SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center serves as the repository of one of Maine’s largest collections of Civil War Memorabilia belonging to a native son. The personal effects of Lt. Alexander Crawford, Jr. including the personal articles he used while he served in the 21st and 31st Maine, his uniform, love letters, pin-ups, and weaponry make up a featured exhibit “Our Connections with the Civil War.” Two Civil War era rifled musket cartridges on display in the exhibit caught the eye of Ronald Harvey, an expert in the field of museum conservation, during a recent Conservation Assessment Program site visit.

Harvey informed the curator and the director that black powder tends to become more volatile as it ages, and since the cartridges were probably about 150 years old, the museum should remove and dispose of the black powder as a safety precaution.

Shawn Howard of the Skowhegan Fire Department was contacted and a plan was created for removing and disposing of the old powder. The plan had to insure the safety of those handling the cartridges during the removal and disposal as well as the conservation of the paper cartridges themselves, for they are very important to the story of the period and the exhibit. Howard consulted with the Maine Fire Marshall as well as completing extensive research with black powder experts.

Curator Lee Granville volunteered to remove the cartridges to a table outside on the Museum’s grounds. Under constant observation and with safety equipment, Granville used wooden skewers with pointed ends to poke small holes into the paper cartridges just next to the lead mini balls. After a few attempts he successfully pierced the paper and sprinkled the black powder out of the cartridge into a collection container. When both cartridges passed the inspection of the Fire Department, they were taken back into the museum and replaced in the secure exhibit case.

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