hot. The AC in my car was on the fritz and the warm moving breeze created by rolled-down windows more accurately resembled the fires of Vesuvius. I cursed my husband’s ability to wear light clothing without concerning himself with strappy summer sweat-collectors commonly known as brassieres.  I felt my mouth saying out loud what my mind angrily shouted: “What sadist decided that because I am a woman I have to wear a bra in this heat?!” David and I looked at each other quizzically. We are historians. We really should know this information.

And so began my quest to discover why the female sex is thus afflicted.

My questions actually started forming a number of months ago, when I began reading Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Manners, and Marriage (2016) by Therese Oneill. Her discussion of the daily struggles of fastening Victorian underclothes made me want to rip off my own in defiance. I enjoyed learning about why the Can-Can was really so popular (crotch-less underwear, anyone?) and why undergarments were always white. Okay, well maybe the second part really just disgusted me. Did you know that Victorians never, and I mean NEVER, planned to wash their actual dresses? They wore white underthings so they could see when they were adequately soiled and have them washed accordingly.[1] But as for those beautiful ball gowns, they stank to high heaven. So long, fantasies of Jane Austen!

Really, though, her book fascinated me and made me think about why society is, and has been historically, obsessed with underwear. For me, the real question was why brassieres were necessary. When did breasts become things that were shameful and should be contained? My first guess was that it had to be some time near the Middle Ages, when the church was undergoing its consolidation and really deciding how people should behave. Turns out, that’s not the whole story.

It appears that ancient cultures had their own version of the now popular band-like bras, which basically wrapped around the chest area. When the corset became a ‘thing’ in the 14th and 15th centuries, support came from below, not necessarily as a means to ‘gird the loins’ but as more of a practical invention. It seems that while the invention of the corset and the bra reflected the social and physical situations of women, there really was nothing evil in the creation of the bra, as I initially thought.

According to NPR:

“Caresse Crosby patented the first modern bra in the U.S. in 1914. While primping for a debutante ball, she donned a stiff corset and tight corset cover beneath her sheer evening gown. But the corset cover — which she described as “a boxlike armour of whalebone and pink cordage” — poked through her gown. “Bring me two of my pocket handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon,” she told her maid, who helped her sew the materials into a simple brassiere.

Crosby’s invention was the talk of the party; other girls crowded around, asking how she danced so freely. When she unveiled her creation, they immediately asked her to sew bras for them, too. When strangers offered a dollar for one of her bras, she decided to start a business and patented her “backless brassiere.” She managed to attract a few orders from department stores, but her startup fizzled. At her husband’s insistence, Crosby sold her patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Co. in Connecticut for $1,500.”[2]

So, the bra actually began as a freeing piece of clothing, designed to allow a woman to enjoy herself rather than writhe in discomfort and pain. When did this change? Honestly, it changed when the fashion industry became involved in its production. With the introduction of the underwire, the padded cups, and adjustable straps, the bra changed from a breathable undergarment to, in my humble opinion, an instrument of restraint. Nineteenth century doctors apparently agreed with me, as they attempted to dissuade women from wearing anything that was too restrictive and could cause ailments. So, bras began as something wonderful and freeing, and with modern changes, have become the one garment I despise wearing, especially on a hot summer day.


[1] Oneill, Therese. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Manners, and Marriage. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.

[2] Pandika, Melissa. Bra History: How a War Shortage Reshaped Modern History. http://www.npr.org/2014/08/05/337860700/bra-history-how-a-war-shortage-reshaped-modern-shapewear (August 5, 2014),  accessed July 5, 2017.