Letter from the Director

Hello everyone,
My name is Spencer Barton, and I am the new Director of the Harlan-Lincoln House. I wanted to take this opportunity to share a bit about my background, which led me to work in Mount Pleasant and a few details about me and my life.

I have been interested in museums from a very young age. Growing up in the Quad Cities, there were several excellent museums that my parents and grandparents would take me to regularly. Early on, I would ask for almanacs, atlases, and various general history books for Christmas and birthday presents. I had a distinct fascination at the time in the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and the Near East. Growing up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I also developed a well-rooted interest in theology and the history of Christianity, which I maintain to this day. I attended Wartburg College, where I obtained my B.A. while studying history and chemistry. This combination of disciplines challenged me to understand the world from a historical perspective and an atomic one. I focused my studies on Indigenous America during the 18th and 19th centuries. I also had the opportunity to be an intern at the German American Heritage Center in downtown Davenport, which allowed me to become familiar with working at a museum, including collection cataloging, leading tours, and event planning. Additionally, my studies in chemistry would become an invaluable asset when I began studying museums, as understanding the chemical make-up of various objects in a collection informs me of how to best take care of those objects to preserve them for years to come. Following my undergrad program, I attended Western Illinois University’s Moline campus, for their Museum Studies Graduate Program. During my time there, I completed an internship at the Bix Beiderbecke Museum, where I helped the director with cataloging the collection and perform condition reports, which are forms that detail every bit of damage on an object, be it faded paint, a scratch, or missing pieces. Additionally, I got to help with the museum’s presence at the annual Bix Jazz Festival this last summer, including helping set up a concert at Bix’s graveside. While the majority of the program focuses on practical skills, my studies allowed me to experiment with various approaches to understanding material culture and studies. In turn, this guided me to research and write works that explored the “life” of objects within a museum’s collection and see the world from their perspectives. I look forward to using these approaches in future presentations and exhibitions.

Spencer working at the Bix Beiderbecke Museum

I am very excited to begin work at the Harlan-Lincoln House and Iowa Wesleyan University. I am most interested in getting involved with the student body as much as possible. I want to show students what working in a museum is like allowing them to give tours to the public or simply opening up the house as a social location where we can talk about history, methods, museums, or whatever might come up. The house is on the campus where they live, socialize, and study. I want to ensure they know that the Harlan-Lincoln House and my role are an extension of their campus, not just a building on the periphery of the campus grounds.

Additionally, as we adapt to the ongoing pandemic, I want to work on reopening the museum to the community, the region, and even the country. The pandemic has not been kind to any small museums, and the Harlan-Lincoln House is not an exception. I am excited to have this opportunity to make the House known to more people and make it more accessible. There are so many stories here and I want to share them with as many people as possible. I plan to hold social events, lectures, and conversations that will make people aware of this gem of a location in this part of the state and country. I also intend to maintain a digital presence to make the House as much a virtual location as well as a physical one. Lastly, I want to tell these stories with as many perspectives as possible. I want to talk about race, gender, wealth, religion, and many other perspectives to give an informed and rounded view of the Harlans, the Lincolns, and this house where these two great families intersect.

Outside of museum work, ISpencer playing viola have a handful of hobbies. During the pandemic, I gained an ear for Hi-Fi and Hi-Res audio. I have slowly acquired several headphones, in-ear monitors, speakers, and electronics. I primarily listen to a lot of jazz, blues, and classical music, but I will generally listen to anything I can get my ears on. My parents put their sizable vinyl collection in my care, including original pressings of albums and singles by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Joe Walsh, Neil Young, and many others. Additionally, my girlfriend and I are both classically trained musicians and vocalists. We love going to symphonies, choral concerts, and live music performances. We look forward to listening to more live music as the country continues to open up from the pandemic. Often we will spend the evenings listening to an album one of us found or feel in the mood for instead of watching a TV show or a movie. I advise against bringing up music or audio around me unless you have an evening to dedicate to it.

