The Chattanooga History Center maintains an extensive collection of items relevant to Chattanooga's history. Many of those items are acquired through donations from local collectors who maintain a keen eye for history.
Recently, a collection of several items donated by David Moon, founder of Chattanooga history website Picnooga, has been added to the CHC's collection. A portion the Picnooga items are now available for public viewing as a part of the CHC digital archives, including a complete flatware collection from Lookout Mountain Hotel, a small cream pitcher from the Mountain City Club and a Victorian-area shirtwaist made by D.B. Loveman & Co. in Chattanooga. Click here to view the entire Picnooga collection.
Moon raises funding for Picnooga through the sale of historically themed T-shirts and lithographs. All proceeds go directly to the purchase of historical items on eBay or from private collectors. Following the use of those items for Picnooga, he donates them to the CHC.
Moon said it's rare for him to spend more than $20 on a single item, although occasionally he will "splurge"—up to $65—on something particularly unique.
"I'm looking at the CHC collections and Picnooga and looking for items that are connective," Moon said. "We might have a picture of the Read House and I'll purchase stationery from that year to help tell the story. It's not always photographs. A lot of it is ephemera, old business cards, letterhead, etc."
Those items when combined with others can add provenance or authenticity to other items in the collection, allowing for a richer story to be told.
"The items Moon donates are very interesting, and many are important in documenting Chattanooga's history," said Marie Bourassa Cullis, curator of collections at CHC. "It's beneficial to everyone because we can highlight them in the archives, and we have the opportunity to preserve, research and use the artifacts for education and exhibits."
Moon has been particularly lucky with some of the items. For example, a Victorian-era shirtwaist appeared on eBay for $200. The Chattanooga-made item still had the original Loveman's tags, and it's estimated to have been made between 1877 and 1890.
Hesitant about the price tag, Moon contacted the seller in Arizona and asked if he would donate the item to the CHC. The owner of the shirtwaist—a former curator of a Victorian clothing museum—agreed to donate the item for no charge.
"There are people on eBay who just want to make money—that's what eBay is all about," Moon said. "But this was one of those rare occurrences ... You're looking at a garment that was probably handmade in Chattanooga and someone purchased it from the department store in the late 1800s. If you have that kind of perspective on history, it gets really exciting."
A similar situation occurred with the flatware collection from the Lookout Mountain Hotel.
The flatware was owned by the seller's parents, who moved from Missouri to work at the hotel in the 1950s. But the story about how the flatware was obtained, as quoted from the seller below, is as interesting as the flatware itself:
[My parents' job] included living quarters and meals, increasing its value, but the hours were long and some of the jobs were tiresome: for instance, keeping the silver polished since these were the days of very formal dining rooms with white tablecloths set with fine china and silver for every meal. My mother got in the habit of bringing a load of silver in an old pillowcase back to their rooms, where they could sit and polish it while chatting, and then she returned it on the next shift. Soon, the glamour of the job wore off. My father was rather hot-tempered and not used to catering to clientele with money, and one day he blew up. My parents were told to leave immediately and so they had to pack up all their belongings and throw them in the car in a hurry. Being young, they recovered quickly and they were nearly to Miami, Florida, full of new dreams and excitement over palm trees, when they found a pillowcase full of silver in the car. At that point, they weren't going back to Tennessee! And that's how we came to have silverware stamped "Lookout Mountain" as I was growing up.
Moon hopes his efforts will encourage others to begin searching for items relevant to Chattanooga history.
"Hopefully, people are inspired by those of us who do this," Moon said. "That's what it's all about: checking your closets and taking stuff [to the CHC] to be scanned or archived. I don't want to tell the whole story; if you can just get people's attention and encourage them to check it out, that's the goal."
Cullis said partnerships with organizations like Picnooga are beneficial to the center and the community. She plans to use items from Picnooga and Deep Zoom Chattanooga (an online photography database) to further aid with research efforts and education about Chattanooga's history.
Have something interesting to donate? Click here for information on the CHC donation process.