Behind Closed Doors: What Can You Find at the Onondaga Historical Association? What's in Storage at the Onondaga Historical Association

CURRAN CAMPBELL: The Onondaga Historical Association has 2 floors of exhibits showcasing the rich history of Onondaga County. With exhibits showcasing the history of technology, clothing, and Native Americans in the region. All under the direction of OHA Curator Robert Searing.

ROBERT SEARING: I’m like a kid in a candy store, I could just play around all the time.

CAMPBELL: While of course the museum regularly displays two floors of exhibits, perhaps the 2 most interesting things that the curator showed me today are not on display, and what they are might surprise you.

SEARING: Some people are disgusted by it, some people are mortified by it, and most people simply can’t believe that I have this thing in my office. But either way, it’s amazing.

CAMPBELL: Searing is talking about the Hairy Eagle, which actually contains hair from one of the most well-known figures in all of American History.

SEARING: The Hairy Eagle contains human hair, including the head of the eagle, rather appropriately, is the hair of the martyred president Abraham Lincoln.

CAMPBELL: But why human hair? Searing explained the connection that Victorian America had with human hair, and why art was being created with it.

SEARING: The deal is that Victorians were strange people and mortality was something that they wrestled with. Death was a much more omnipresent part of their lives than it is for us luckily. And one of the things they did was they used hair as mementos.

CAMPBELL: The second piece Searing showed off was a Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass, with the size of the piece being much larger than many others of the time period. That piece will be sent to the National Portrait Gallery for a year, as the main showcase on a new exhibit at the Smithsonian. Curran Campbell, NCC News.

Syracuse, N.Y. (NCC News) — Robert Searing has been the curator at the Onondaga Historical Association for five and a half years, and he says that working at the OHA is like being a kid in a candy store.

And while there are two floors of exhibits at the museum, showcasing the area’s history of technology, clothing, politics, and more, what may be more surprising is what lies in storage on the three floors of the facility not on display to the public.

Perhaps none of the artifacts in the entire facility are more intriguing than the Hairy Eagle, which was created in the 19th century, and made from the hair of members of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, as well as the nation’s 16th president himself.

Some people are disgusted by it, some people are mortified by it, and most people simply can’t believe that I have this thing in my office,” said Searing. “But either way, it’s amazing.”

While the Hairy Eagle may be the most peculiar piece in the museum’s collection, another piece that Searing showed off is actually heading to the National Portrait Gallery with the Smithsonian Institution.

And that piece would be a daguerreotype of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. What made that artifact particularly fascinating is, according to Searing, this daguerreotype is much larger than others created in the time period. With most having been around the size of a postage stamp.

The Douglass daguerreotype will be with the Smithsonian for a year and will be back with the OHA in the summer of 2024.

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