Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

  • Conor Short inside the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor


    Honoring Local Veterans

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum – Spring 2019

    Pittsburgh’s Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum was built in 1910 as a monument to the Civil War veterans of Allegheny County. However, as American history progressed, the institution expanded its scope to honor veterans from all American wars and all branches of the United States Armed Forces. The mission of this museum surpasses education or the preservation of history. The primary objective of Soldiers & Sailors is to honor those veterans whose donations compose the museum’s collection.

    I was fortunate enough to complete my internship at this institution. My work was largely confined to Wednesdays and Fridays—during which I was involved in the cataloging and organization of the collection. However, the most important and exciting of my experiences came on Sunday March 31. Soldiers & Sailors hosted its 2019 Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor Induction Ceremony and the museum staff was generous enough to invite me.

    In 1963 the Hall of Valor was dedicated in order to honor veterans whose valor went above and beyond the call of duty. From the date of its conception to March 31st 2019, the Hall of Valor has inducted over seven-hundred veterans from every American conflict and from every branch of the Armed Forces. This year’s nine inductees included veterans of the Civil War, Vietnam, and the Second World War. Medals awarded during their service included the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The ceremony was held inside the central auditorium and allowed the veteran or the representative of the veteran to accept the induction and have his/her photo taken onstage. We were also honored to have one of the recipients attend the ceremony in person. Also in attendance was the Vietnam Veterans Inc. as the honor guard, as well as several local VFW posts. I was not seriously involved in the production of the ceremony, but I was content to simply sit in the auditorium and watch. The solemnity and dignity of the ceremony provoked feelings of sadness for those veterans who did not return from combat, respect for those who did, and the unrivaled admiration of all who served.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Soldiers & Sailors. I was able to engage hands-on with what I believe are some of the most exciting and most important artifacts in the world. I realize that is not a chance that everyone receives and I fully appreciate the privilege. However, witnessing the Hall of Valor Induction ceremony was by far the most memorable experience of my internship. Not only did it provide me with a fond memory, but it also brought to the surface the core of the institution’s goals and values which I happen to share.

    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Studying a Vietnam War Veteran at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall

    Museums Studies Intern at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum — Fall 2018

    Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is an institution that commemorates our veterans and fallen heroes that have participated in the many conflicts that the United States has participated in. The staff of the museum is dedicated to the preservation of the personal artifacts of many veterans, and they endeavor to teach children, seniors, and adults alike about the hardships and struggles of our military personnel. The museum itself is a small institution, but they work hard to cover the various wars and conflicts the United States has engaged in from the American Civil War up to the present day.

    My main project during my internship was analyzing the photographs and letters sent home by a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, Sgt. John R. Elm. John Elm spent a year in Vietnam, serving his country dutifully. He was born on January 19th, 1948, and died on September 14th, 2003. He lived in Pittsburgh, and frequently sent letters and photographs that he took home to his family. He was sent to Vietnam in June 1968 and went home in July 1969. He would write home in his free time in order to calm his nerves after experiencing stressful combat situations. However, he would leave out gory details when addressing his family at large, preferring to save those details for letters home to his sister, Maxine Elm. Elm bought a camera while in Vietnam, and sent many pictures home with the letters, which allowed me to connect many of the photographs to what Elm wrote about in his letters home.

    One of the most touching aspects of letters and photos that John sent home from the battlefield was the story of his battery’s adoption of a stray dog as their “mascot.” This dog’s name was Pro-Jo, short for “projectile,” perhaps due to her climbing into a mortar canon. It was thought that they lost her in Dong Tam when they took her to get shots, but she showed back up later on. By the end of John’s time in Vietnam, he heard that the men that were going to take their leave in Hawaii were planning on bringing Pro-Jo along and finding her a family. It’s rather heartwarming that John Elm’s story in Vietnam ended with him going back home to Pittsburgh and a stray dog finding a home. 

    I worked with Lisa Petita (Collections Manager), Tim Neff (Vice President/Director of Museum & Education), and Michael Kraus(Curator). Outside of my main project, my day to day tasks included aiding in the accession of received military artifacts, helping with setting up for events such as the Canon Ball Fundraiser and school visitations, as well as occasionally aiding with the instruction of visiting school groups.

