Archive for the ‘Collections’ Category


The Monster Mile” before it was a monster! (And the origin of the name.)

March 9, 2010

Aerial view of Dover Downs ca. 1965.

I’ve been cataloguing a collection of photographs representing the professional work of Cypen Lubitsh and Jack Bungarz.  They operated Lubitsh and Bungarz, a photographic studio in Wilmington from ca. 1950 until 1989.  I opened a folder to describe it for the on-line cataloguing project and could hardly believe my eyes!  Here was an aerial view labeled Dover Downs.  But what I saw in this view from about 50 years ago blew my mind- what changes time has wrought!  These days, a racing weekend at the Dover International Speedway means busy lunch counters and hotel/motel rooms all across the state.  Here was a view of a well-groomed track in the middle of almost nothing.  A few horses trot around the track but where is the giant monster holding a truck in the air, where are the lots of trailers parked for a race weekend, where are the slots, casino games and hotel?  And, where is Route 1 that passes so close to the rear of the track?!!  Wow!  (For those of us who have been around, it is easy to remember the track before it was “really big” with slots and the 46’ tall giant monster statue.  This stunning view was taken before the outside, racing track was built, and maybe even dreamed about.  Today the complex covers 750 acres. 

The track opened in 1969 as America’s first multi-purpose sports complex and remains that still today.  It’s busy schedule from opening day in 1969 included thoroughbred and standard bred horse racing  on the interior 5/8 mile oval and world-class auto racing on the outside one-mile track.  The concrete auto racing track boasted a new design called “variable degree” which helped drivers transition from flat straights to high-banked turns.  This new design allowed for drivers to reach unprecedented speeds on the one-mile track, earning it the nickname “The Monster Mile.”  It is fiercely known to have destroyed cars and driver’s hopes, an alternate definition of “monster.” 

Who says history at the Delaware Historical Society is boring.  Ha!



The Delaplane (not just a Newark area street name)

March 2, 2010

Delaplane, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

Robie Seidlinger, engineer and builder sits at the controls of Delaware’s first aeroplane. This was taken at the Horse Show Park, now a fashionable neighborhood known as Wawaset Park in Wilmington.

(The following information was abridged and adopted from George J. Frebert, Delaware Aviation History (Dover, DE, 1998)
One hundred years ago the Wilmington Aero Club (WAC) was incorporated. The organizers included David Snellenberg, Robie Seidelinger, George W. Crowe and John Montgomery. They contributed $1000 and sold shares in their enterprise which they hoped would allow them to develop a world-renowned aviation experimental group. The long range plan included highly publicized air-shows and innovation. At the time, they knew they could purchase a Wright (you guessed it- the Wright brothers) Flyer for $5,000 but instead the men opted to spend an estimated $6,000 for member Robie Seidelinger to design and build a plane. He did just that and in August, 1910 the Delaplane was nearly complete and was displayed at the fairgrounds.

The plane met with approval from J.D. McCurdy, an assistant to Glenn Curtiss (of Curtiss airplane fame) and word spread rapidly about the plane. After a couple of miscues because of weather, the plane was finally flown on October 21, 1910. It was placed in a hangar for the winter, with big plans for a huge event in the upcoming June. Unfortunately the hangar was struck by lightning and the entire structure and the plane were consumed by the flames. There lies the sad demise of the Delaplane.
This year marks the one hundredth birthday of the Delaplane and the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame will be celebrating. Don’t miss out on the fun and the rest of Delaware’s history, check them out at This Delaware Historical Society is so glad to know it owns the only know photograph of this plane.

Happy 11:45 everyone, Ellen

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Happy 11:45 from the 1860s!

December 15, 2009

2nd and West Streets, Wilmington, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

It’s 11:45 and I’m enjoying a trip back in time. I’m nearly finished cataloging the Delaware Historical Society’s Stereocard Collection into Cuadra Star and I am enjoying these last moments visiting another era! I thought I’d share a little with you- nothing sensational- just fun today.

I picked two views to share- both of 2nd Street but in different towns. The first view shows the corner of 2nd and West Streets in Wilmington in the mid-1860s. It looks like a pretty normal day- a few people walk along the street and it looks as if the maid for the home and one of the youngsters of the family are posed at the corner of the house. I just love the “action shot” of the lady with her long dress walking in front of the home. Most stereocard views are much more staged than this seems to be.

2nd St., New Castle

The second image shows 2nd Street too, but it’s Second Street in New Castle. This house sits across from the Arsenal, a well-known site in New Castle then and today. This one looks different as I converted it into a grayscale image for another purpose. In this view, the photographer spent some time arranging his subjects, or possibly asking the owner of the home what he/she/they might like to have pictured. Standing in front of the horse and buggy is the man responsible for keeping the horse. His jacket is torn on its sleeve- and stands in sharp contrast to the fancy hat of the owner, who you see standing behind the buggy and nearly blocked from view.

Between the two views, we get a tiny sense of what life was like some 130 years ago. Pretty cool job I have today!

-Until Next Time, Ellen

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The Bancrofts

December 1, 2009

Samuel Bancroft House, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

December Greetings! It’s officially the holiday season- hoorah!

