Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

For anyone who has ever run an organization, event or historic site that relies heavily on volunteers, you understand their importance.  To anyone who has volunteered for anything, you understand how much work you do for nothing other than the reward of helping others.

There are times, however, when a situation arises that volunteers are treated as free labor.  They are talked down to as if they should be the ones honored to be working where they are.  They are the ones who are given the guilt trip of if they do not volunteer they are somehow doing something wrong and should feel horrible about themselves.  This is not right on any level.

I cannot speak from experiences with organizations nor special events – I have always had a wonderful time when volunteering for either and have been treated wonderfully (and by that I don’t mean volunteers should expect showers of praise and thanks but simply to be part of the team and working together).

Most volunteers do not volunteer with the idea of getting anything in return at all.  Those few that do will not last long.  However, to any and all historic sites out there, remember that there is no obligation for anyone to stay at any site as a volunteer.  If you are a historic site odds are there are at least forty other sites those volunteers can go share their time, leaving you behind.  No site is more important or more significant than any other.  No site can survive without the sacrifice of its volunteers.  Under no circumstance should volunteers be treated as free labor.  Volunteers are people.  A simple guilt trip can destroy; a simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way.

It is very important for sites, whatever they are, to remember to treat ALL volunteers with respect and dignity. Volunteers are giving of themselves and their valuable time, they do not need to do this, they do it because they want to and believe in something. It is in no way, shape or form an obligation to volunteer at any site or for anything. To ALL people who run historic sites, volunteers will only support you and give you their time if they, in return, are treated as equals and with respect.

Remember, not only do historic sites rely on volunteers but so do the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and yes, even the military.  So thank a volunteer.

**All views and opinions are from my own experiences.  © 2011 Traci Law

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Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, Rocky and the Philly Cheesesteak.  In the summer the weather is generally hot and… and you really don’t care about any of this.

Whether you’ve been to Philadelphia before or not, there are the ‘must see’ places such as Independence Hall (please do NOT break away from the group to look for hidden objects like in ‘National Treasure’ – it will not end well!), the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ House, etc.  So, to make those tourist-packed visits a little more interesting here are some interesting tidbits.

Liberty Bell and Independence Hall

The Liberty Bell wasn’t always the Liberty Bell.  In fact, the large, cracked bell was actually given to Philadelphia in 1752, twenty-three years before the Revolution started.  It was just a bell, a very large bell, back then.

Betsy Ross’ house?  Not really her house.  It is actually her neighbor’s house but she probably stopped by a few times to ask for some sugar or eggs.  Her house burned down in the 1800’s.  Another interesting fact, after her death, Betsy Ross was buried and re-buried three different times.  Her current resting place is next to the house.  During your tour of the house, pay close attention in the cellar.  Do you hear anything?  It is rumored the cellar is haunted by a whistling ghost.

Betsy Ross House

And Independence Hall?  When the Declaration of Independence was signed it was among the hottest summers in Philadelphia – with no A/C!

Not far from the Betsy Ross house is a very small, cobblestone alley called Elfreth’s Alley.  It is quaint.  It is original.  It is the oldest, continually occupied street in the United States!  Pretty cool, huh?  Not only have the likes of George Washington and Ben Franklin walked down that very street but so have Sylvester Stallone, Nicholas Cage and Cameron Diaz.  And just a bit further away is the house that Edgar Allan Poe called home when he lived in Philadelphia.

Aside from Old City, what else is there to do or see in Philly?  How many weeks do you have?  If museums are your forte, take a stroll along the Franklin Parkway.  Museums include the Rodin Museum, Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The Barnes Foundation is scheduled to open to the public in 2012.  Take note, each of these museums can take all day, especially if you discover the walk-through beating heart of the Franklin Institute.  Other notable stops on or near the Parkway include the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the Philadelphia Free Library and Boathouse Row.

Boathouse Row at Night

Two other museums of note worth visiting.  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  It sounds stuffy, yes, but it’s actually far from it.  Exhibits include some of the best displays of Egyptian artifacts, Meso-America and Asia.  Thanks to Penn being a top school in the field of archaeology (and having such graduates as Zahi Hawass), they have obtained some of the most important artifacts to understanding past cultures.

The second museum is a medical museum that is part of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.  A word of advice, unless you have a stomach of steel, do not have a big lunch before visiting the Mutter Museum.   There are walls of skulls, drawers of objects removed from human stomachs (after people swallowed many of them… including a toothbrush!), and jars upon jars of specimens from two-headed fetuses to tumors.  They even have a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland.

Looking for something other than stuffy museums (though a walk-through beating heart is far from stuffy!!), then check out Eastern State Penitentiary.

