Museum Staff

Spotlight Artifact: Bathing Suits

Now that summer is finally upon us, we decided to share a past article from our Summer 2013 issue of “The Album,” featuring two bathing suits from our collection.


Wool Swinsuit, 20-30s

Bathing Suit • “Neptune’s Daughter” • Niagara Knitting Mills Corporation Wool • 1920s-1930s

The swimsuit has a long and varied history. In the early 1900s, women wore long gowns with bloomers underneath. These bathing gowns were weighted down by several heavy layers of material, occasionally with weights sewn into the hem so the material would not float. Fabrics were chosen for bathing suits that would not become transparent when wet. By the 1920s, swimsuits were mostly made out of wool for that very reason. Being so absorbent, swimsuits tended to become heavy and uncomfortable, not to mention itchy in the summer sun. This black wool swimsuit from our collection dates from the 1920s to the 1930s. Labeled “Neptune’s Daughter,” this one-piece swimming suit with attached knickers was made by the Niagara Knitting Mills Corporation of New York, NY.

Bathing Suit Rose Marie Reid of California Acetate 1960s-1970s

Bathing Suit • Rose Marie Reid of California • Acetate • 1960s-1970s

By the 1930s and 40s, bathing suits were rapidly changing. Hemlines were shorter and more bare skin was showing. It was not until the late 40s and early 50s that one-piece bathing suits, or maillots, started to be produced in a variety of fabrics, moving away from wool. For comparison, we have a patterned swimsuit, from the 1960s to the 1970s. This brown, yellow, and black stripped acetate bathing suit, donated by Angela Georgi, was created by Rose Marie Reid of California. Made from a light-weight, stretchy fabric, one would imagine that this would have been much more comfortable to wear to the beach.

Rebecca Justinger

Introducing our new Picture Store

Ladder No 8 Interior_web

From the collection of The Buffalo History Museum.

The Buffalo History Museum is proud to present our new online store, created so individuals, families, or businesses may purchase images from our vast image collection! The museum library is working closely with Digital Ark Corp. out of Providence, RI to deliver high quality scans directly to the purchaser. The new store, “The Picture Store by the Buffalo History Museum,” can be accessed through our website on the Gift Shop page and the Research Library page.

From the collection of The Buffalo History Museum.

From the collection of The Buffalo History Museum.

Currently, there are 191 images to choose from, and every month we are sending new images to be uploaded. Each picture is tagged for a category which will make searching easy and, we hope, intuitive for the user. Starting at $25, you can order these museum quality productions and all proceeds go to collections care and museum operations.

We have worked hard to dissect our collection and to choose images which we feel would help Buffalonians better understand the history of our city and our current place in it. Ultimately, it is our wish that this store can offer insights into the people who have come before us to work, live and play in Buffalo, NY.

Shane Stephenson
Library Technician

Affordable Summer Fun

SummerPassFlyerAs a twenty-something professional, looking for something to do after work – something cost effective, interesting, and fun – with so much going on in WNY, can be quite a hunt. That’s why I am so excited to share the news about the great deal that the Summer Season Pass offers.


Party on the Portico featuring the Informers, July 2013

The Buffalo History Museum has partnered with Preservation Buffalo Niagara this summer to offer a joint membership for the 2014 June, July and August months, for only twenty dollars!

All membership perks are honored by The Museum and PBN: free exhibits, discounted Party on the Portico happy hour series (only $5!), free educational programming, and much more.

All told, the Buffalover will fall even deeper in love with the city after taking advantage of this great deal. Check it out, give me a call and I’ll sign you up: 873 -9644 ext 318; or, register online.

Hope to see you on the Portico … or maybe at a lecture … or maybe on a tour!

Alexis Greinert
Donor Relations and Membership Coordinator 

Albert H. Chestnut Diaries

French Toast – Dip stale slices in batter of thick milk (1/2 small cup/eggs),

sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla & fry with little more cream then pancakes – can deep fry

Does the recipe trigger a happy memory of cooking with a family member? Or a morning breakfast with a good friend? To Albert Chestnut a recipe was a motivator to help him survive. Albert was a prisoner of war. The Japanese held him captive in the Philippines and Japan for a total of three years and five months during World War II. While captive, he spent much of his time reading, playing cards and writing in his diaries about the poor and inadequate food he was served. At his lightest, Albert weighed less than 100 pounds, was malnourished and tried to obtain vitamins from Japanese doctors. Many of the final pages in Albert’s first diary are devoted to recipes and planning out weeks’ worth of meals for when he hopes to return home; return home to Buffalo.