I am in the process of cataloguing the Stereocard Collection. The Society owns approximately 250 of these cards- most were produced in the third quarter of the 19th century. They were made with a special camera that had two lenses very near one another. When the photographer took his photograph, he actually took two nearly identical images. The two were developed and mounted on a card. The cards used were of various sizes and measured about 7” wide by about 3 ½” high. They were viewed through a special contraption- a handle with glasses and an easel holder for the card. The viewer slid the easel closer or further from the “glasses” until the image appeared as a three-dimensional view. To us today, these stereopticon cards are cool, fun and very entertaining! But put yourself in the shoes of people who didn’t have television or movies and imagine what fun they were. When I was a small girl, my mom went on a steroptican kick and bought a viewer and some cards- I loved them! She bought a lot of western scenes showing people posed precariously on the tops of mountains and canyons and views of people at Niagara Falls. Even for a little girl in the 1970s- these cards provided a chance to get away and see things that were exciting and even thrilling.

Back to Delaware and the Historical Society and Cuadra Star (alas- a few moments with the thrill seekers atop the Grand Canyon and my mind starts to feel wanderlust…). Anyway, I’m working on a tiny collection of five cards donated by the Bancroft family. The Bancrofts, a Quaker family, had a very successful milling business along the Brandywine River just west of Wilmington. In 1831 Joseph Bancroft founded a cotton mill at Rockford, Delaware. Daily operations were based on the British methods of spinning and weaving. Bancroft’s sons William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928) and Samuel Bancroft, Jr. (1840-1915) became partners in the Rockford factory, which became Joseph Bancroft & Sons. In 1889 the business was incorporated, and was known thereafter as Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company.

This collection of five cards show views of the homes and mills before the company was incorporated. The one that caught my eye is a view of the home of Samuel Bancroft Jr. At 26 he married and had a house built for the couple. A hand-written note on the reverse of the card tells the story: “Samuel Bancroft and Mary R. Richardson were married June 8, 1865 and moved into this house in February 1866- this house being built for them and they occupied the “Fulton house” until this house was ready for them. Samuel Bancroft is sitting on the porch. This was the beginning of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Bancroft Jr.”

As an aside- most Delawareans would know Samuel and Mary Bancroft for their interest and generosity to the arts community. Samuel became fascinated with Pre-Raphaelite art and amassed the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art outside the United Kingdom. His donation of the collection and eleven acres of land was the impetus for the Delaware Art Museum in the 1930s.


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Pot Luck, Train Trips and Social Media…

November 3, 2009


Yesterday at 11:45  I pulled up to the Shipley Street side of the Delaware Historical Society to run in with my pot luck item for our staff lunch and to pick up my parking pass.  Our parking lot is occupied with scaffolding as the museum building (which sits next to the parking lot) is getting a partial new roof.  So, the staff is now scattered among a few parking lots in the neighborhood.  I was off the last part of last week and in these times of paying for parking, we do our best to share our spots.  My pass was used by a volunteer on Friday so I needed to get it back.

The library is open from 1:00-9:00pm on Mondays, except for once a month when the entire Society staff gathers at 12:00 for an all-staff meeting/lunch.  We regularly schedule pot-luck lunches as we have a fair number of good cooks and it is always nice to cook for others.  Any crankiness I might feel about having to head into work an hour early, (I covet my Monday morning free time) is usually quickly dispelled as our pot luck gatherings are usually relaxed and enjoyable meals and today’s lunch was just that.  Vegetarian chili, dips and cheeses with crackers, bean and corn salad, tomato pie, potato salad, carrot cake and cookies to give you a hint…yummm.

At the lunch meetings, the different staff teams take turns updating the rest of the staff about upcoming programs/projects/etc.  Today we heard from the development, marketing and membership team.  Greg Coin, the head of the team is always percolating all sorts of things, so it is good to hear from him.  He brought us up to date about upcoming partnerships/promotions and programs relating to the railroad exhibit- the major exhibit scheduled for next year.  He then turned the meeting over to our social networking guru, Andrea, who presented a spiffy powerpoint presentation about Web 2.0 and social networking.  We at the Society have been on the blogging/twittering/flickring gig for almost a year, leaning heavily on Andrea the whole way, but most of the staff is just now working to get up to speed.  It was a great presentation and a few more of the staff now more fully understand the potential for the Society in utilizing/participating in the wave of interactive web activity.  Picture in your head a bunch of history-professionals, all over the age of 40 except one (there are more young ones- they happened not to be in attendance)with puzzled looks on their faces- trying to pretend we “get it!”

Every generation puts its stamp on the world.  The “gen y’s” have certainly made their mark already and it is dizzying to see all the potential that is out there for those who wish to participate.  But how do we get the word about the Society out to people who would want to know, especially if they don’t have a clue that they would like to know about our collections and our work?!!!  We’ve been grateful for a few pats-on-the-back along the way from you all- telling us you’ve read “Making History 11:45”  Today I learned from my parents who live nearly 1000 miles from Delaware and are in their 70s that occasionally they check in to see what’s happening!  Pretty cool!  Let us know what you like, want more of, would like to see.  We’re all ears (or should I say computer screens!!).  It’s been fun sharing some of the things that fill our days with you.