    My experiences at Soldiers and Sailors were extremely valuable and I am glad that I have had a chance to intern here. I have gained a greater appreciation for the common man in the military, and the struggles that they have gone through. I also appreciate the great work that the people who work there go through in order to sustain a museum collection, no matter how small. 

    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Every photo is measured, scanned, and described into the spreadsheet to be archived which will be digitized online for outreach to veteran’s relatives and public research.


    Rediscovering the Past Through the Former North Side McKeever Post 623

    Author: Geoffrey Mansfield

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Spring 2018

    The closing of the Mckeever Post 623 on Western Avenue, North Side of Pittsburgh unfortunately resonates with the fate of other VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) posts in the region. Only open one day a week, its closing was heartfelt to the members. Originally established on February 3, 1921, as the 623rd such post in the country, it served veterans who recently returned from the First World War. In January 2014, the increasingly dilapidated building was purchased, at the same time as a trove of artifacts on the property was discovered, including uniforms, flags and photos.

    The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum was contacted to gather information of its contents. Curator Michael Kraus took a trip to the former post to discover the past stories of the veterans who once frequented the establishment. What he found was three 4-by-4 poster boards containing over two-hundred photos. The boards were originally mounted to the outside of Lawrence's Barber Shop on the North Side. The photos were of the former members, all approximately World War Two era. The subjects of the photographs ranged from men standing in front of the baber shop ,to the battlefields of France, and everything in between. These photos were then donated to the Museum in 2014 to be used to retell the stories of the forgotten. The Museum created a plan to digitize an online archive of these materials for outreach to the relatives and the public in honor for those who served our nation.

    During my Spring 2018 internship I accepted the challenge of this task as a semester project at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. The task proved to be extensive and time-consuming, though it brought me a sense of pride. Every one of the 245 photos had to be digitally scanned, front and back, and names of the soldiers written in cursive handwriting had to be deciphered.

    I created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel that tracked every attribute of the photos with fifteen columns including any individual’s name, measurements, condition, and descriptions. During the process, I started to research the names written on the back, finding more about the individuals that I was documenting. Their stories slowly emerged, building a larger narrative of their overseas war campaigns.

    One example was the Murphy brothers: eight men had joined the armed forces and served in World War II during the call of duty. Unfortunately, Tom Murphy paid the ultimate sacrifice, as he was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The attached gold star on the front of the photo confirmed this. Photos of four other Murphy brothers also emerged through the archival process, including Dan Murphy, a Hall of Valor Inductee at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.

    This project granted me the opportunity to retell the forgotten stories of World War II veterans and the Northside Post 623 as a way of honoring their service. The assembly of this data, along with the scanning process through digitization, will allow for outreach helping relatives reconnect with their loved ones from the past. It also serves as a form of research for the public. The photos help historians represent forgotten stories by recovering a visual aspect to the documentation of veterans who served our country, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, those like Tom Murphy.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Dorothy Riggle and friends at WASP training in the 1940s.


    Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall: The Path to My Future from the Past

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Spring 2018

    History has a way of being a very impersonal subject, concerned with dates and key figures. However, once I started interning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, I began to understand how personal history can be, as I uncovered people’s stories and the lives they lived.

    Working at this museum, I was able to work on a variety of tasks. I helped prepare the museum for events, collected artifacts from donors, and catalogued artifacts into an updated system. The task that struck me the most was being able to analyze the artifacts that came in. Besides cataloguing them, I learned more importantly about the owner’s life and their experiences.

    One of the most interesting people I researched was a woman named Dorothy Riggle. She joined the military during WWII and decided to pursue a career in this sector. Unfortunately she suffered a nervous breakdown, due to stress and overwork, and was discharged. She spent the rest of her life trying to gain recognition for her struggles while highlighting the harassment she suffered while in the military. Reading over her countless letters to senators, congressmen, and even the U.S. Vice President, I was able to gain so much information about her life and her struggles. She kept such a vigorous record of her life, from her days at the university and into her elderly years, allowing me to examine every element of her life. When I was finished reading and looking at the artifacts, it almost felt as if she was a friend.

