Friday, July 3, 2009

Drums in the Ticonderoga Museum


The following reprinted from:

"Drums & Lancets", Go Do A Test (blog name)
Posted on Monday, April 7, 2008 at 02:20 by Jeff


On a trip to upstate New York a few years ago, Nancy and I toured Fort Ticonderoga, just across the border with Vermont. In the Fort’s museum, more than 30,000 18th century artifacts are stored and exhibited for visitors to see and read about. Two of those items that were of particular interest to me were a display case of antique drums, and a two hundred year old “state of the art” blood lancet device. Let’s look at the lancet first.

The collection at Ticonderoga includes something that most GDAT!! readers can associate with. The photo below is of a blood lancet circa 1800, which would date it to about the Adams administration -- the first Adams, not Quincy. According to the notes on the display, the device was used for opening a vein for bloodletting, a procedure used for removing poisons commonly referred to as “excesses,” that were believed to contribute to the health problems of a patient.

I wonder when they finally caught on that the lancet was making some of its own sizable “contributions” to the health problems of patients.

No one was exempt from the procedure if a doctor deemed it necessary. No less a man than George Washington saw the “therapy” used on himself in the hours before, as George Washington Custis wrote, his “noble spirit took its noiseless flight.”

Now, the drums.

My childhood career as a drummer began in the basement of my parents’ home one afternoon when I came across a pair of long wooden dowels in close proximity to a large cardboard box. With the makeshift kit readily available, my family was soon enduring relentless, repetitive performances of “Wipe Out.” My father, a life-long musician, picked up on my ability to hammer out a solid beat punctuated with creative fills. He signed me up for lessons, and sealed the family’s fate of daily concussive pounding resonating throughout our otherwise bucolic home in the country.

So with keen interest I spent a fair amount of time looking over the various drums in the Ticonderoga museum. Six or seven of them stood behind protective glass, in varying degrees of condition. Several sets of drumsticks were present, but their symmetric, well-balanced, lathe-turned quality led me to think they might have come from a much later time.

It was in my teenage years when my grandmother told me that (because I was the little drummer boy of the family) I was going to inherit a musical instrument that belonged to her own grandfather in the 1800s. She left her living room and returned with a large plastic shopping bag. Inside was the snare drum pictured here, along with a pair of sticks that were hand-carved by my great-great-grandfather sometime (to use another Executive Branch timeline) around the administrations of Ulysses Grant or Rutherford Hayes. She informed me that, at one point in the drum’s life, her sister expressed a desire to cut out the drum’s upper skin with a borrowed pocketknife, and plant flowers in it. Egads.

Changing circumstances over the years brought an end to my drumming, and two years ago I sold my beautiful vintage Ludwigs and the five Zildjian cymbals that had served me well since the early 1970s. For so many years they provided me with sweaty, strenuous, muscle-building sessions, as drumming is a much more physical activity than many folks realize. Today, I sometimes look at my scrawny arms and yearn for those long ago upper-body workouts.

But not on great-great grandpa’s snare, of course.

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