Recently, the American Independence Museum expanded Commemoration and Memorialization, a digital exhibit that explores the sometimes unusual methods of commemoration Americans have used throughout the nation’s history.
The expansion, according to Curator Jen Carr, includes a look at a mourning ring in the museum’s collection that is believed to contain a lock of George Washington’s hair.
“When George Washington died, the entire nation grieved,” she said. “As travel was more difficult at that time, many towns across the United States held funerals for him so that those unable to travel to the State funeral were able to pay their respects to the man who led the nation through the turbulent years surrounding the founding.”
While America was memorializing the nation’s first president and a national hero, Carr said the ring memorialized Washington as a man for those who actually knew him.
“This ring came into the possession of those who did not know him and eventually became part of the American Independence Museum’s collection,” she noted.
Through that process, the ring’s meaning changed.
“It is now a way to commemorate Washington’s life and what he means to the American people today,” she said.
It is no longer a ring that commemorates a personal loss, she explained, but rather “an historical item that shows the significance of Washington’s legacy and how his contributions to American history continue to be relevant.”
“The ring’s meaning shifted from representing a personal relationship between Washington and the friend who possessed this ring following his death to the relationship all Americans have with their nation’s first president,” she added.
According to Emma Stratton, executive director of the museum, the digital exhibit as a whole helps visitors experience a more intimate interaction with its 3,000+ item collection.
“While most objects on view in the museum are in cases or behind glass frames, digital photography allows you to see all sides of an object, including the interior monogram on this mourning ring,” she said.
Acknowledging the museum itself presents “a finite amount of wall space for interpretation,” Stratton said digital exhibits provide visitors with a multimedia and in-depth experience on a single topic, event, or object.
“It’s a new realm of exploration for visitors that also reduces barriers, such as cost and location,” she added. “During this time of COVID-19, when it is not possible to visit our museum, we are delighted to be able to bring our museum to the general public.”
Home to a world-class collection of 3,000 historic artifacts, the museum is currently developing a variety of public and education programs in digital formats to encourage digital inclusion for all ages.