    After analyzing all of her artifacts, I wrote a biography on her life for the museum which they hope to post online. Riggle is a relatively unknown figure, yet her story is just as rich as any significant person’s in history. By interning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, I was able to uncover a life that is pertinent to today’s fight for marginalized individuals. Her challenges in the military around gender discrimination and mental illness during the 1940s and 1950s are topics often left undiscussed, and I am proud that her story will be told one day.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Working on the Graphotype dog tag machine.


    Connecting the Past and Present at Soldiers and Sailors

    Museum Studies Intern at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Fall 2017

    At Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum almost everything is connected, which giving tours showed. Many days for me would start on the World War II Era Graphotype dog machine creating dog tags for different occasions like those tours or to honor veterans. The tours are the key piece that connects everything together with each one beginning with giving the students their custom dog tag that I made along with a certain role such as Squad Commander or Scout. After they have their roles and supplies they go out and have to find specific displays and describe them to get a feel for the museum right before they are taken on their tour. The tours also give us the opportunity to help the students connect with the stories of the past and hopefully gain more interest from them.

    The tour is broken down into three different sections and the part I gave was in the hallway that contains mostly World War II displays with the end being display cases for the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts. I focused on World War II since that was the subject the students were learning. After going through the hallway, I ended the tour in the museum’s Hall of Valor that honors veterans from Pennsylvania who received the highest honors possible like the Medal of Honor. I treated the tour as more of a conversation with the students and asked questions rather than just lecturing them hoping they would ask me questions as well. Some kids did ask questions which some connected with the topic, but not about the displays themselves that allowed me to connect the tour to other inventory that is not on display and the work I did with PastPerfect.

    The PastPerfect software allows the institution to keep an inventory of all the different artifacts and pictures they have and much of my time was spent with it. When new objects come in they are put in a storage box and then more closely examined. I would then write descriptions for something like a Japanese grenade from World War II, and take its picture and add it into the system. This allows us to search for certain objects, like a decorated soldiers jacket, to have it ready to go on display or a traveling display like the one just put on during a Penguins game at PPG Paints Arena. The descriptions made me do research for some objects which gave me the ability to answer some questions from students during the tours.

    After finishing one of my tours, one student came to me to ask me more about the United Service Organization (USO) and soldiers' downtime. I had previously organized pictures and different travel pamphlets from two different soldiers while looking at new inventory and entering it into the computer. With the knowledge I gained from those I was able to tell the student about other types of entertainment and activities soldiers did during their free time on top of what the USO provided.

    A final part of the student's day at the museum is reading and writing letters like they are soldiers away at war. During this I had one of the younger students ask me how often soldiers would write letters. Since I also transcribed a journal from a WWI soldier I was able to answer his question based on the soldier’s writings. The tours I gave had a focus on telling the stories of the different wars and conflicts through personal stories behind the objects on display. At Soldiers and Sailors just about everything I did connected to something else I did, just as their goal of telling stories keeps visitors connected to the past each time they walk the halls.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  • The Hall of Valor at Soldier's and Sailor's Memorial Hall and Museum.


    Making History Personal at Soldier's and Sailor's

    Museum Studies Intern at the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Memorial Hall and Museum - Spring 2017

    For my internship, I worked as the curatorial and educational intern at Soldier’s and Sailor’s Memorial Hall and Museum. Originally constructed by Civil War veterans in 1910, the building served as a gathering place to honor all veterans through the large auditorium and ballroom. Over time, it has developed more into a museum, while maintaining its status as a memorial. There are unique exhibits on the wars of America ranging from the Civil War to the recent War on Terror.

    Being a smaller museum, Soldier’s and Sailor’s allowed me work with the educational and curatorial departments. On the educational side, I helped prepare the materials needed to give the interactive tours to local schools. For the tours, each student is assigned a role and receives a customized dog tag. Most of the work during the internship was completed on the curatorial side of the museum. Donations of artifacts needed to be cataloged and photographed before entered into the computer records. This year, the museum received new PastPerfect software to catalog artifacts. I created a simple user guide for future interns and other museum staff.

