Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

May 11, 1853. I could not help thinking of Esther a few evenings since when I was observing. A meteor flashed upon me suddenly, very bright, very short-lived; it seemed to me that it was sent for me especially, for it greeted me almost the first instant I looked up, and was gone in a second – it was as fleeting and as beautiful as the smile upon Esther’s face the last time I saw her . . . my faith has been weaker than ever since she died, and my fears have been greater.

Have you ever looked up at the stars and felt as if you were the only person in the world? Or, when you saw a meteor streak across the sky, and maybe gasped to yourself as it was so sudden, so fleeting, and felt like you were the only one who probably saw it? And, that it was as if some higher power somewhere was acknowledging you or giving you this beautiful though fleeting gift?

I understand what Maria means in reference to her cousin, Esther, who had recently died. A beautiful vivid flash – instantly there but instantly gone. You barely have time to grab on and then that person is gone. You think you have all the time but you don’t. Made harder by losing people who are young – who barely get to show who they are, what they are made of, what they can do, what changes they can make, what things they can discover, who they can help.


Cabinets Anyone?

They are here! Thanks to Cape Cod Express which stored them for several months at a very large discount – thank you again CC Express! – our cabinets were finally able to arrive on Monday the 23rd of April!


These are all state-of-the-art collections cabinets for our herbarium, insects, birds, and other biological collections. We will be able to use our bird cabinets that were purchased with grants and fundraisers about ten years ago but the other cabinets are too old (ca. 1930) and not up to “snuff” by today’s standards to make the move to the Research Center. The cabinets are beautiful – made by Delta Designs.

And we need to thank or moving crew – Curran Huyser and the men of Your Friend With a Truck!


(My) Tulip Thief

That was a long winter. Typically, I don’t complain but it was not nice weather-wise. And the cold and the wind – couldn’t Mother Nature have given us some more snow to at least enjoy – and break out that new sled we got my son – a “big boy sled.”

In any case, I have been watching the tulips I planted last fall in front of the Mitchell House. They started to break ground, then it got cold, then they came up a little more, then the bunnies got to them. (We now have THREE bunnies at Mitchell House. Imagine how many babies we will have! ARGH!)

I’ve been watching and watching these tulips as their leaves twisted, were eaten, snapped at by cold, flurries, and frost. And then, they started to grow more, and to show buds, and color! Is spring REALLY here?

And then the other night, a thief came! I had not even gotten down to Mitchell House yet when our Executive Director stopped me and said he had a, “What would Jascin do moment.” Not sure if I should be honored. But, needless to say from out of his window after dinner he spied a young man on his bicycle, bending over the Mitchell House fence, snipping away at the tulips! He raced downstairs in his pajamas and politely confronted the thief. The thief was embarrassed, taken aback, and was told to, “Drop the tulips!” – well, not exactly. He was told to leave them and then politely told that the MMA pays for those tulips and the work that goes into gardening. The thief left sheepishly.

The next day, I was in the Mitchell House with the front door open doing my annual mildew cleaning of the front sitting room ceiling when I heard someone at the door trying to open the locked screen. I got off my scaffold and found a young man at the door who I did not completely recognize at first. Then he said my name and I knew who it was. With him, he had a bag with three pots of tulips. “You’re my thief!?” I exclaimed. He replied, “They were just so pretty that I couldn’t resist. I just wanted them.” This thief is a former student of mine – way back from when in addition to the MMA, I also was a teacher. He is one of those students who could be trying at times, always pushing the edge, always finding something to get himself into trouble, but one that you will forever have a soft spot for. I hugged him. Yelled at him. Told him he only had to ask first, and then told him the names of his stolen items – Viricic and Beauty of Spring tulips from the Colorblends Company. And then gave him heck because I told him about the bunnies. I cannot be mad at him – he has a soft spot for gardens and flowers so I will take my choice of tulips – and my Mother’s – as a compliment.

(I’m thinking if further time is needed, he can come help me weed this summer.)


Seal of Approval!

When he is thirteen years old, hanging out with Mom while she builds microscope chairs (or some other facilities or museum related activity) might not be too fun or exciting anymore. But for a four-year-old? Testing the new microscope station chairs for the Research Center proved exciting. Trying to help Mommy build them? Maybe not so easy – but sure fun to pop the bubble wrap. He, of course, needed a lift up – but he says, “Good to go for the new Research Center!”


Thank You!

The MMA owes a big thank you to all the people who have completed the work on making the Science Library a research center for future generations of Nantucketers and visitors alike.

Greg Maskell Landscaping Matt Anderson Carpentry

Kevin Wiggin HVAC Jim Tyler and Crew, Painting

Island Gas and Christian Yates Milton Rowland Architects

Jim Badera and Badera Engineering Kevin O’Keefe, volunteering

Mike Freedman and Crew, Cabinetmaker Pen Austin, Masonry and Paint Coatings

Jon Vollans and Vollans Electric Marden Plumbing

Wayne Morris, Mason Evita Caune, basement floor refinishing

Pioneer Cleaning, cleaning and waxing floors David Ryan

Delta Designs Ltd. Toscana Corporation

Ellis and Schneider Electrical Wayne Alarm

John Wathne and Structures-North Jim Johannes

Rich Sileo and landmark Facilities Group Andre Perry and KAM Appliances

Curran Huyser and Your Friend With A Truck Marine Home Center

Budget Blinds Jonathan Miles Window Cleaning

Cape Cod Express Julia Blyth

PSA Laboratory Furniture Eric Finger and Finger Boatworks

Cape Cod Air Grilles

If I forgot someone, I do apologize!

