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NAJ: Museum: mystery lovers wanted

July 19, 2013
NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

"The outcome was a little surprising," said Marty Kirschenbaum, who had come to the Lake Placid North Elba Historical Museum to have an object appraised by Ted Comstock during their Heritage Day festival on Saturday. Kirschenbaum used to do all the recordings for the Lake Placid Institute's music program a few years back then under the leadership of trumpeter Ed Carroll.

"This piece of pottery has been our family for over one hundred years," he told me earlier when waiting in line for the former Adirondack Museum curator. "I don't know what it is. It hasn't been out of our house in seventy-five years."

Kirchenbaum was thinking along the lines that it had to do something with farming, but the outcome was quite different. "Ted thought it was a Hopi ceremonial piece. He thought it represented a grouse. When I got home I looked up Hopi and grouse on the internet and learned that it represents a change in investigation. I am very glad that I made the trip over. I had no idea."

Article Photos

An image of an unidentified man on display at the LP NE History Museum, one of the many in the Barry Collection exhibit that they invite people to come in and help identify.

The entire theme of the Heritage Day festival was a bit of a "What's that?" Not only was there a line of people waiting to speak with Comstock, but others entranced by an interactive display of photographs taken from the Barry (Moses and Stedman) Collection of over 10,000 glass plate negatives created by former Lake Placid Club photographers. A challenge for the Museum's curators is that many of the photographs are not titled, thus sometimes they do not know who the people are, what situation is being illustrated, or where the activity took place. Their response was to have sections of the exhibit labeled "Who Am I?" "What is Happening?" and "Where is This?" along with access to post-its so people can write in their answers. Once a photograph has been sufficiently identified they swap it out for another resulting in an exhibit that is constantly evolving and invites people to come again and again.

Chris Beattie pointed out that some of the photographs illustrate each other. He showed me an image of skijoring on Mirror Lake while across the room was a photograph of person with a large-format camera out on the ice photographing a man being pulled across the ice by a horse (skijoring).

"When I was first asked to serve on the board as a trustee I assumed it was for my computer skills," said Ron Huber who can often be found at the Lake Placid Library managing their computer room. "But I learned that it was to help connect the community with its heritage. It's exciting. I love helping with exhibits like the current one that features the Barry Collection, glass plate negatives that were on the loading dock ready to be taken to the dump when they were discovered by and saved through the efforts of Dr. George Hart."

"I have an old signed print of Abraham Lincoln," said Peter Coffrin waiting in line to see Comstock. "I want to learn if the signature is authentic." After he said, "I learned that it was a handsome piece, but it is not worth millions. The signature was part of the initial engraving."

"Talking to Ted was such fun," said Micky Lansing. "I am worth more than I thought. I had two objects for him to examine, a vase that he said is Victorian and worth $100 and a collectable stuffed Santa holding a small bottle of Coke that is worth about $250."

"I brought a Mahjong set I inherited from my grandfather," said Claire Thayer. "He was a pilot at the Panama Canal leading ships through that came from all around the world. Sometimes the captains would give him gifts in appreciation. This Mahjong set was one of them that ended up being handed down to me. I learned that it is worth between $100 and $200. It is like anything else, until you find someone to buy it you never know its true value."

"That's right. There is a difference between wholesale and retail," said Lansing.

"I wasn't looking to sell it though," said Thayer. "I just wanted to find out what it was worth."

"This annual event is open to everyone," said museum director Jennifer Tufano. "You don't need to be a member. It is a community event that is free of charge. The Barry Collection will be on display this year and next. The photos are great. We have had lots of positive feedback. Many of locals bring their family, especially the older members who may remember some of people and events featured. We would like to add some old photographic equipment and other elements to help flesh out the exhibit and invite people to suggest objects we could borrow from them."

"The purpose of the museum is to every aspect of the story of Lake Placid and North Elba exclusive of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, which the Olympic Museum covers," continued Tufano. "We decided to make a dividing line with them. If I find stuff in our collection that has to do with the Olympics I pass it on to them, and if they find materials in their collection that are not about the Olympics they pass it on to us. We do cover the circumstances that lead up to the Olympics, such as the role of the Lake Placid Club developing winter sports in Lake Placid."

"We loan items back and forth with the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown and talk with their curators all the time. We also have a strong relationship with the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Currently we are collaborating with the Olympic Museum on a poster project," she added.

"Ted Comstock generously offered his time again this year," said museum president Peter Roland, Jr. "All fees charged for his services ($5 per inquiry) were donated to the museum."

Later I asked Ted what was his most interesting find. "The most outstanding item was a large map of the Adirondacks brought in by Nancy and Chris Beattie," he said. "It is one of few remaining earliest tourist maps of the Adirondacks printed shortly after the Civil War. The map was hand inscribed by the cartographer to a Dr. James Romeyn of Keeseville for fifty seasons of fly-fishing at Bartlett's Carry. I love engaging people and helping them with their inquiry, perhaps it is curiosity by both parties. I help them connect the dots. Sometimes it leads to disappointment another times to surprising results."

Comstock often shares his generosity with other regional not for profits, and the museum's Barry collection still has lots of images to identify so mystery lovers have ample opportunities to continue exploring with both.



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