    Aside from the regular duties of the internship, I spent time working with the Joseph A. Dugan, Jr. Hall of Valor. Started in 1963, The Hall of Valor honors Pennsylvanian veterans who have earned a Silver Star or higher in combat. A plaque with information on the actions of each veteran is added to the Hall, where it is hung for 2 years before being digitized. Recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor have their plaques permanently installed into the Hall. Each year about fifteen members are inducted into the Hall of Valor. The 2017 inductees have brought the grand total to over 700 veterans. Technical Sergeant William Fahrenhold was one of the members inducted in the 2017 class. Among the objects donated by his family was the wartime diary T/SGT Fahrenhold kept while he was a bomber crewman in World War II. I worked on transcribing the diary to create a copy that can be accessed and viewed in the future without risking the integrity of the original diary. The internship at Soldier’s and Sailor’s Memorial Hall and Museum has been very helpful with my career goals. I intend to work in the museum field specializing in American military history. Working alongside the curator, Michael Kraus, has expanded my knowledge thanks to his renowned status as a Civil War historian.


    Curatorial Internship at the University of Pittsburgh’s Nationality Rooms

    Museum Studies Intern at the Nationality Rooms - Spring 2017

    I never anticipated how the Nationality Room’s curatorial internship would evolve. I always had desired to participate in an organization that I could contribute something more than just adding to an email list. I was challenged in this internship, but the experience I gained is invaluable. The final products of my internship will feed into the fall semester’s Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar, acknowledging the importance of my work created additional pressure and motivation to approach every task with care and consideration. Archival and curatorial tasks are not simple on their own. A combination of the two requires a balance of organizational and creative skills. My day-to-day tasks provided me the opportunity to operate within a position that I could wear many hats, and identify what kind of work would be the most fulfilling for me in the future.

    Some of the hats fit, and others did not. The archivist’s is one that I have had in my repertoire for years now, but I was surprised to find that the curator’s did not fit. Gathering and creating the framework for an exhibition appeals to many, but I realized my organizational skills are better suited to other sectors within the field of art history. When I wore the liaison’s hat, I became aware of the power of a well-formulated email.  It was empowering to work as a registrar, to see the physical products of my efforts in the form of 463 conditions reports and three ordered storage facilities. Amidst changing roles and encountering different obstacles along the way, I realized where I belong within an institution, academic, cultural, or otherwise.

    One of those obstacles for instance is a limitation of space. I became highly aware that no matter the location, a lack of storage space is an issue that permeates through all institutions. Contending with space requires innovative methods and high levels of planning, how to utilize the smallest of areas as if it was Mary Poppins’ handbag. There is still so much that I can learn and bring to another multi-faceted position in the future. The Nationality Rooms may not be a grand institution outside of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, but the 30 classrooms depict the ethnic groups that helped build the city of Pittsburgh. They provide visitors with an undeniable sense of pride, and facilitate conversations about the importance strong local communities and cultural acceptance. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to partake in this internship, and I look forward to seeing the students’ exhibition in the fall.