And a thank you, of course, to our donors – that group of special people to be listed soon.


And We Have Our Research Center C.O.

Otherwise known as Certificate of Occupancy – from the Town!

Our Research Center passed its inspection with the Town and now we are in the midst of cleaning, installing blinds, washing windows, and moving things around. We await moving the collections in and new collections cabinets to arrive. This summer, we will be up and running and there will be plenty of opportunities to take a peek. You will find that the “renovation” was very light – taking into account the historic nature of the building and its historic fabric. Once William Mitchell’s schoolhouse, it lived on Howard Street and after he sold it, it actually followed him to Vestal Street where it continued as a school, including for the Town as the West Introductory School.

When the MMA was given the building in 1919, it was picked up and moved less than 100 feet to sit where it does now. It opened as the MMA Science Library in the early 1920s. The stucco Wing was added in 1933.

We have gone to great lengths to preserve the exterior and interior of the building while making minor alterations for an accessible bathroom and accessible pathway, a laboratory-like space which has counters and a sink built into the existing library shelving, and a new state-of-the-art HVAC system for the collections’ protection. I think anyone familiar with the interior of the building will note that it has not changed much. But, with new coats of paint, some updated furniture for students and researchers, we are on our way to a better space in which the MMA can conduct its research, store its historic biological collections, and welcome students and researchers alike to learn about the unique environment of Nantucket – from the land to the water to the skies above.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

April, 1878. I called on Prof. Henry at the Smithsonian Institute. He must be in his 80th year. He has been ill and seems feeble but is still the majestic old man, unbent in figure and undimmed in eye. I always remember when I see him, the speech of Miss Dix, “He is the true-est man that ever lived.

In Washington, D.C. for a meeting of the officers of the Women’s Congress – the Association for the Advancement of Women meetings ̶ Maria stopped by to visit a friend and something of a mentor, Professor Joseph Henry. A physicist and professor, Henry was the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. His feebleness was telling – Henry would die about a month after Maria’s visit with him in May 1878. Henry was friendly with William Mitchell as well – they all ran in the same circles so to speak – and Henry came to Maria’s support/aid several times including when she wanted to take a leave of absence from the U. S. Nautical Almanac during her European trip. Those calculations for the Almanac were tedious and trying to complete them and travel was not going to be easy. When she asked for a leave from the work, the Almanac refused and Henry wrote a letter to support her year or so leave. I think the Almanac was just afraid to lose Maria completely. She would only resign several years into her professorship at Vassar – once she was sure that she was settled into the job completely.


Looking Good at 200


Every year is a special and important year at the MMA. But this year, even more so. Maria Mitchell turns 200!

We will be hosting an extensive array of activities from special lectures to a bigger birthday, a symposium, pop-up science events around Town, and a whole host of other activities. I will post about them periodically but to get you excited, take a listen to the radio segment of the MMA’s Executive Director, David Gagnon, and myself – recorded March 21, 2018. And check out the website and our calendar for all of the events. Next up, the MMA’s astronomer, Regina Jorgenson, Ph.D., will present a four-part lecture series on the planets at the Nantucket Atheneum – and its free!


And Now We Await Our Inspection . . .

Well, it looks as if we are pretty much finished with the Research Center! We have some minor items, including cleaning (by the MMA staff), window washing, and the installation of the blinds, but we await our final inspection by the Town now. So let us hope! Then, will come moving in all the collections – including the former circulating collection of books which went off for something of a cleaning and then await me to vacuum each and every book as I re-shelve them. Takes me back a few years to when I cleaned the Special Collection books – with the help of some Mitchell House interns in summer – but this will be just vacuuming ̶ I don’t have to brush and sponge! Yeah!

So stay tuned. I know the Natural Science Department has some special collections open houses that will be free and no reservations necessary to members and non-members alike so take the opportunity to see the newly spruced up space this summer!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

March {1857} I found from Nantucket to Chicago more attention than I desired. I had a short seat in one of the cars, through the night. I did not think it large enough for two, and so coiled myself up and went to sleep. There were men standing all around. Once one of them came along and said something about there being room for him on my seat. Another man said, “she’s asleep, don’t disturb her.” I was too selfish to offer the other half of a short seat, and too tired to reason about the man’s being, possibly, more tired than I. . . .One peculiarity in travelling from East to West is, that you lose the old men . . .

My first image is Maria, bonnet on, long skirts and high-top shoes and petticoats and slips beneath with her legs tucked up under her on this train car seat. That’s what I do on the steamship! In my jeans, coat, comfortable sweater, sneakers . . .But the image doesn’t work for a woman of the nineteenth century. Though she is later offered a window seat so that she can prop herself up to sleep which makes me think she really was reclining to some degree. Perhaps the men in the car didn’t think it appropriate! It was not for the time – but I could see Maria not caring because she wanted to be comfortable and, “Darn It!,” she was tired!

I close with her comment about old men – think about all those books you have read about the “wild west” and the likely not accurate movies, not many old men, for several reasons.