Science Library Update


Things are continuing to move along for the soon to be MMA Research Center formerly the Science Library. We have our demo permit from the Town but we are not really demolishing anything. We needed this permit in order to take down the circa 1992 plywood walls in the basement and the old ceiling tile system in the basement that covered the framing and joists. Now, you can see the wonderful nineteenth century framing and joist system! This is thanks to the hard work of carpenter Matt Anderson and his assistant Amos.

You may or not be familiar with the fact that the MMA’s administrative offices were once housed in the basement of the Library. When the old ca. 1950s Terrace Cottage was removed and the new Drake Cottage built, the administrative offices moved above ground, relocating to Drake.

On the back of one of the plywood boards that was removed, we found the note you see in one of the images by island carpenter, Paul Michetti, who noted the date and the weather when he installed the wall that helped to create two small office spaces in the basement of the Library. This is something that many island builders and carpenters just don’t do anymore. We did this at Mitchell House when we sistered in a small piece to the sill – noting the date and who was there. It’s a tradition – and also shows the next people to come along what was done and when and by whom. Plywood

Another thing you don’t see much at all anymore here on island is the gift to the tree gods and Mother Earth. When I was a child, once a house was framed and sheathed in plywood, the carpenters wood cut a live branch or very small tree and attach it for a time to the highest gable end of the building – acknowledging and thanking Mother Earth and the tree gods for supplying the wood that is building the house. I would assume it also acted as a blessing. Now everyone throws houses up so quickly that the time and love and respect for where that wood came from seems to be lost. I am happy to note that someone recently acknowledged the tree gods and Mother Earth at the barn-like structure that is going up on Prospect Street. I would like to see people make a return to this – expressing their gratitude.

old coal bin

Much of this plywood I mentioned above, and even the door, will be re-used for the work we are doing. This basement area will be collections storage – as it has been to some extent all these years – even with the administrative offices once sharing the space.


Science Library/MMA Research Center Update

Skip and Jon jrThings on the interior of our soon to be Research Center (formerly known as the MMA Science Library) are beginning to move along.  Currently, Vollans Electric is completing work on one phase which concerns installing electrical outlets into the 1933 stucco Wing.  This portion of the building needs only a very small amount of work – basically the plugs (there are only currently six total outlets; keep in mind the Wing was built in 1933), cleaning and coating the floors, and painting the walls and ceiling on the main floor.  The main floor of the Wing will continue to play host to office space and books of course!  But with an extra desk or two, we need a few more plugs.  And given the way the Wing is constructed, all the wiring needs to be on the exterior of the wall – as the six outlets currently are.

We are also working on our code and handicapped accessibility with island architect Mickey Rowland and engineer Jim Badera.  We have had an initial meeting with the Building Department and  Jascin Leonardo Finger has created an application packet for the Historic District Commission for the building to receive a historic building designation.  Seems a little odd since it is a historic building but the Town needs to approve this which will then allow the MMA to apply for variances to protect the historic fabric of the building.

So, things are beginning to move along on the inside.  We are still raising some last reminaing funds – please let us know if you would like to make a contribution! – and all of the contractors are on board.  We are planning out the timeline and the delicate art of all of them coming and going.  We hope work to begin in earnest soon after the New Year begins so stay tuned!


Edith: My Friend and Mentor (October 29, 1915 to October 31, 2015)

Edith Banding at Mothball Pines.Every time I see a Yellow-rumped Warbler, I hear Edith say, “I call them Butter butts.”  I don’t think I ever look at one and don’t hear her say that.  I don’t think I will ever not hear her say that until I don’t see one anymore.

I was probably nine or ten when I first met her.  My parents took my brother and I on a Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) nature walk.  I think there were probably some groans from the adults who saw two children coming along – little did they know how enthusiastic we were about this walk.  Clint was there as well and my brother made some discovery that got a very excited response from Clint, a quiet and shy man.

I quite literally learned at her knee as she sat in the old black rocker in the Mitchell House.  I was twelve, she was in her early seventies.  What people tend to forget, or simply don’t know is that Edith Folger Andrews began her MMA career in the Mitchell House, as an assistant to the curator; herself working with Maria Mitchell’s cousins.  That unique touch – that connection to the family is what I grew up with learning from Edith when I first began volunteering in the Mitchell House at age twelve.  Over time, Edith became curator and served for many, many years and at several different times as curator – into 1980.  She knew about the Mitchells and the House inside and out.