    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work

    Soldiers & Sailors Internship

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Fall 2016

    My museum internship for the Fall of 2016 was completed at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Originally constructed in 1910 as a Civil War Veteran memorial, the institute is now a museum, dedicated to telling the story of the American soldier from all branches of services and eras. During my stay, I was a combined educational and curatorial intern working directly with staff member from these departments on a variety of tasks such as cataloging items donated by patrons from across the country, assisting the in preparation of educational tours, building and organizing a new shelving system, giving/brainstorming critical exhibition feedback, and my main project: initiating the reorganization of the museum’s library materials. After the museum librarian retired several years ago, all of the primary and secondary source material in the book collection was transferred from the third floor library, to a storage area on the ground floor. My task was to begin sorting through the materials where a previous volunteer had left off the in the summer of 2016. I categorized each book in the room according to subject matter: Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, General U.S. History etc., and using excel, created a record catalog of every item in the Civil War collection. This catalog tracked keywords of the book, object location, title, author, date, ISBN (international standard book number), and publisher. Items were arranged alphabetically by title, and into X sections: War of the Rebellion set, General History, Battle/Campaigns, Confederate Histories, Union Histories, Navy, Personal Memoirs/Diaries/Letters, Bibliographies, Regiment Units (by state), and a Pictorial History. For future work being done on the collection, I devised a series of documents including a task list, Reading Room Policy, design layouts, and notes for those who work on it after me. As the museum continues to work on getting museum grants, this catalog may be transferred over to PastPerfect software, where it will be more easily utilized and managed by staff. Overall the internship opportunity has helped me in developing my career based goals in archival type museum work, and the collaboration process both personally and professionally.


    Myself visiting Waynesburg University for a presentation about WWI using the Soldiers and Sailors' footlocker program. The photo was taken by professor Rea Redd. 


    Fostering Interest and Outreach

    This semester I had the pleasure and honor to intern at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland. As a history major I was very enthusiastic to be chosen to work with the staff of Soldiers and Sailors. The building itself was built in 1907 but only recently became a museum. Over the 100+ years as a GAR post and SUV headquarters, the Soldiers and Sailors museum acquired thousands of artifacts from the Civil War and both World Wars but has only limited space to display these artifacts. I was surprised at the number of people, including those who spend much of their time in Oakland, who were unfamiliar with the museum and had never visited or even heard of it.

    During the four months of my internship, I learned countless skills important to museum work but I feel the some of the most important were those involved with helping present the institute’s image to the public. I would like to focus this post on two particular projects; one outside the museum and the second from inside.

    To help bring the museum experience to those unable to visit Soldiers and Sailors and share artifacts not usually displayed, the museum’s director of education recently created the “footlocker program”. This is a collection of several large footlockers stocked with artifacts from different wars starting with the Civil War and up to the War in Iraq and Afghanistan. These footlockers have artifacts not normally displayed but also not rare or one of a kind. The theme of the lockers is to display common items such as uniforms and equipment of the average soldier in the field and some items from home. These lockers can be loaned out to high school teachers or other groups to be used for presentations outside of the museum.    

    In February I was introduced to professor Rea Redd of Waynesburg University, at an event hosted by Soldiers and Sailors for WWII veterans. Professor Redd oversees several courses offered by Waynesburg focusing on the World Wars and 20th century conflict. The department was looking for options to help students comprehend warfare during WWI and WWII as well as the individual soldier’s burden. This was an excellent opportunity to reach out with the footlocker program to a university that is local but still outside of Pittsburgh and project the museum’s image and message. We arranged two separate visits to Waynesburg, one for WWI and another for WWII scheduled about a week apart. The curator and director of education reviewed both footlockers for each above mentioned period and entrusted me to take both footlockers to Waynesburg University and give a presentation. Both presentations went very well and the students as well as the staff at Waynesburg were very interested and grateful to Soldiers and Sailors. These sort of presentations are essential for smaller more recently established museums to establish themselves with the public and create a base.

    The second project I would like to discuss was later in the semester. This second event was planned to bring people to the museum who never visited before by using more visual encouragement. “The Museum Comes to Life Evening” would use interactive displays as well as staff and volunteers dressed in period correct attire and equipment from various eras covered by the museum’s timeline. The approach to the evening was that visitors could easily become bored and unimpressed with artifacts sitting lifelessly behind glass, so this event would show how these items were used by troops in the field and in proper context by having actors wear the displays. This would allow the audience to establish a more first-person connection with each display and gain a greater understanding and promote further interest, and hopefully a return visit.

    Both of these projects were very enjoyable to plan and participate in. My internship at Soldiers and Sailors taught me much, such as inventory, acquisition, cataloging and creating displays. However, I feel that projects developing a connection with the public and encouraging them to visit are just as important as any skill in museum work, because overall, what good is a well thought out display if no one comes to admire it.