Letters, Tours, Data, and Inventory

by: Marjorie Anne Portillo

Hello all! It’s been a few weeks and I wanted to give you guys a little update on my internship here at the four National Park sites of Contra Costa County.

Eugene O’Neill Manuscript Update

As of now, I have finished scanning most of the letters. I just need to finish transcribing the letters as well as summarizing and coming up with keywords for each of them. The keywords are essential for research purposes. There are also a few greeting cards and telegrams that I need to digitize as soon as I finish working on the letters.

One thing I have noticed from these letters was just how much Carlotta Monterey O’Neill loved Eugene O’Neill. After his death, she dedicated the rest of her life to making sure her late husband got the recognition he deserved for his work—even going so far as to having “Long Day’s Journey into Night” published soon after his death despite his wishes that it not be published until 25 years after his death. This play turned out to be his most successful and critically acclaimed. And the timing of its release played a role in its success. When it came to the opening of the play in Sweden, Carlotta refused to attend. In a letter to her friend Robert Sisk, she writes, “Charming of them [to invite me] – but, of course, I couldn’t do that- all honours should go to O’Neill. I don’t believe in literary widows taking bows for their husband’s works!”

Eugene O’Neill & Tao House

On the third week of my internship, I was given the opportunity to visit and tour the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in Danville, CA. After reading all these letters, I was really excited to get a visual on the life the O’Neills lived. It’s the best thing about museums–you get to walk around and experience history. It’s a whole nother way of learning and you get so much more out of it compared to reading about it or looking at pictures!

This tour, in particular, was very significant because a member of the Carlson family (the family that purchased Tao House from the O’Neills) was taking the very same tour as well! During the tour, he told us little stories about the house and his experience as a little boy after the O’Neills moved out. It gave the tour a more personal touch since he and his family briefly interacted with the O’Neills.

The home was heavily influenced by Taoism. Many aspects of their home was arranged and decorated by Feng Shui principles. Their walkway, for example, is not in a straight line. The purpose of this is to ward off the bad spirits and bad energy from their home.

My favorite room was Eugene O’Neill’s study. This was the very room where he wrote his last few plays. It is pretty amazing knowing that he sat here at one point and wrote his most memorable work! The room is so secluded, that it is separated from the rest of the house by three doors. This is to ensure that his creativity is not disturbed. Just from this, you can see just how dedicated he was to his work.

I had a great experience visiting the site. The house was very beautiful and the surrounding area is so quiet and peaceful – it’s no wonder the O’Neills decided to live there!

Pretty soon, the National Park Service will be having an All-Staff Meeting here followed by a Staff Appreciation Lunch where we’ll be able to eat, hang out, and swim in the O’Neills’ pool! How fun!

Environmental Tasks in a Museum

In addition to my manuscript project, I get to assist Virginia–the Museum Technician of the four parks–with some of her everyday duties. When I went to the John Muir National Historic Site during my first week, I helped Virginia with housekeeping by removing cobwebs throughout the John Muir’s house. I also helped replace pest traps throughout the house for Integrated Pest Management (IPM for short). This is an important task because it helps the museum prevent pest damage to the collections. It also helps the staff figure out what kinds of pests are being attracted to the site and how to keep more from coming.

A few weeks later, I learned more about collecting environmental data around our collections. Virginia showed me how to collect visual light and UV data around the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center. This task is important because it helps the staff monitor the light exposure in a room for the sole purpose of protecting the artifacts. Too much exposure to light can end up damaging a historic object and finishes. This is why you might notice that some rooms are darker than others in a museum.

Left: Light Log for RORI & the Light Monitoring Device; Right: A Temperature Logger sitting pretty in the RORI Collections Room!

Temperature and humidity can also cause damage to an artifact. Damages can include warping, cracking, mold growth, etc. This is why it is important to monitor the changes in temperature and humidity anywhere there is a historical artifact. While collecting light readings around the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center, we also extracted data from Temperature Logger devices. What I didn’t realize was that in every exhibit case and room, there was a device sitting there collecting all the data about its surrounding environment. It’s crazy how you don’t really notice things until it’s pointed out to you! Each park site has these devices to make sure that the artifacts are safe in its environment–the Rosie the Riveter Collections Room (where I spend the majority of my time) has a few as well!

Inventory, Inventory, Inventory!

Virginia searching for an artifact

One of the other tasks I got to assist with was completing annual inventory. By completing inventory, the museum staff is able to make sure that every object in the collection is accounted for. This was a pretty fun task for me, because it gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at the collections that I don’t work with on an everyday basis. Since I primarily work with the Eugene O’Neill manuscripts, I don’t really get to look at or handle any of the other artifacts or archives that we have in the Rosie the Riveter Collections Room. It was pretty cool to see all the artifacts from the WWII era! One of the craziest things I saw was a Nazi knife that was brought home by a soldier after he returned from the war. I never thought I’d ever see that in person!

Until next time…

It’s been a great internship so far… I’ve had the opportunity to attend two big events, the Port Chicago Memorial Ceremony and, just recently, the Rosie Rally Home Front Festival. I will definitely be writing more on that next!

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