“A Silly Bauble”: Ferry Farm’s Sputnik Moment

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sixty years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, Earth’s first artificial satellite, into orbit.  It was an event with consequences, both great and small, that spanned the globe, even reaching Ferry Farm, once the boyhood home of George Washington, in Virginia. Today, we reshare this blog post about Ferry Farm’s Sputnik moment.

Sputniks and mutniks, flying through the air,
Sputniks and mutniks, flying everywhere,
It’s so ironic. Are they atomic?
Those funny missiles have got me scared.
-Lyrics from “Sputniks and Mutniks” by Ray Anderson and the Home Folks (1958)

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A replica of Sputnik at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia.

“Beep, Beep, Beep…” went the sinister telemetry signals from the Earth’s first artificial satellite.  Launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957 — 59 years ago today — those irritating beeps, which can be heard below, provided undeniable evidence of the successful launch. It occurred during the Cold War between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, and represented the dawn of the space age. Embedded within Sputnik were two radio transmitters that, using a single watt of power, broadcast a series of beeps received by radios and televisions all over the world. These beeping sounds frightened some, who mistrusted the technological breakthrough and its potential military applications.

 

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Uncle Sam is “Awake at Last” from his bed of complacency while Sputnik can be seen through the window hurtling across the sky transmitting it’s urgent ‘beep.’ Cartoon by Edwin Marcus. Credit: Library of Congress

Sputnik roused considerable political anxiety on the part the United States, a country determined to perfect satellite technology and to engage in cosmic exploration.  They underestimated the progress of the Soviet program. Today, in popular parlance, a “sputnik moment” refers to being spectacularly caught off guard by the unanticipated advancements of a rival. President Obama incorporated “Sputnik moment” in his 2011 State of the Union Address designed to encourage investment in research and technology.

At the height of the crisis in 1957, the Eisenhower administration referred to Sputnik as “…a silly bauble….” The satellite represented a rather modest accomplishment whose engineers prioritized being first in orbit over producing a sophisticated data-gathering tool. Recently, some scholars have suggested that the satellite was a bit of a ‘bluff’ to make the United States believe that the Soviet program was more sophisticated than it was.  Like many martial ‘bluffs,’ the impact was far-reaching and it exacerbated and escalated an already frigid Cold War.

About the size of a beach ball, Sputnik orbited less than 600 miles above earth. Each orbit lasted 96 minutes. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 as a response to this (perceived) technological “wake up” call. Nationally, efforts to strengthen primary school science education ensued and encouraged more students to seek technologically-oriented careers in service of a more robust space program.

In 2014, Ferry Farm archaeologists unearthed a tangible prize from this moment: a plastic toy “Sputnik” finger ring. Remember that Ferry Farm remained home to a variety of individuals and families in the centuries since the Washingtons lived there.  The flashy gold-colored ring, originally dispensed from a gumball machine, featured an idealized image of the satellite and the word “SPUTNIK.” It was no doubt cherished by its original owner, and envied by the prospective young space explorer’s friends.

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The Sputnik ring recovered archaeologically at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

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A 3D image of the Sputnik ring.

As an archaeologist, the find confused me: why would toys commemorating Soviet satellites exist in the United States?  Who would buy this celebratory object for their child? For goodness sake this land had once been Washington’s home, first president of the definitely-not communist United States. I foremost saw the object through a politico-military lens, rather than as a space-age wonder for all people.

In popular American culture of the late 1950s, the surprise of Sputnik frequently was one of delight rather than apprehension. For some, those cosmic beeps were inspirational, promising future space travel and technological progress. From this new age of cosmic exploration emerged songs, dance, theatre, literature, and graphic art.

A generation of young Americans, enthralled by science fiction adventures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, could not contain their excitement.  They were captivated by the real-life manifestation of their outer space fantasies. The launch excited children who dreamed of the day they might defend the earth against hostile invaders from space. Kids who spent their school days engaged in “duck and cover” drills ironically raced out to their back yard for a glimpse of the Soviet technology racing across the night sky.

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American child’s drawing of Sputnik by a female, aged 13, October 18, 1957. Crayon on paper. Credit: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (252L)

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American child’s drawing of Sputnik by a female, aged 13, October 16, 1957. Crayon on paper. Credit: Manuscript Division , Library of Congress (252h)

The satellite orbited the earth for three months, though its radio signals tactfully subsided after three weeks.  Sputnik’s orbit eroded 4 January 1958.  Its effects were as far reaching as they were long lasting.