Interior, deteriorated prison cell of Eastern State

It’s old, it’s a former prison, it’s creepy and it’s supposedly haunted!  Inmates included Al Capone and a dog.  Yes, a dog.  If you’re visiting around October, be sure to check out their Haunted Prison event.

There’s plenty more to do outside the city as well.  Take a visit to the Pirate House (aka the Plankhouse) in Marcus Hook.  An active archaeology site, it is believed to have been frequented by not only Blackbeard but many other pirates who were known to hang out in Marcus Hook.  Sadly no, neither Jack Sparrow nor Johnny Depp have set foot there.  On a sidenote, the Plankhouse is also believed to be very haunted.

Valley Forge is filled with historical stuff but it is also a popular recreation park now as well.  During the summers, Valley Forge also has archaeology excavations going on so be sure to stop by Washington’s Headquartersto check it out.

Line of canons at Valley Forge. Image © 2011 Traci Law

A fun fact for Valley Forge?  We all know how they arrived there in the middle of a cold, snowy winter.  We all know they had to build log cabins and find ways to keep warm and fed.  But did you know that there was actually a hanging at Valley Forge during that time?  Deserters from the Continental Army were caught and at least one is known to have been hung from a tree at Valley Forge.  There is also a cave system that runs underneath the vast park but don’t try to find any entrances – they have all been closed off and for a very good reason – these caves were dumps for asbestos years ago!

There are many, many other sites to be seen in and around Philadelphia, including New Jersey and Delaware.  From forts dating back to the Revolutionary War to Longwood Gardens to New Hope to Laurel Hill Cemetery, there is something for everyone.

Oh, and the food!  How could I forget to mention the food!  Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, water ice, soft pretzels, cheese fries and Wawa coffee (no, we do not put cheese in our coffee – not yet anyway), be sure to try the endless amounts of artery-clogging food Philly has to offer.

Philly Cheesesteak

Philly soft pretzels

**All images are believed to be public domain unless otherwise noted.  Please contact if you believe there is a violation.

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This series of blogs focuses on traveling beyond the normal tourist sites, while still visiting said sites.  It gives insight into what other options are around and available.  Most travelers want a unique experience when they visit somewhere but what is considered unique to one may bore another to tears.   As always, the information is based solely on my own experiences and opinions (have to keep those lawyers happy!)  :).

Almost everyone when they first start to travel go to the big tourist attractions, whether it be the Louvre in Paris or Big Ben in London, there are just some sites that you have to see, especially if you are not used to traveling.

And there is nothing wrong with that!

However, if you have been bit by the travel bug (not to be confused with bed bugs), then you know how annoying many ‘tourist’ sites can be.  What to do?  How do you find those ‘off the beaten track’ places especially if you are in a country that speaks a different language?

Aside from the typical travel books there are plenty more resources available in this age of technology.  The tools I use most are Google and Flickr (for visual images of places I may be interested in visiting).  With very rare exceptions, I plan on renting a car and just driving around when I go somewhere with just a very basic layout of a route.  In 2009 I even finally braved driving in the UK with that whole ‘drive on the left side’ thing – still not London though.  I’m not that insane yet.

Once you have a place (or places) picked out the next thing to take a serious look at is your own, personal interests and hobbies.  I am a photographer but also work in archaeology and historic preservation as well as the occasional ghost hunt and I adore old buildings, especially ruins.  But for too long the general idea has been if you are someone interested in history or art you should focus on just one aspect when traveling such as visiting all the museums.  Why?  As much as I love museums, living in the Philadelphia area, I have access to many museums on a regular basis from D.C. up to NYC.  So, unless it’s a very unique or unusual museum filled with pieces not normally seen around here, I skip it.  With the exception of the British Museum, I will only stop if it’s a small, hole-in-the-wall museum such as the ones in Sighisoara, Romania – seriously, who could pass up seeing a torture chamber museum? 🙂  Traveling should be fun, not only educational!

I very rarely fully plan out an itinerary – mostly because I’m just not that organized.  The other reason, however, is far too often I have found that once I arrive at a destination there turns out to be things I’d rather see or tours I’d rather go on than what I had initially planned.  One of my biggest regrets is not having taken the Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London though, in all fairness, I was running a 102 fever that whole week from strep throat so I’m sure the others who did take that tour were more than happy I stayed away.  Why Jack the Ripper?  Why not?  Sometimes it’s very important to remember in the midst of experiencing a place or culture that you also are allowed to have fun!  Although, on another trip to England, I did finally get to Sherwood Forest just to be able to say I was where Robin Hood was :D.

So in the weeks and months to follow I will be posting a blog about traveling beyond places I have been to over the  years.  It may be a city or it may be a country.  Please feel free to share any of your unplanned adventure stories as well.

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The idea of introducing paranormal into historic sites is a relatively new idea, at least in the U.S., and is still quite controversial at times.  Almost always the concern is that the history will be lost and the site will simply become known as a ‘haunted house’ which is  a legitimate concern.