I also enjoy playing video games, especially “four Ex” and grand strategy games such as Europa Universalis IV, the Civilization series, and Imperator: Rome. These games allow the player to take on the role of the leader of a nation or country at a point in history and play out running that country, sustaining an economy, growing culture, and maintaining international relations. I am also a huge fan of adventure games such as the Legend of Zelda, the Witcher, and the Assassins Creed series (my favorite entries are Twilight Princess, Wild Hunt, and Syndicate, respectively). Lastly, my friends from college and I are large fans of games from the developers at From Software, such as Dark Souls, Sekiro, and Elden Ring. Every time we get together, there is a near guarantee that we will discuss something one of us completed or discovered in one of these games. These games are harder to describe, but their primary draw is their unique storytelling method paired with a mix of challenging combat and movement.

As I previously stated, I am honored and excited to work at the Harlan-Lincoln House and continue to preserve and share the many stories from the Harlan and Lincoln families in this area.

Spencer A. Barton
Director of the Harlan-Lincoln House

2023 Brown Bag Lecture Series

This spring, we will once again host our March Brown Bag Lunch Series. As with years before, every Tuesday in March, we will welcome a different speaker to present on topics related to the Harlan-Lincoln House or the history of the city, state, or region. These events are an opportunity for attendees to discuss topics with the presenters and one another. If you cannot attend in person, we will have a live-stream version archived for on-demand watching after the event.
Last year’s presentations included: “Pieces of the Past: The Harlans and the Lincolns,” presented by author, historian, and Executive Committee member of the Friends of Harlan-Lincoln House, Paul Juhl and the former director of the Harlan-Lincoln House, Madison Pullis; “Folk Cottages of Southeast Iowa,” from Paul Larson, an architectural history consultant, curator, researcher, and author; “Did You Hear about the Lady Lawyer?: Telecommunications, Railroads, and Information Transmission in 1869,” presented by the director of the J. Raymond Chadwick Library, Jeff Meyer; and, “And Also in Iowa: Lincoln’s Iowa Cousins,” from author and genealogist, Rich Hileman.

Just as we have done in years past, now is the time we ask for your input. What are some historic topics you would like to see covered at the next Brown Bag Lecture Series? Are there people you would like to see present on a topic? Please feel free to email hlhouse@iw.edu with your suggestions. We look forward to seeing you every Tuesday at noon in March!

Share Your Stories

I want to thank everyone for your continued support and interest of the Harlan-Lincoln House, especially during this ongoing transition during the pandemic. Truly, the House requires your presence to maintain relevancy and purpose. There is something magical about the way that a structure of such significance can both impact us, and us it. In my academic work, I have worked with various approaches on how to understand and expand the relationship between “us” humans of the present, “them” humans of the past, and “that” the stuff and things left by “them.”

With this in mind, would you be willing to share your stories? Are you from the area and remember seeing the House as a child, perhaps on a school trip? Did you move to the area later in life and discovered the unique stories and significance of this unimposing building structure on Main and Broad? Are you someone who traveled from out of town to see the House? I really want to hear your story about the House, what you recall, and what it means to you. I have two missions with this information. The first is to help me in my transition into this position to better understand what your relationship is with the Harlan-Lincoln House and allow me to focus on what you would like to see in the future, based on what you’ve found impactful in the past. The second is to begin work on a new project in the House, one which uses these stories and presents how you have interacted with the House, and the House with you.
Any correspondence is welcome: email, a phone call, a direct message to our Facebook page, a letter, or even a one-on-one conversation with me at the House or over coffee somewhere in town. I want to hear your stories to grow this House we all have a bond to in some way. Thank you in advance for sharing.

Quarterly Quandary

The Spring 2022 newsletter asked you to identify this object. During my interview for the director position, my eyes were drawn to two large egg-shaped items in the dining room. When I inquired about them, I was met with mutual fascination with the pieces. I was told they were utensil storage boxes.

As I continued the work of the previous directors in cataloging and making note of condition of all of the items in the collection, there were curious notes attached to the records of these “utensil urns”: they did not open or close properly! In order to place catalog numbers on each item, I needed to turn them on their sides. While handling the one which was closed tight, I heard the clamor of silverware. Removing the base and top from one another revealed the handles of three spoons. With a little bit of force applied to the lift mechanism, I was able to re-open the utensil urn and free ten spoons and four forks. While most are not in the best of condition, you can still make out the initial “H,” showing that they are in set with the other silverware we have in the Harlan family collection. The silverware is now displayed inside of the re-opened urn. It’s exciting to see these pieces displayed how the Harlan-Lincoln family might have. Come check them out sometime!

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