By Janee Law
For amputee soldiers who were reduced to one arm in battle during the Civil War, utensils like a combination knife-fork-spoon were used to help them eat. And before there were scopes that attached to a sniper rifle, soldiers used sharp shooter sunglasses to magnify their targets.
These tools can be found on display at Huntington Town Hall, which is commemorating the 150th anniversary to the end of the Civil War.
While every year it selects a different theme, the “For Those Who Served” Civil War exhibit displays an assortment of documents and artifacts that were loaned by Huntington residents. There are 55 Civil War items in four cases.
Huntington Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia said the loaners preferred to be anonymous.
“This is probably the second Civil War exhibit that we’ve had,” said Raia, adding that the last one was probably more than 20 years ago.
As town clerk, Raia oversees the display cases and reached out to the employees and the community to spread the word that the office was seeking Civil War artifacts.
“So this is all part of what I’m suppose to be doing as far as outreach, as far as what the state education department wants all the town clerks to do, because we are the records management officer for the town and it has to be a two-fold program,” Raia said.
Although it’s a combined effort, Raia said town hall Archivist Antonia Mattheou is responsible for selecting the artifacts, arranging the display cases and preparing the documents for the exhibit as well.
“Usually, it’s a six-month process to put an exhibit like this together,” Mattheau said.
After receiving responses, Mattheau sets up appointments with loaners to pick up artifacts and determine which are archival in nature.
“[They] have an immense amount of artifacts and I'll choose what I think will be proper or fitting for our cases,” Mattheau said.
“These individuals who have loaned us these artifacts know that we will care for them and keep them safe,” Raia said.
Mattheau said the design is based on the theme and what she has learned from the contributors.
For instance, one of the display cases holds two swords, a rifle musket and a bullseye canteen, signifying that soldiers needed their weapons and water to survive.
“So at night, whenever, they would go to bed, they would always put the canteen next to their guns, so that’s how it’s displayed,” Mattheau said.
Artifacts, such as sharp shooter’s sunglasses, binoculars, a soldier’s leather wallet, documents from the President Lincoln assassination and more can be viewed in front of the town clerk's office, which have been on display since April. They will be around for visitors to see until the end of December.
Last month, during archives month in New York, in addition to honoring the end of the Civil War with the display, town hall hosted an open house that featured Civil War archives. The documents included death records of soldiers killed in action, military exemptions, affidavits of acceptance for service and more.
“Other than the fact that we’re very proud of it, it draws a lot of attention,” Raia said. While people wait on line, “they can occupy themselves by looking at the artifacts in the exhibit.”