Where else can you find a bit of Napoleon’s bed curtain? The real thing, an American sailor’s souvenir from the island of St. Helena, where the French emperor was safely tucked away from 1815 to 1821 to be kept out of further European mischief by placing him in, almost literally, the middle of nowhere near the middle of the South Atlantic.
Well, that snippet of fabric is safe in Stonington Borough in the Old Lighthouse Museum, along with hundreds of other oddities, curiosa, memorabilia, treasured one-of-a-kind bits of history.
The museum now has received two significant grants designed to bring these treasures closer to the eye of the public. The Historical Society, which administers the lighthouse, has been awarded $9,983 from Connecticut Humanities and $3,978 from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help plan the exhibits.
“The Historical Society is honored and fortunate to win these competitive awards,” according to the Society’s Director, Mary Beth Baker. The Stonington Historical Society’s new exhibits for the Old Lighthouse, one of Connecticut’s best-loved icons and the first lighthouse museum in the nation. Mary Beth expains that the Old Lighthouse is like a 2,240-square-foot “cabinet of curiosities,” an intimate space filled with fascinating items, many of them heirlooms handed down over generations by Stonington families.
She observes that visitors often miss the treasures in the museum in their quest to find the stairway to the top of the Lighthouse tower to enjoy the view. “Some people sail right past the 19th-century hair jewelry belonging to Capt. Nat Palmer’s sister or the machete made from shark teeth brought back from Indonesia, with a mere glance at the so-called stern board from the whaleship Susan & Mary, which in 1975 caused a sensation in the world of folk art when it was exhibited at the Whitney Museum.”
“This grant support,” Mary Beth continues,
“is very encouraging. But it is also ‘matching.’ That means that without the continued support of friends, neighbors, and members, we will not be able to move forward. Thankfully, so far people have been very generous.” Once all the plans are complete, the Historical Society will still need to raise over $1.5 million to complete the project.
For more information on visiting the Lighthouse and making a donation, visit the Historical Society’s website (www.stoningtonhistory.org) or call 860.535.8445.