Yes, ornithology is more than most certainly her life, her passion, but she was also passionate about the Mitchells and the MMA.  The MMA owes a great debt to her as she is largely responsible for much of the ornithological collection we have today.  In the early 2000s, the MMA named the bird collection in her honor.  Edith collected the birds (found dead) on her own or from others, cleaned them, stuffed them, and preserved them.  Her name is on many of the tags as the person who prepared them.  She also trained others to prepare bird specimens.  She was of course heavily involved in the Natural Science department – always a part of the work and research that was ongoing.  And Clint was also heavily involved – helping with others to start the MMA Aquarium.  Her life was very much about those two things – and her family; her husband, Clint; her daughter, Ginger; and all the birds, dogs, Barn Owls, auks, owls, and other animals that had the good fortune of being a part of her life.

I always knew Edith in connection to the Mitchell House.  After all, that is my world.  It was not until maybe four or five years ago that I became more involved in the bird world of Edith Folger Andrews.  She and Ginger asked if I would help to organize and compile Edith’s journals – written in composition books, to small little purse sized day planners, to scribbles on an envelope if that’s all she had with her when she saw something.  For several hours a week, we organized together, found all sorts of treasures, and dug through wonderful photographs.  I typed up journal entries, Edith reading many of them to me aloud, took dictation about certain birding events, and learned all about the Reef Heron, Rocket, and of course dear, sweet Owlbert.  I quickly learned her short-hand for different birds and got better about my own amateur birding – it helps that when you get a name or bird identification wrong the ornithologist yells at you – not meanly of course!  We birded from the living room, sitting in front of the sliders looking at the feeders.  Those feeders that have fed birds for over sixty years I believe.  The mulberry tree where I finally got to compare a Hairy to a Downy woodpecker as they sat there together on the same tree, a Flicker there for good measure.  I learned more about birds during those several hours a week over those few years than I could have imagined.  I also learned more about Edith, her life in her younger years, all sorts of great stories about the old days at MMA, and some of the other things that made her tick like mallomars – which we laughed about one day when we realized they were actually older than her!  My Mom and I even learned how to help a hummingbird to recover from cold when we found one one day in the driveway, lying in the gravel.  Edith told me, “X and I used to put them between our bosoms to keep them warm!”  My Mom and I just looked at one another.  We chose the other option Edith gave us – a brown paper bag under a lamp.

This is not an easy post to write, and it’s a bit rambling.  There is so much I would like to say about Edith.  One thing is for sure though; she had a good and very long life that was very active almost to the end – very much like Maria Mitchell herself.

Thank you, Edith for everything you have given to all of us with brain, with heart, with hand.  You have left a tremendous legacy and a path to follow.  I love you.


The step, however small, which is in advance of the world, shows the greatness of the person, whether that step be taken with brain, with heart, or with hands.    – Maria Mitchell

If you would like to learn more about Edith, you should read her book: Excerpts from a Nantucket Journal.

– See more at:

Carolina Wolf Spiders

There are some large spiders roaming around Nantucket right now, specifically, Carolina wolf spiders (Hogna carolinensis).  Not to worry though, they are harmless.

This is the largest spider species in New England with some individuals bigger than the palm of your hand.  They run around at night hunting insects and then hang out in their burrows during the day time.  Happening upon their burrows is the easiest way to find a population.  Look for perfectly round holes surrounded by a ‘turret’ of grass or sticks.

The pictures of the burrows were taken in November 2015 at the Quaker Cemetery.  Interestingly, there is a Carolina wolf spider specimen in the MMA biological collection dating from 1929 collected from “the fields near Vestal St”.  The spiders living at the cemetery are probably descendants of the population sampled in 1929!

This spider was about 1 inch long.

This spider was about 1 inch long.




This individual was found in the middle moors.

This individual was found in the middle moors.






A Special Thanks to Our Community Service Campers and Partners!

GreenGuardians_2This summer, in addition to our traditional Discovery Camp and Naturalist Leadership Program options, MMA also offered community service camps for 10 – 12 year olds and 13 – 16 year olds.  In these camps, participants had the opportunity to gain service hours needed for school, scout, and honor society requirements while exploring Nantucket and learning about the importance of land conservation.  Campers spentan hour or two in the morning completing a community service project and then would enjoy fun summer activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, geocaching, and more in the afternoons. 