For the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to spend time transcribing Albert’s diaries. Albert wrote in unusually tiny pencil handwriting, 1/16” at the most, which is why I have been devoting my time and eyes to transcribing his personal piece of history. Because of the pencil writing, there are often words or sections of pages that have become smudged or blurred making it difficult to read portions of the passages.

Albert Chestnut

Albert Chestnut, photo from the collection of The Buffalo History Museum

Albert Chesnut’s first diary begins around April 9th, 1942, the day the United States surrendered at Bataan and Americans and Filipinos were consequently taken captive by the Japanese. April 9th is also the first day of the Bataan Death March; a march that led Albert and the other prisoners up the Bataan peninsula stopping at Marveles, Cabatuan, St. Fernando and finally, ending at Camp O’Donnell, an eighty mile march, which was completed in only eleven days. After nearly seven months of being held at Camp O’Donnell, Albert’s hope of a quick rescue was beginning to fade; “November 1 – Must admit that am quite disappointed for honestly hope help would come by now.” Three days later Albert was sent by train back down to Manila, marched through the business district and held on a dock in the bay for four days. Over a thousand men were then packed below the deck of Nagato Maru, known as a Japanese Hell Ship, and sent to Japan. “November 7 – Last night a real terror – Left Manila about noon as part of big convoy – Really sort of glad to leave Philippines but even ocean breeze cannot help heat and stench of hold where have to eat too – Toilet facilities hopelessly inadequate – Two meals a day – Packed 75% of men below for night as heat terrific – Had hatch covered for time to keep out rain.”

Once in Japan, Albert was sent to Osaka and, on January 16, 1943, he began his stay at a camp know as Zentsuji. While there, Albert faced many of the same conditions as Camp O’Donnell; starvation, poor sanitary conditions, and a constant risk of life threatening diseases. Keeping his spirits up Albert spent much of his time reading censored Japanese newspapers, reading circulating books (“Franklin” by Bernard Fay, “The Well Tempered Listener” by Deems Taylor, “Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo), playing card games, attending prisoner run classes such as Spanish, Trigonometry and Bookkeeping, and going to lectures at night also given by other prisoners.

I am beginning transcription of the second diary and have reached December of 1944, but still have months to get through. As of December 1944, Albert is still being held at Zentsuji, but as I read, I routinely find heartbreaking entries such as these:

“March 17 1943 – Another glorious spring day for St. Patrick’s Day – Badly miss the little Irish box sis always sent for the season.”
“April 26 1943 – …Certainly miss Easter eggs and basket of other years which gave me so much pleasure for days afterwards.”
“June 6 1943– Today is sis’ birthday and feel sorry can’t help her celebrate.”

Pages from Albert Chestnut's diary, from the collection of The Buffalo History Museum.

Pages from Albert Chestnut’s diary, from the collection of The Buffalo History Museum.

Reading and transcribing these diaries have taken me to another place in a different time and have reminded me to be grateful for everything I have. For curious readers, I skipped ahead to Albert’s final entry on October 22 1945; he writes “This was the day of days, the culmination of over four years of hoping, waiting and praying – At just past 12:30AM train left Buffalo and mother and sis waiting with box of cookies and other stuff.”

Albert Chestnut donated his diaries, the photograph in this post, his Army commission and other family papers in 1999 (Mss. A99-10). Due to the fragility of the diary bindings and the possible handling smudges, the physical use of the diaries are restricted to serious researchers with a valid ID from an institution of higher learning and are engaged in a PhD dissertation. I invite you to come in to the Research Library, take advantage of the transcription and take a transformational journey with Albert Chestnut.

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian

Signs from Different Times

Working in the museum’s Collections Department has given me the chance to encounter some very interesting artifacts. The same can be said for my work as the Archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Buffalo. I never thought to contemplate what kinds of similar things exist in both places until the idea was presented to me.  In looking back at everything I have worked on over the years, I realized that  one type of object I had come across quite a few times were signs. It’s a funny thing to think about what a sign can really mean to a place, people, and/ or time in history. When I see a sign on a building, or on the side of a road, I don’t really think deeply about its significance. But when a sign is viewed outside of its original location, or out of context, it almost forces you to think about where it came from and its significance. Some of my most interesting research has been done because of signs.

