Students create Annie Strong exhibit

History will come to life Tuesday as Maria Caulfield opens her Annie Strong exhibit with a first-person interpretation of one of Erie’s richest women.

The senior history major said she started doing research on Strong’s life during the fall semester as part of her internship at the Erie County Historical Society. She was working on creating a first-person interpretation of Annie Strong, who lived in Old Main before Gannon moved into it.

“I thought it’d be cool if I could do it for Gannon,” Caulfield said. “Dr. Bloodworth told me about the exhibit room, and it worked.”

Caulfield said her research was more demanding than she expected, but that it was fun because it was all primary research. There is no written history on Strong and it required investigation.

“It was frustrating starting out,” Caulfield said. “There’s nothing in official histories about her.”

The exhibit came together after Caulfield got the idea in December. She said she did a bit of research over Christmas break and spent this spring semester working on it during her free time. The last piece was installed in the room on Friday.

Caulfield’s exhibit covers three topics: the Scott-Strong family, Old Main and the Strongs in the press.

A photograph of Annie on her yacht is the prominent piece on the wall of the Scott-Strong family.

“This picture captures the character of Annie,” Caulfield said. “She was fantastically rich because her father had a hand in multiple businesses.”

She married Charles Hamot Strong, who was part of the other richest family in Erie. The two had a daughter, Mathilda, who had Thora, the end of the direct family line.

Caulfield also helped find a tapestry that was unknown until it was unearthed because of her research.

She said another student had done research in the ‘70s on Old Main, and this research was never published. Caulfield found the work in the Gannon archives and recognized one of the pieces of furniture that was photographed. After talking to the archivist, he was able to find a tapestry that covered a wall at Old Main. Strong had the walls of Old Main covered in tapestry, not wallpaper.

Caulfield said one of her favorite parts of the house is the call button console. Each room had a button to call servants and the console was in a tiny closet that could be accessed through a bathroom. Caulfield said she wondered what the servants did when that bathroom was in use.

The third section, “Strongs in the Press,” features articles that ran in Erie’s newspapers and the New York Times. One details President Taft’s visit to Erie. Taft was a classmate of Charles Hamot Strong’s at Yale.

Another article tells how the Scott mausoleum was robbed in 1911, the same year as Taft’s visit. It was originally thought that remains were missing, but they had just been moved. Multiple detective agencies were brought in to work on the case and it turned out that one of the agencies broke in just to give itself business.

The exhibit also features a portrait, wax doll and evening cloak donated by the Historical Society. Caulfield said the evening cloak showed how Strong was “over-the-top, all the time.”

Caulfield’s exhibit will open 11 a.m. Tuesday in Room 3215 of the A.J. Palumbo Academic Center. During the opening, she will perform a first-person interpretation of Strong. Caulfield said she hopes to have the exhibit up through the summer.

BRENNA PETERS

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