Celebrating York County history . . . and learning things along the way with the Anna Bemis Palmer Archives

YORK – It’s been a true labor of love inside the walls of the Anna Bemis Palmer Archives and Classroom building in downtown York.

Inside those walls, Carrie Remmers and volunteer Sue Leif have been hard at work, going through many boxes holding the museum’s collection. And along the way, they started to find so many military-related items the first public display suddenly became evident.

“We have been going through all the boxes, cataloging everything, for months,” Remmers said. “We started finding more and more war-time items and decided this should be our grand opening collection.”

The main floor of the archives building currently holds the emerging exhibit called “America At War.” Sure, there are sticky notes here and there and framing work remains underway. But on Saturday, Oct. 28, the display will be complete and the grand opening to the public will start at 9 a.m. The opening event will last until noon, but the archival display will be open Tuesdays through Fridays (after the grand opening), between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plus, interested groups can make appointments for special private events if they want.

The amount of work that has gone on, since the museum’s artifacts were moved from the community center to its new location, has been astounding to say the least.

“Box by box, we just kept going through everything and we have done a lot of research,” Remmers said. “Really, every day around here is like Christmas.”

Leif agreed. She has been volunteering in this effort for quite some time, bringing her eye for design and unfaltering dedication to the table.

“There are days we just can’t believe what we just found,” Leif said.

Remmers said it just made sense to have the military theme for the grand opening, as it is the 125th anniversary of the Spanish American War and Anna Bemis Palmer’s two husbands were war veterans – thereby many of the artifacts were donated by her when the museum collection was first started.

And the majority of items in the collection are from local families, commemorating their loved ones’ service.

From the front door to the back room, the beautiful display brings to life the reality of history – world history and the history of York County, starting with the Civil War and ending with the Korean War, with all the other conflicts in between.

Remmers has spent so much time with the artifacts and so many hours in research, she is able to eloquently explain the details of every piece. It is truly remarkable how knowledgeable she’s become.

She explains how R.E. Cutler, Anna Bemis Palmer’s first husband, was a Civil War veteran who served in the Union Army. He moved to Nebraska after his service and married Bemis in 1920. He passed away in 1935. Many pieces are his, including photos and mementos from the Grand Army of the Republic.

One special piece is the newspaper declaring Grant’s last battle – Remmers notes how the specially framed front page was printed on wallpaper because there was a paper ration at the time.

There are so many Civil War items, including swords from both the Union and Confederate Armies, as well as a drum that was actually played at Gettysburg. There is an entire section dedicated to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, with rare pieces to be treasured.

Next are artifacts from the Spanish American War. Remmers talks of how Orlando Gray Palmer, Anna’s second husband, was a Rough Rider, so there are many Rough Rider items.

During the search through artifacts, Remmers came across a beautiful photo album. The photos are small and very old – but she had them blown up into large photographs which were reproduced with perfection. They are in a special display everyone will want to spend time with.

Palmer’s signed papers are there as well as two letters he received from Teddy Roosevelt who was a good friend of his.

Both Remmers and Leif said having themed displays that change out every so many months “will give all the items a chance to truly tell their stories and be appreciated.”

The space for World War I includes many local scrapbooks and photos, presidential certificates, helmets and well-preserved military uniforms.

A very special area includes an old, well-worn trunk once owned by a young man named Private Joseph McCarthy. The sad story, Remmers said, is how McCarthy arrived in York on the Orphan Train and was eventually cared for by the McCarthy family in York. The young man died in World War I, but his trunk was returned to the McCarthy family – and astonishingly, when the lid is opened, his photographs are still hanging there as if they were just placed.

World War II is well chronicled and there is a space dedicated to the women who served. There are uniforms worn by those ladies, as well as a Red Cross uniform worn by a woman who worked at the Fairmont Air Base.

There is a beautiful display of war bond posters and uniforms worn by locals, Hub Foster and George Zavodny. There is also beautiful photography taken by Zavodny during his service.

The Korean War area finishes the route through the building. But there are so many items and so many details, it’s likely attendees of the grand opening will probably go back through at least one more time, if not several.

“It has been such a special journey,” Remmers said. “These items are well-preserved and we intend to continue that preservation.”

Special lighting was installed and particular tinting/window covering was carefully added – to make sure the conditions are just right.

Also purchased were archival containers, so when a display is dismantled to make way for the next, they can be carefully stored and remain cataloged.

Remmers said she will be available to answer questions during the grand opening, while attendees will be able to look at their leisure as well.

The museum collection also has a new website – palmermuseum.com – where interested folks can go for more information.

“We are super excited for the public to see this first display,” Remmers said, while continually thanking Leif for “coming back day after day while we took on this task. It’s been quite a journey and now York County history can really be appreciated. We really just want everyone to celebrate York County’s history and learn some things along the way.”

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