I’ve been working on a book project and ran across a broadside that I thought you’d like to see.  It was posted in Delaware City about 150 years ago and was encouraging citizens of the town to visit the traveling photographer to have their portrait taken.  Who knew then that photography wasn’t just a passing fad?!

I’ll be in touch-


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Exploring our Photographs

October 23, 2009

Driving Excursion ca, 1910, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

On days like today – I can safely say that I have the greatest job in the world! Where else would I be able to explore an absolutely outstanding photograph collection for images from the turn of the century? On days like today, I feel so lucky!

I was looking for images from the turn of the century because we recently formed a teacher advisory committee to give us input and advise on our education programs. (These teachers are a GREAT bunch! I’m very excited to work with them.) One thing they are going to do – is create lesson plans that relate to our educational offerings so we can distribute them via our teacher education list. We (the education staff at DHS) put together a sample lesson plan to give the teachers an example of what we’d like to see. The lesson plan is about using primary sources, specifically historic images, in the classroom. It was my job to find images to go along with the lesson!

Like I said – I’m lucky. I picked the turn of the 20th century because we have a brand new childhood program for this time period so I thought it would be nice to have a correlating lesson. I was in heaven searching through our photograph collection and I found some real treasures. (Below are some of my favorites.) I hope that these images will captivate children to explore history and this time period.

One of the activities in our historic image lesson plan is to draw a picture or describe what happens next.  I’m a hopeless romantic so my favorite of the bunch is the first in the post.  I think that this happy, smiling couple rides off into the sunset and live happily ever after! What do you think happens next for any of these pictures?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until 11:45 Next, Andrea

Kindergarten Class ca. 1893
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr
Delaware State College Ca. 1900
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr
Baseball Team Ca. 1910
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr
Playground Ca. 1910-1920
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr
Children in Playground, 1908
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr
RehobothBeach, 1902
Image by Delaware Historical Society via Flickr
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We ride on the shoulders of others…

August 18, 2009

Gertrude Brinckle Postcard, originally uploaded by Delaware Historical Society.

My work days are pretty similar these days- lots of cataloging our postcard collection into Cuadra Star. I’m trying to get as many items into the system as possible. I am still working on the postcard collection (did I hear a groan, you don’t want to see any more postcards?!).

I know that’s not really the case! Postcards are very cool!

Today, I’m thinking about the collection in quite another vein. Since I have been going through this large collection at a quick pace, and since I am looking primarily at it and not other photographs or maps at the same time, I’m gaining a new perspective and appreciation for the collection and those who made it possible.

Generally I look at our materials for their content- trying to pull together images on a specific topic, not plowing through a collection as a whole as I am for this project. So- that is where my 11:45 moment comes from today. It is not a startling revelation- just a reminder. I feel that as curator of this collection, I am really riding high on the shoulders of collectors whom I have never met, and librarians who worked to collect and sort and gather like things together. If it weren’t for the collectors, and pack-rats, the field of history would be much thinner and poorer. I am grateful to those early collectors, as I am grateful to today’s collectors. We, as staff, often lean on collectors to fill in the gaps in our own knowledge. A collector to me is someone who is an expert in a very particular field- and, their expertise goes far beyond any knowledge I can hope to obtain.

Curators at a library like the historical society have to try to be jacks of many trades (not “all” trades!). We have areas of responsibility, but we are also called on to do many other tasks. I serve as a reference librarian and run the National History Day program with Andrea. Therefore, I cannot be a true expert in my collecting areas. Many modern collectors are familiar to our staff, and they know, I think, that we do rely on their expertise.

But, there are other collectors, those in the past, to whom I cannot say “Thanks!”

I’d really like to thank two individuals in today’s blog- they are Gertrude Brinckle and Skipper Purnell. Our collection is peppered with their avid work as keepers of Delaware history as capsulated in postcards! Mr. Purnell is familiar to many in Delaware and especially to those of us who love Delaware history. In very many ways our state and its history is indebted to his efforts and generosity. Gertrude Brinckle is not as familiar to non-Delaware-history-fans. She worked as secretary to Howard Pyle, the great illustrator and founder of the Brandywine School of Art. Ms. Brinckle also worked at the Historical Society for a period in the 1940s. She is a name that one finds reference to fairly often while searching various Delaware history topics. In 1961 Ms. Brinckle donated an album of fine postcards to the collection.

So- THANKS Mr. Purnell and Ms. Brinckle!!!! Our postcard collection is as strong as it is because of you! The attached photo is from the reverse of a card, nothing special, but marked with the note that it was from the Brinckle Post Card Album, Acc. (19)61.09.

Ironically, as I write this, I received a call from a modern postcard collector from Dover, a man I have not met- he is trying to track down a morsel of information about a du Pont Highway postcard that we do not have. Darn! But, that morsel will be difficult to find. I interrupted my 11:45 blog writing to check out an atlas from 1929 but did not find an answer there. I guess that is where I’m headed next… on the trail of Vincent’s Bridge near Dover.

Until next time,

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