One of the first signs I worked on at the museum was one made by a member of the American Expeditionary Forces in WWI. For history buffs like myself, researching information about important historical periods, like WWI, is usually something to look forward to because more times than not you come out knowing so much more than you knew before you started. WWI sign

For example, “TO BERLIN”:  I knew before starting my research that it was originally hung in a town in France called Thiaucourt.  What I discovered was that the town was involved in a major battle of the war, the St. Mihiel Offensive, which was led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing in September 1918. This action during the war was particularly significant because it was the first large-scale offensive action that was taken by American forces independent of the Allies. It never ceases to amaze me when I see objects like this sign which have withstood the destructive violence of war and yet find their way to places thousands of miles away. I only wish that we knew more about the man (or men) who made that journey happen.

In a city like Buffalo, there is a lot of history to look back on and reminisce about. There have been a lot of events, neighborhoods, people, and buildings that have made the city what it is. Once in a while those things come back into the spotlight and being able to look at artifacts from the past makes for an interesting comparison to the present. One area of the city that has been in the headlines for many years is the Webster Block.
 It was a timely thing, then, when I came across two street markers from the corner of Main and Perry Streets ???????????????????????????????during the time the sale to the Sabres was happening. These marble street signs were actually incorporated into the exterior of a building that sat at that corner in 1838. They were chiseled from the sides of the building at an unknown time and eventually donated to the History Museum in 1969. Not having known much about the Webster Block before working on these signs, I was unaware that part of it was located at this intersection and in doing my research, I was even more surprised to find that it had been built up all the way back in 1835 by a prominent figure in Buffalo history, Benjamin Rathbun. Just because of these two signs, I learned some very interesting information about the city I’ve lived in my whole life that I had never even thought to ponder.

It’s amazing what a sign can show you!

Sabine Fisher
Collections Assistant

Me and Mabel Barnes

– Kindred WNY spirits in history?

Since I began working at The Buffalo History Museum last July, I’ve thought more about personal histories and the artifacts that we leave behind as individuals.

During my first month, Melissa, The Buffalo History Museum Executive Director,  referred to the diary of Mabel Barnes numerous times. Mabel’s diary is one of the museum’s most detailed personal journals in its collection from the  1901 Pan American Exposition. Our conversations about Mabel’s diary and how valuable it is to researchers today – 113 years after the Pan Am – inspired me to dive into my personal journals, which had not been cracked open since 2004.

Journals by Kim

Adamant about  journal writing…  

From the ages of 12 – 19, I was adamant about journal writing. I have a stack of bright spiral bound notebooks, covers ranging from leopard fur, polka dots and hot pink, documenting my adolescent years. It’s pretty incredible to look back ten, fifteen years ago and read, in my own handwriting, about what ailed me.

Honestly, I forgot how hard high school was. I forgot how stressed I became over school, sports, a part time job and friends. The excerpt photographed is from May, 2003. As juniors, we had to take five NYS Regents (English, American History, Chemistry, Math B and Foreign Language) exams within the same week. It was grueling. Studying for and passing these exams was all I wrote about for a month.

A  page from Kim's diary

An intense page!

There was a break in the study pattern when my best friend and I bought copies of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” – we even drove ourselves in Shannon’s clunker and ate at Mighty Taco – at MIDNIGHT! Very cool at 17 years old…

Twenty-five pages of suspense later, I wrote about passing all five Regents exams, though not all with grades mom wanted to plaster on the fridge.

I took a hiatus from journal writing from college through last year. My exposure to personal histories here at the museum has made me more cognizant of my personal legacy. I want my grandchildren to read what I went through – to know that I, too, worried about passing tests, getting my driver’s license, and finding a prom date (not an easy feat at an all girl’s high school). I hope that my future family will be able to relate and find joy from my teenage years.

My New Years’ resolution was to start journaling again this year. Two and a half months in, I’m holding strong.

Kimberly Luangpakdy
Director of Resource Development 

Mabel Barnes page

A page from Mabel Barnes journal.

Mabel Barnes, daughter of Joshua Barnes, a confectioner, was born in 1877 and was part of the Old Central High School graduating class of 1894.  She began her teaching career with the Buffalo Public Schools at School 23 on Delavan Street in November 1895.  She attended the 1901 Pan Am Exhibition 34 times. 

Think Cherry Blossoms!