The Sputnik launch garnered a diverse array of reactions nationally and internationally: pride, disquiet, excitement, imagination, and infinite inspiration. The rich variety of these responses led to the creation of a wide range of material culture – objects as small and inexpensive as a child’s toy ring and as massive an investment as the Kennedy Space Center. People created – and experienced – music, technology, literature, dance, and theatre that allowed them to understand this event in ways relevant to their own lives.   These responses reflect humankind’s desire to comprehend pivotal events that are beyond their control through personal agency.  Material culture – artifacts – gives us the capacity to participate in, to understand, and to ‘own,’ grand events that are larger than we are.

This was true in the past as well, as the assorted artifacts analyzed daily at Ferry Farm attest. Prehistoric ground stone tools were an astonishing advancement in their time: this technology allowed our ancestors to maximize the nutritional benefits of nuts, seeds, and grains, to fell trees that made dwellings more comfortable, and to toss spears farther and with greater force. Such scientific wonders no doubt inspired non-ground stone-producing peoples to invest in technological developments of their own.

Have a Sputnik moment! Let’s redefine the phrase to commemorate the boundless scientific and artistic creativity that the launch stimulated, rather than the political anxiety that emerged. Create a technologically- or arts-inspired marvel of your own! Don’t avoid sputnik moments… pursue them.  Show your support for World Space Week, which is held annually October 4-10. To learn more about this year’s events: http://www.worldspaceweek.org/

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Further Reading

Blair, Elizabeth
2007  “Sputnik in Space and Song.”  National Public Radio.  Accessed 15 September 2016. http://www.npr.org/temptates/story/story.php?storyId=14937486.

Blough, Glenn O.
1957  “Children, Put Away Your Sputniks.”  The Science Teacher 24(8):373-374.

Bonner, Thomas N.
1958  “Sputniks and the Educational Crisis in America.”  The Journal of Higher Education 29(4):177-184, 232.

Brandau, Daniel
2015  “Demarcations in the Void: Early Satellites and the Making of Outer Space.”  Historical Social Rsearch/Historische Sozialforschung 40(1[151]):239-264.

Cowen, Ron
2007  “Sputnik + 50: Remembering the Dawn of the Space Age.”  Science News 172(14):216-217, 221.

Kabakchi, V. V. and Charles Clay Doyle
1990  “Of Sputniks, Beatniks, and Nogoodniks.”  American Speech 65(3):275-278.

Launius, Roger D.
2009  “Abandoned in Place: Interpreting the U.S. Material Culture of the Moon Race.”  The Public Historian 31(3):9-38.

Moskowitz, Clara
2012  “How Sputnik Changed the World 55 Years Ago Today”.  Space.com. http://www.space.com/17894-sputnik-anniversary-changed-the-world.html.  Accessed 14 September 2016.

Osgood, Kenneth
2006  Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.

Starnes, Bobby Ann
2011 “Change, Sputnik, and Fast Food.”  The Phi Delta Kappan 92(7):72-73.

Usselman, Steven W.
2010  “From Sputnik to SCOT: The Historiography of American Technology.”  OAH Magazine of History 24(3):9-14.

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George’s Hometown: Masonic Lodge

As George Washington’s Ferry Farm prepares to celebrate the reconstruction of the Washington house, we traveled around George’s hometown – Fredericksburg, Virginia – to visit a few places important in the transformation of George from boy to man.

In 1753, 21-year-old George Washington became a Master Mason having joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg the year prior.  In his encyclopedia on all things George, Frank Grizzard concluded that “For Washington, joining the Masons was a rite of passage, a formal entry into respectable and genteel if not elite society.”  The boy who arrived at Ferry Farm at the age of 6 was now an upper class Virginia gentleman.

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The Masonic Lodge of Fredericksburg at the intersection of Princess Ann and Hanover Streets.

The Fredericksburg lodge formed in 1753, the year Washington joined.  Its current building (pictured) was built in 1816.

Join us at the Washington House Celebration on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. to celebrate the construction of the Washington house! A special ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. featuring notable speakers. After the ceremony, guests will be invited to view the reconstructed Washington house!

Ferry Farm opens to visitors at noon on Saturday, October 7.

PLEASE NOTE: PARKING for the event is off site at the VRE Fredericksburg Park and Ride Lot G at the corner of Prince Edward Street and Frederick Street. Buses will transport guests to and from Ferry Farm—traveling from the VRE lot to Ferry Farm on a regular schedule from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. Bus transportation will pause during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The last bus will depart Ferry Farm at 5:15 p.m. Limited handicap parking is available at Ferry Farm.

George’s Hometown: Julian’s Tavern

As George Washington’s Ferry Farm prepares to celebrate the reconstruction of the Washington house, we traveled around George’s hometown – Fredericksburg, Virginia – to visit a few places important in the transformation of George from boy to man.

Besides learning to survey and receiving his formal schooling, young George Washington also pursued an education in the social graces valued in gentry circles while a young man at Ferry Farm. These social graces included dancing, fencing, horseback riding, and gentlemen’s games like cards.  Card-playing was a popular pastime in the taverns that Washington frequented all across Virginia.

