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MUSEUM MONDAYS: The mystery of object number 872

February 13, 2011

object 872 

Everyone who works in museums knows that behind every object there is always a bigger story just waiting to be discovered, according to Michelle Burton, the Logan Museum’s lead data specialist. Some are just easier to uncover than others. Below, she shares a first-hand account of her own mysterious object.

"We often joke at the Logan about being museum detectives as we try to sift through the boxes of documentation that accompany our artifacts. It never ceases to amaze me how a few words written down on a piece of paper a hundred years ago can illuminate an object’s long-forgotten history. Once you start connecting the dots (with a little help from Google) there is no telling what you’ll uncover.

Take, for instance, this image of Logan Museum object number 872. I first came across this artifact during an inventory of the Native American material in the Cube. I have to admit that I had no idea what it was. It was interesting; I decided to look into it.  According to the catalog card it is a bone arrow-shaft polisher, probably collected in Alaska, but that’s not what piqued my interest. A little further down on the card it read, “Gift from Mrs. Logan's sister (Mrs. Sellers.)  Belonged to John Muir.”  Ah ha! Now that’s a name I recognized.

John Muir was a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and wilderness advocate. He is often referred to as the “Father of the National Park System.” Through his writings he pushed for a federal forest conservation policy and is largely responsible for the establishment of both Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. As conservationists go, let’s just say that he was pretty important. So how did we get this artifact from him?

As you may have guessed, the Mrs. Logan mentioned on the catalog card was Mrs. Josephine Logan, the wife of Logan Museum founding patron Frank Logan. Josephine’s sister Fay was married to Alfred H. Sellers of Chicago. After Alfred’s retirement the couple moved to southern California. It turns out that they became close personal friends with John Muir and his family. Need photographic evidence? Look no further than this pic from the University of the Pacific’s Digital Collections.

Not only are both the Sellers and John Muir present in this photo, you can also see President Theodore Roosevelt. This image was taken a couple of weeks after TR left office in March of 1909. 

John Muir fielded three expeditions to Alaska in 1879, 1880, and 1890.  During his explorations he regularly interacted with native people, and it is very possible that this arrow-shaft polisher was collected during one of those trips. Muir then passed the piece on to Fay Sellers who in turn passed it on to the Logan Museum. Many artifacts in the Logan’s collection have traveled similarly long roads before arriving here. By uncovering their stories and learning their histories we bring objects back to life and help solve long-standing mysteries."