For many years, our campers have enjoyed exploring the diverse properties of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the Nantucket Islands Land Bank (NILB) and so this was an opportunity for us to give back a little and provide opportunities for our campers to learn more about our partners as well.  We were able to launch this program with the help and support of NCF and NILB and for that we are most grateful.  As it turned out, we were able to help a number of other community partners including the Nantucket Food Pantry, Safe Harbor for Animals, the Nantucket Community Garden, and the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church.  I am so proud of all of our instructors and campers and the inspiring projects they completed throughout the summer which include:

Trail maintenance
Invasive species removal
Shorebird enclosure removal
Beach Clean-ups

Beach clean-ups
Roadside litter removal

Community Garden/Food Pantry
Weeded two garden plots
Harvested and delivered vegetables for the Food Pantry

UU Church
Made up-cycled bags from old t-shirts as part of their program to help the food pantry

Safe Harbor for Animals
Painted canvasses for their art show to educate the community about the humane treatment of animals

To raise awareness about this effort, with help from the MMA’s Aquarium staff, campers also began building a large shark with scales made from cans collected around Nantucket.  After this art project is completed in 2016, it will become an exhibit at the MMA  Aquarium and there is still time for you or your child to be a part of it.  We hope you will join us next summer as we continue to pay it forward in the Nantucket community.  

What a Great Summer Season!

water safteyIt is that time of year again. The summer madness is coming to an end and our little island is getting ready for a much quieter fall.  The Maria Mitchell Association has especially had a wonderful summer season.  We brought Dogfish sharks to the Aquarium, added extra camp programs, introduced a new executive director, introduced the Speaker Series every week in August and September, completed the conservation of the Library exterior, hosted the Nantucket Red-Tie Soirée, and overall promoted the legacy of Maria Mitchell through exploration, education, and enjoyment of Nantucket.  We have definitely been busy! 

None of our growth or progress would be possible if it were not for our amazing interns.  After receiving hundreds of applications for the varied internship positions, we accepted thirty-two interns, including the REU Astronomy students, and welcomed them to Nantucket.  You might have seen them helping to run our museums, leading camp programs, providing you with a tour of the night sky, or out in the field collecting data. 

We would like to take this time to thank: Allie Bono, Christopher Coomey, Jordan McHugh, Julia Texiera, Tali Brennan, Sacha Pfevfer, Molly McDermott, Erik Lokensgard, Allison Gayo, Catherine Bradley, Brian Chesnut, Erin Downing, Ali Swan, Ben Loiselle, Caprice Phillips, Lily Evanston, Elisabeth Sorrows, Kim Mulvehill, Andrew Baik, Patrick Drew, John Weaver, Madison Smith, Missy McIntosh, Natalie Frendberg, Rayna Rampalli, Brendon Donoghue, Christine Seibert, Issac Hersh, Lauren O’Brien, Ken McCormack, Seth Englebourg, and Lizzie Apala. We would not have been able to make this summer at the MMA so special without them.

Learn how you can become a summer intern with us here.

Science In Action- See for yourself

The Natural Science Museum was redesigned this last winter and one of the rooms was re configured to be a working lab space.  In many ways it is a tiny version of the Ecology Lab and Collections Facility that is being built in the old Science Library.Visitors learning about research in the ecology lab

We have gotten more use out of this lab space than expected and museum visitors have had enriching interactions with the students and researchers.

Andrew McCandless, a PhD candidate at Portland State University, has been sorting creatures collected from eelgrass. He has assistance from two local high school students.

In another project, two students are learning spider identification and will begin assisting with sorting spiders from the MMA’s spider collection.

Maria Mitchell intern and volunteer working on spider identificationStudetns and researchers working in the ecology lab.

Maria Mitchell’s Birthday Party

Untitled-1August 1st marks the 197th birthday of Maria Mitchell, who was born at 1 Vestal Street in 1818.  To celebrate her life and legacy, the Maria Mitchell Association invites the public to an afternoon full of free activities and refreshments on Friday July 31st.  The MMA campus on Vestal Street will be free to the public from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  Children’s activities will be offered throughout the afternoon including: face painting, tours, nature and astronomy-themed games and activities, and even insect races! 

Maria Mitchell was the first Mitchell child born at 1 Vestal St., the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, the first woman to receive a gold medal from the King of Denmark for discovering a comet, one of the first women to work for the U.S. government, and the first woman to gain access to the Vatican’s Observatory.  Of course, she was also the first female astronomer in the U.S.,-best known for her discovery of a comet named Comet Mitchell and her service as the first female professor of Astronomy in the U.S. at Vassar College.  The MMA was founded in 1902 to promote and celebrate Mitchell’s legacy of learning-by-doing, women in education, and education sciences.