On one occasion – Christmas Eve 1769 – adult George passed the evening at Julian’s Tavern in Fredericksburg with Edward Jones, the overseer of Ferry Farm.  This tavern was located at the corner of present-day Amelia and Caroline Streets.

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You can ready more about when Washington returned to his hometown for Christmas in 1769 by clicking here.

Join us at the Washington House Celebration on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. to celebrate the construction of the Washington house! A special ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. featuring notable speakers. After the ceremony, guests will be invited to view the reconstructed Washington house! Parking for the event is off site at the VRE Fredericksburg Park and Ride Lot G at the corner of Prince Edward Street and Frederick Street. Limited handicap parking is available at Ferry Farm. Buses will transport guests to and from Ferry Farm. The Washington House Celebration is a free event and RSVPs are not required.

Video – Lecture: “The Rooms at Ferry Farm”

Furnishings posts logo finalOn Tuesday, September 19, 2017, Meghan Budinger, Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations at The George Washington Foundation, presented a lecture titled “The Rooms at Ferry Farm.” Meghan surveyed how we plan to furnish the reconstructed Washington house using traditional decorative arts scholarship but also adopted skills from genealogists, architectural historians, material cultural experts, scientists, and even investigative reporters. Meghan discussed how the Washington house and the effort to accurately furnish its rooms is a prime example of the synthesis of all of these vocations. The lecture was given at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library headquarters in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Join us at the Washington House Celebration on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m to celebrate the construction of the Washington house! A special ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. featuring notable speakers. After the ceremony, guests will be invited to view the reconstructed Washington house! Parking for the event is off site at the VRE Fredericksburg Park and Ride Lot G at the corner of Prince Edward Street and Frederick Street.  Limited handicap parking is available at Ferry Farm. Buses will transport guests to and from Ferry Farm. The Washington House Celebration is a free event and RSVPs are not required.

Learn more about the Washington House here and view other videos, photos, and blog posts about the project here.

George’s Hometown: St. George’s Church

As George Washington’s Ferry Farm prepares to celebrate the reconstruction of the Washington house, we traveled around George’s hometown – Fredericksburg, Virginia – to visit a few places important in the transformation of George from boy to man.

George Washington’s education as a boy at Ferry Farm included copying The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation to learn the correct etiquette and moral code of Virginia’s gentry class. By strictly following its advice, young Washington molded his character into that of a wealthy Virginia gentleman.  Unable to attend school in England after his father’s death, George possibly studied with the Rev. James Marye, rector of St. George’s Parish across the river in Fredericksburg.

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St. George’s Church built their first church building in the 1730s. The current church building (pictured) dates from 1849.

Join us at the Washington House Celebration on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. to celebrate the construction of the Washington house! A special ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. featuring notable speakers. After the ceremony, guests will be invited to view the reconstructed Washington house! Parking for the event is off site at the VRE Fredericksburg Park and Ride Lot G at the corner of Prince Edward Street and Frederick Street. Limited handicap parking is available at Ferry Farm. Buses will transport guests to and from Ferry Farm. The Washington House Celebration is a free event and RSVPs are not required.

 

How Many Curlers did a Harried Hairdresser Need? Let’s Do the Math!

After unearthing over 200 wig hair curlers from Washington’s Boyhood Home, we were in a position to do something that – to our knowledge – has never been done before: crossmend all those curler fragments. As a result, we can now predict the minimum number of curlers the Washington family’s harried hairdressers needed.

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Plate 1: A wig hair curler fresh from the excavation of the Washingtons’ task yard. Note the “WB” mark on its end, which we believe to be the Initials of its British manufacturer. Image courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth University/Bernard Means.

If you remember our blog post from way back in January 2015, these unglazed ceramic curlers were often used by wigmakers to create the curled styles of a wig’s coiffure during the making of a new peruke (Plate 1). We’ve also learned that hair stylists employed curlers to freshen the lagging curls upon an existing wig, after a gentleman had worn it out. How often a wig needed to be re-set depended upon the standards of the gentleman, and the activities and weather that he and his stylish coiffure encountered. Because curlers had to be heated to be effective, they were only used when wigs were safely removed from the gentleman’s head.

Before our crossmending could commence, the curlers had to be washed, cataloged, and labeled. Then, all of the labeled curler fragments could be compared and evaluated for crossmending. Previous analysis revealed that the assemblage included nine different sizes (Plate 2). Most of our curlers are smaller diameter, especially sizes one and two (for shorter hair/narrow width curls). Within each size, width and even length varied: they were not manufactured in a standardized way. This was the eighteenth century, after all.

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Plate 2: Representatives of the nine different curler sizes from Ferry Farm. These nine sizes were analytically imposed. They may not necessarily represent historically defined categories.

