Civil War New York Subject Of New Exhibition

During the Civil War, New York was the wealthiest and most populous state on either side of the conflict. A new exhibition at the New York State Museum in Albany examines the important role New York played in preserving the Union.

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” features more than two hundred artifacts, documents and images centering around the themes of Antebellum New York, the Civil War, and Reconstruction and Legacy. Artifacts on display include a Lincoln life mask from 1860, the earliest photograph of Frederick Douglass, and the only known portrait of Dred Scott. There’s also a slave collar from c.1806 to point out the often-overlooked fact that slavery was once common in this northern state.

The exhibition examines various aspects of the war and home front and has a section dedicated to the Elmira Prison Camp, dubbed “Hellmira” by the Confederate soldiers interned there. Nearly 25 percent of them died from malnutrition, exposure and disease.

In a press release, the museum stated that the exhibition’s title was inspired by an 1858 quote from then U.S. Senator William H. Seward, who disagreed with those who believed that the prospect of war between the North and South was the work of “fanatical agitators.” He understood that the roots of conflict went far deeper, writing, “It is an irrepressible conflict, between opposing and enduring forces.”

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” starts today and runs until September 22, 2013.

[Photo of noncommissioned officers’ mess of Co. D, 93d New York Infantry courtesy Library of Congress]

New York State Museum celebrates 175th anniversary

The New York State Museum is getting old enough to be a museum piece itself. At 175 years it’s the oldest state museum in the country (and the largest), yet it’s constantly renewing its exhibitions and is anything but old and stuffy.

To celebrate, the museum is having a special exhibit called From the Collections, which shows the museum’s origins from an 1836 survey of the state’s geology, plants, and animals. Some of these original collections are on display, including minerals, the baleen of a whale, and information about some of the early researchers who got the museum going. One popular item is the Weebermobile, a one-cylinder car built in 1903 by Christian Weeber Jr. He began building cars in Albany as early as the 1890s.

Then there are the regular displays, such as the Native American art, a collection of Shaker artifacts, photos of Harlem in the 1920s, and a mastodon, shown here this photo courtesy Bob Keefer.

From the Collections runs until 1 April 2012.