So how does a historic site walk that fine line?  Should they walk that fine line?

When I was working at a Philadelphia site in the early 90’s I had actually mentioned the idea of at least letting it leak out that this particular site was haunted.  Not so much promote it nor have ghost hunts at the site but even then a ‘haunted’ site was likely to have more traffic than a non-haunted site.  The idea was shot down.  They were focused on making sure the site was recognized for its history and it’s importance in the founding of this nation (the site dates back to the 1690’s).  Given that anything to do with paranormal was still not mainstream, I understood and life went on.

Then the TV shows happened.  First Most Haunted out of England became a huge hit there and eventually made its way to this side of the pond where it became a hit here as well.  Not soon after, Syfy introduced their American answer to MH with GhostHunters.  And so the wars began.  Yet despite all the bickering over who was faking evidence and who was better or science vs feelings, the real winners in the television wars were the sites featured each week, whether it be a castle or pub in England or a fort or restaurant in the US, tourism was up and so was income.

So began the dilemma for many sites.  Gettysburg Battlefield has long since put their foot (and the law) down and made it illegal for anyone to conduct any ghost investigation on the battlefield – a very understandable stand given the reverence and respect it deserves.  That, however, has not deterred those in town to build an entire tourism industry on hauntings.

In 2009 I was working with Delaware Ghost Hunters.  We had been asked by Fort Delaware to help them with their October Paranormal events.  It was a new venture for both of us.  Each weekend visitors paid to come out to the island where they could be part of their own paranormal investigation.  We were the paranormal team that would answer questions and help them out while the fort provided their own employees to talk about the history.  In just that one month over $70,000 was raised to go towards funding the site!  Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia averages about $40,000 per year with their paranormal programs.  Most recently Graeme Park in Horsham, PA and Bolton Mansion in Levittown, PA have asked for help with establish programs for this additional, and much needed, income.  Each program is set up with respect to history and with the intent of never allowing the paranormal aspect to overshadow the factual history and importance of these sites.

Still, despite the numbers, there are many board members of many historic sites that are 100% against the use of paranormal programs for raising funds.  Are they wrong?  No.  Because of TV there are many paranormal groups that have formed consisting of members and founders who have no interest nor appreciation of nor respect for the history.  These are the groups that give this venture a bad name.  I, personally, have witnessed many times when some paranormal investigators have gone into a site and sat in chairs that they weren’t supposed to or picked up museum objects that were off limits and yes, even broken things and given the attitude of “we’re here to help you, this isn’t my fault”.  Why do some feel that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want or touch whatever they want?  Because they do it on TV.  Unless special permission is given it is never okay to touch museum pieces whether it be china or furniture.  It is actions like that by a few that have given sites and board members the absolute right to be hesitant about the paranormal community.

However, despite the mentioned concerns, the fact is in today’s economy many sites are up against the wall with choices of either close altogether and risk a house or building being torn down or destroyed by neglect or finding a way to meet in the middle with the paranormal world to bring in an additional income that could be the difference between open doors or padlocked doors.

Somewhere, somehow, the paranormal community and the historic community must find a way to work together to survive.

**All views are my own based on my own experiences.

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If you’re reading this you may be asking, who is this person?  Surely someone doesn’t really do all that she claims to.

But I do.  I have been involved in the archaeology/historic community in the Philadelphia area for nearly twenty years, starting out at Historic Rittenhousetown back in 1990.  I volunteered at an excavation after making the decision to leave the acting world for a bit.  As it turned out, I loved it!  Over the years I continued digging, giving tours, working with program development, etc. while at the same time diving a bit more into my love of photography.  Eventually I jumped into the world of professional photography (wildlife and travel) as excavations in the Philadelphia area came to a near halt.

As luck would have it, Philadelphia once more became a center of television and movie filming so, already established in local archaeology and as a photographer, I jumped back in which is what I’ve been juggling for many years now – while throwing a bit of paranormal investigations into the mix.  Why paranormal?  I was working at another archaeology site that many local paranormal groups wanted to investigate.  The site pretty much handed over the paranormal part to me so I was able to sit in with them and realized that, while interesting from a ‘what is it’ perspective (and having always been interested in haunted places), it would also provide a wonderful opportunity to see historic places when there were no tourists around.  Over time this turned into a way to help struggling historic sites use the paranormal aspect to raise money while maintaining the importance of the actual history.

So ultimately, I have been fortunate enough to be able to utilize my experiences as a photographer, all aspects of historic involvement, acting and yes, even paranormal together to help preserve sites.

In this blog I will post about all sorts of different topics from archaeology news to historic site events and fundraisers to photography tips or just simply a journal of my travels.

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