Please tell us about yourself.
Hometown: Lincolnton, NC
Education: North Carolina State University, History major and Social Studies Education minor
Position: Cultural Resource Manager
Where you’ll find her: At the Museum Resource Center located at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Other national parks you’ve worked at: Vicksburg National Military Park
What exactly is the Museum Resource Center?
The Museum Resource Center is a collections storage facility where we house museum collections for all three Outer Banks Group parks, as well as Cape Lookout National Seashore. The collections include archives and objects that are not on display in our visitor centers or on loan to other institutions.
It’s also a research facility for the general public and the staff to use – we average a dozen or so researchers each year who have a variety of interests. For example, we had a graduate student from East Carolina University recently who was writing her thesis on the history of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. She made numerous visits to research our early establishment records from the seashore collection. Then we had a researcher here just last week who was interested in the history of the original gateposts at Fort Raleigh that were moved to downtown Manteo in the 1960s.
A little known fact about the National Park Service is just how large the agency’s museum collection is – with 417 National Park Service sites around the country, it is the largest museum system in the world. There are over 128 million objects and archives cared for by America’s national park employees. We have about 25,000 objects in our collections for Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and Wright Brothers National Memorial. If you include documents in the archives, that number increases to about 1 million total objects and archives in the collections.
What is your favorite thing about working in your position at the parks?
I have been working in the cultural resources division for 8 years, two years as Archives Technician and six years as Cultural Resource Manager. The best part about working in this job is that I get to work with all three parks that are all so different—my job never gets boring! It is rewarding to play a part in preserving our cultural resources for future generations to enjoy. Caring for the museum objects in the collection on a daily basis is a favorite activity. We have some cool objects in the collection that range from 19th century lifesaving medals in the Cape Hatteras collection, to a Native American copper necklace in the Fort Raleigh collection, to tools used by the Wright Brothers. What a privilege it is to actually hold these historic objects in your hand… with gloves of course!
What inspired you to follow this career path?
I have a very special memory that inspired my love of history and historic objects. Back in 1976 there was a traveling exhibit called the Freedom Train that celebrated America’s Bicentennial. The train had historic artifacts on board and traveled across the country making stops along the way to bring American history to the people. The train came through North Carolina and I was able to go see the exhibit. You stepped on board onto a moving sidewalk that conveyed you past things like Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat that he was wearing when he was assassinated, Judy Garland’s dress from the Wizard of Oz, and Joe Frazier’s boxing shorts. I was just hooked! I was fascinated by these historical objects. I even kept my ticket stub, so I guess that was a sign of things to come!
My passion for history grew when I visited the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. and sites such as Monticello, Mount Vernon, and Colonial Williamsburg. Visiting sites where history happened was fascinating to me. I also distinctly remember my 8th grade social studies teacher showing us the Roots mini-series and the musical 1776 in the classroom. Those events from my youth were instrumental in making the choice to work in this field.
I knew early on that I wanted to work in a museum setting or at a historic site. My first job in history was actually at a state historic site here in Manteo – at the time it was the Elizabeth II State Historic Site which is now Roanoke Island Festival Park. I was an interpreter there and had the opportunity to sail on the Elizabeth II. After my husband and I moved to northeastern Louisiana for his job, I had the opportunity to work for the National Park Service at Vicksburg National Military Park.
What is your favorite memory working as Cultural Resource Manager?
I had the opportunity to go to the commissioning ceremony of the USCGC Benjamin Dailey in Pascagoula, Mississippi in 2017. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter is named after Benjamin Dailey who was a keeper at the Hatteras Lifesaving Station. He and his crew received the Gold Life Saving Medal (see photo) for the rescue of the crew of the Ephraim Williams in 1884 and the medal is part of our collection here. I hand carried the medal down to the event and it was so rewarding to be there and meet Benjamin Dailey’s descendants from all over the country. They were so pleased that someone from the National Park Service was there with the medal and that they could see it in person—it was an honor to be included in that ceremony.
If you’re interested in visiting the Museum Resource Center, it is open and available for use to the public by appointment. Contact Jami at 252-475-9021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.