The Buffalo History Museum in Cherry Blossoms
The Buffalo History Museum and
Cherry Blossoms

The Japanese Gardens of Buffalo were originally conceived in 1970 with construction being complete in 1972. The purpose was to create a place of beauty and tranquility as well as commemorate the sister city relationship between Buffalo, New York and Kanazawa, Japan. Based on a famous garden in Kanazawa, Japan the Japanese Gardens of Buffalo are located in the Fredrick Law Olmsted Parkway system on the banks of Mirror Lake behind The Buffalo History Museum. The Gardens feature three islands, Japanese garden lanterns, pagodas, and a pathway with rustic stone steps imported from Japan. It is considered a horticultural masterpiece with over one thousand plants, including fifty flowering Cherry Blossom trees and an extensive Hosta collection, donated by the Hosta Society of Western New York. There is also a collection of Japanese Maple and Evergreen trees.


The first ever Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival will be held from April 23 to May 4, 2014 in and around the Japanese Garden in Delaware Park, Buffalo, New York.

The Buffalo History Museum is thrilled to be among the several local cultural organizations that will assist in executing interpretive programming for visitors of all ages and walks of life.

  • An academic lecture and book signing with Dr. Francis Kowsky who will speak about his publication, ” The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux, and the Buffalo Park System. That takes place on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
  • A traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony that will take place at The Buffalo History Museum on Wednesday April 23, 2014. Visitors will have the opportunity to observe the ancient Ceremony lead by Atsuko Nishida-Mitchell.
  • On Saturday, April 26 with a lecture and booking signing by Washington D.C. based author Ann McClellan. McClellan will speak about her book, “The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration.” The lecture will discuss the long standing and famous Cherry Blossom Festival of the nation’s capital and draw parallels to Buffalo’s inaugural celebration.
  • Activities will take place in the Japanese Gardens throughout the entire Festival including Japanese kite making, games, dancers, musicians, puppeteers, and dancers.
  • CherryBlossomDay On Sunday, May 4, Cherry Blossom Family Day features artifact scavenger hunts, museum tours, live performers and lots more!

Tara Lyons,
Program Manager

Native American History in the Museum Shop

Native American display 2The shop at The Buffalo History Museum is not simply for souvenirs.  Although we do have plenty of those, we also stock items of local interest that are difficult to find elsewhere.  We carry a wide range of books about local history, many by local authors.  Among our book selection is an excellent collection on Native American history. Thumbing through the pages in this collection reveals a breadth of fascinating knowledge.  Most of us in Western New York have at least a rudimentary knowledge of local Seneca and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) history.  But, our book collection on this subject dives into deeper levels of understanding on this important local culture.

One author who has spent his life digging into buried Iroquois history is Gerry Biron. It is important to note that Biron, like many Native authors today, prefers the term “Haudenosaunee” to refer to the Iroquois people.  Haudenosaunee is the name the Iroquois use to refer to themselves, and more people today are realizing it is respectful to use the Native term rather than one thrust upon them by outsiders.  Just as their name is being revived, Haudenosaunee art is also being given the recognition it deserves. Biron has spent years researching and collecting Native American beadwork made by the Haudenosaunee people from New York to Canada. He explains the historical importance of beadwork to the Native people.  Each design is filled with symbolism and meaning. The beadwork would grace clothing and accessories. Eventually these accessories, especially small ladies’ bags, would be sold as souvenirs at Niagara Falls.

Today many in the art world from collectors to galleries are emphasizing the notion that categories such as “folk art” and indigenous art have long been dismissed as kitsch, or “less than” the fine art standards as defined by Western sensibilities. Biron has made it his mission to redefine our perceptions and elevate Native beadwork to be recognized as art of important significance. His collection of beaded bags and antique photographs of beadwork have been displayed in galleries in the American Northeast. The Buffalo History Museum Shop carries two of his books; A Cherished Curiosity and Made of Thunder, Made of Glass.

Another author who is digging through hidden Native history is Sally Roesch Wagner.  In her book, Sisters in Spirit, Wagner explores how women’s rights advocates were inspired and influenced by Seneca women and cultural traditions.  We know that The Women’s Rights Movement of the mid-19th century was concurrent with the Abolitionist movement. These two groups often worked together, as both recognized that they were two disadvantaged groups in society. These movements were heavily based in Western and Central New York.  In fact, both the Susan B. Anthony House and the Frederick Douglas Resource Center are located in our close neighbor city, Rochester.  The famous Seneca Falls Convention for Women’s Rights was held in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848. But, many of us don’t realize the ties between women’s rights advocates and the local Native people of Western, NY.