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Plate 3: There were three varieties of maker’s marks. A few curlers had no marks.

Most curlers had one of three varieties of maker’s marks (Plate 3). However, a handful exhibited no mark at all. It was within these subcategories that the cross mending began. And the results were surprising.

You’ve probably broken a glass or plate. They usually break into many pieces. In contrast, curlers tend to break into two fragments at their weakest point: near the center of the curler (Plate 4). With a single mend you can often get a complete or near complete specimen (Plate 5).

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Plate 4: Curlers tend to break into two fragments.

One of the primary goals of crossmending was to determine whether we had found all of the curlers used here during the mid-1700s, or just a portion of them. If we had found the entire assemblage, for example, our 194 curler fragments should result in 97 crossmended curlers. That is to say, they should all mend to another fragment. An example of a crossmend is shown in Plate 5.

Archaeologists refer to this process of mending fragmented remains of a larger item together as “crossmending.” Whether glass bottles. tablewares, ceramic vessels, or even the bones of animals, this process allows us to determine the minimum number of any given item in the recovered collection. For example, if after crossmending, you have three right hind cow legs and two left hind cow legs you know that were a minimum of three cows on site. This is a dramatic oversimplification, but you get the idea. This educated guess of the least number of specimens present is called the minimum number of individuals, or MNI.

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Plate 5: A typical curler crossmend from Ferry Farm. Two fragments mend to form a complete specimen. Often, these curlers break in the middle, as shown.

After weeks of dedicated crossmendingby steadfast interns, enthusiastic volunteers, and dedicated Foundation staff, a total of fifteen whole curlers were crossmended from thirty previously disparate fragments. When added to our impressive collection of complete curlers (n=20), a total of 35 complete curlers (20 complete, excavated curlers and an additional 15 formed from 30 mended fragments) make up the Ferry Farm assemblage.

Another exciting result of this exercise was that we now had two complete (mended) size one curlers and a mended size eight curler: previously these two respective sizes were only represented by disjointed fragments. Unfortunately, no mended size nine curlers were discovered. Size nine continues to be represented by fragments, and it is the only size from Ferry Farm for which we have no complete examples.

So what’s the minimum number of curlers that the Washingtons’ hairdresser used to curl their many wigs? Let’s do the math!

There are        164 molded curler fragments with no matches
+  1 hand made curler fragment
+20 whole (unbroken) molded curlers
+15 mended molded curlers (from 30 fragments)
                          (a minimum of) 200 curlers

Another informative aspect of crossmending is seeing from what areas of the site the mended curlers were found (Figure 1). As Figure 1 shows, a clear relationship between the work yard, where the majority of curlers were discovered and the Washington House can be seen. This adds additional evidence to our hypothesis that the majority of curling tasks took place in the eastern work yard and that finishing tasks associated with wigs (powdering, drying the washed, wet wig, and final elegant touches) took place in the parlor. The parlor has emerged as an area of wig hair maintenance, since eight curlers/curler fragments were recovered from the parlor room root cellar.

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Figure 1: This bird’s-eye view of the Washington house and surrounding yard shows where ten of the crossmended fragments mend to their respective mates. A ‘path’ between the work yard – where the majority of curlers were used – and the Parlor inside the house is evident.

While wearing wigs was highly fashionable among refined British colonial gentleman, little is known about how they were maintained, how often they were cleaned and set, and how these crucial activities were performed at the household level. The data recovered from Ferry Farm is providing new information and innovative analysis of this poorly understood, but essential hairdressing routine

All in all, a terrific exercise!

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Video – Lecture: “The Mother of the Father of Our Country”

On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, Laura Galke, archaeologist, small finds analyst and site director at The George Washington Foundation, presented a lecture titled “The Mother of the Father of Our Country.” Laura examined how historical documents and newly-unearthed artifacts indicate that Mary Washington, George’s mother, faced challenges, governed her home, and managed the family’s plantations with a skill and determination that recent biographers have not appreciated. Laura explored how the Washingtons’ investments in attire, furnishings, and landscape modification reflect their strategy for overcoming setbacks and exhibiting British colonial refinement.  The lecture was given at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library headquarters in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Join us at the Washington House Celebration on Saturday, October 7, 2017 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m to celebrate the construction of the Washington house! A special ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. featuring notable speakers. After the ceremony, guests will be invited to view the reconstructed Washington house! Parking for the event is off site at the VRE Fredericksburg Park and Ride Lot G at the corner of Prince Edward Street and Frederick Street.  Limited handicap parking is available at Ferry Farm. Buses will transport guests to and from Ferry Farm. The Washington House Celebration is a free event and RSVPs are not required.

Learn more about the Washington House here and view other videos, photos, and blog posts about the project here.