Sally Roesch Wagner says that while Susan B. Anthony is the main person that history often focuses on when discussing the Women’s Rights Movement, she chooses instead to discuss Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage; two women with strong views that are controversial even today.  But, what is striking about these women is their efforts to immerse themselves in understanding the culture of their Seneca neighbors. While many people today don’t understand the complex dynamic of the hierarchy of the Iroquois Federation, Wagner explains that Harriet Maxwell Converse, a close friend of Matilda Joslyn Gage, understood it very well. Converse explained that the Iroquois Federation was made up of six distinct nations, and each nation was unique. She says “The Seneca Nation… is as distinct among Indians as France, Germany, and England are distinct among the nations of Europe” (p23). Within each nation are several tribes.  Therefore the Seneca are not a tribe, but the nation that houses many tribes. This distinction is important because referring to the nations as tribes diminishes their status and affects how they are perceived by those responsible for negotiating and honoring treaties.

Because they exposed themselves to Native life and culture, these women’s rights advocates observed a social dynamic completely unlike the Western model. While men and women of the Seneca certainly did have gender roles, their roles did not subjugate women. Since the Seneca traced ancestry through the matrilineal line, women retained custodial rights of children, whereas European American women lost custody of their children in the event of a divorce. Other issues which are uncomfortable to discuss, such as a women’s right over her own body and domestic abuse, are also explored by Wagner. In an age when a woman who fled from an abusive marriage could be forcibly returned to her husband just as runaway slaves were returned to their masters, women’s rights advocates from Upstate New York found inspiration in the rights afforded to their neighboring Seneca women.

NativeAMericanBooksThese books are only a fraction of the Native American selection we stock here in the Museum shop. While these examples highlight largely unknown history, we also carry books that are more general overviews, as well as children’s history books about Native culture, as well as gifts and trinkets such as playing cards, miniature canoes, and other items. These items compliment a visit to the museum to see our wonderful Native American exhibit. So, please plan a day to learn a little about local Seneca culture at the Buffalo History Museum and Shop!

Carolyn Emerick
Museum Shop Employee

Always a bridesmaid…..FINALLY a bride!


In order to start getting ready for our Something Old, Something New event I decided to do some research on wedding traditions and superstitions for some Facebook fodder. There was one superstition that grabbed my attention. Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride, unless you’re a bridesmaid seven times only then will you break the curse and be a bride!

Well, as it turns out I’ve been a bridesmaid seven times! (Soon to be eight, in June) Some girls may find this to be a curse, but I honestly feel so fortunate to have been such a special part of one of the most important days in my closest friends’ lives. Yes, being a bridesmaid is expensive and time consuming – I have the dresses hanging in my closet to prove it! But, alas, I have some great memories for always that has made it all worthwhile.

I guess this “bridesmaid curse” might have some truth to it since I will finally be a bride this September and all of my matron friends will be standing by my side with a new dress to hang in their closet.

Since I can’t invite all who read this blog to my wedding, the next best invitation I can extend is to join us at The Buffalo History Museum’s second annual Something Old, Something New event that will take place March 2 at 3 p.m. There will be a pop-up bridal exhibit, bridesmaid dresses on display, an auction, food, drinks and more!    Check out the details on our website

Marketing Associate/Graphic Designer


Today Jen and I dialed up our go-to-guy-for-all-things-museum-cool, Brian McAlonie, at Thinking Outside the Square

Brian running a workshop under the portico.

Brian running a workshop under the portico.

We wanted to pick his brain about our new blog, cuz if ever there was a great go-to place for expert feedback, it’s at TOTS.


Jen working hard on our quarterly newsletter.

The good news: Brian likes The Buffalo History Museum’s Blog! 

Jen LaBella, TBHM Marketing Associate and Graphic Artist, deserves big kudos for setting it up. Yours truly souped up the “Latest News” page on our website by linking the blog button. BlogButton

We are now ready to share to the universe and we’re psyched about our new (to us) frontier!  We hope the content ahead serves an audience with extra special museum and history news: from the ordinary to the extraordinary, we’re here to share.   

Cmc and Walt

Walt & me on the portico.

Just in, as I was writing this:  Walt Mayer, Director of Museum Collections, called to tell me about a great idea for sharing Victorian love sentiments from the collection every Friday in February to celebrate Valentine’s Day!  You’ll be able to find that on our Facebook page so check back in to see some historic images of romance.

 Gotta run, lots to do… 

 – Connie Caldwell, Director of Communications & Community Engagement