Museum goes inside the box for latest exhibit

July 08, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa.- Bonnie Shockey said she didn't know she was opening Pandora's box when she asked area residents to loan their antique or interesting boxes for an exhibit called "The Ubiquitous Box" at the Allison-Antrim Museum.

"They keep bringing in more all the time," said Shockey, president of the 240-member museum at 365 S. Ridge Ave.

The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 15, Shockey said.

It takes up tables and some floor space in two rooms on two floors of the museum.

Boxes in the exhibit range from early to mid-19th century antiques such as an early inlaid lady's writing box to a cardboard shoe box holding a pair of Hush Puppies.

Shockey didn't know for sure how many boxes are in the exhibit, which is being added to daily.

Most are being loaned to the museum by private owners. Others belong to the museum's permanent collection, she said.


The idea for the exhibit came to Shockey while she was reading "The Christmas Box" by Richard Paul Evans.

"Boxes play a role in our daily lives, from the time we are put in a cradle until we are put into a coffin," Shockey said. "We live and work in boxes (houses and buildings) and travel in boxes (vehicles)."

Highlights of the collection on the first floor is a small cast iron mailbox that once occupied a corner in the Borough of Greencastle. Residents dropped off their letters to be mailed, much like they do today in the large metal mailboxes seen on many street corners.

"The Greencastle Post Office still has the key to this mailbox," Shockey said.

The table downstairs holds some of the exhibit's oldest boxes, including primitive wooden candle, spice and salt boxes, a tea caddy, a mid-19th century man's collar box filled with white collars, a lady's workbox holding sewing accessories and boxes with intricate inlaid designs. There is an early matchbox, decorated tins and a few old pencil boxes.

A couple of tables in the second-floor room are filled with more boxes, some of area historic interest, and a lot are examples of modern packaging including a Cheerios box, a round box of Quaker Oats, a shiny metal Nabisco Premium Saltine Crackers box and a Mueller's vermicelli box.

A pile of ladies' hatboxes sits near the table.

The late Howard Swisher's handmade wooden box sits on one of the upstairs tables. It holds the tools of his trade. Swisher, of Greencastle, was a gifted craftsman at the now defunct Moller Pipe Organ Co. in Hagerstown for years, Shockey said.

Back downstairs and of particular local historic interest is a large wooden toolbox, its faded and cracked yellow paint a testament to its mid-19th century vintage.

It was built and owned by Gen. David Detrich, an early Greencastle coffin and cabinetmaker. He was born in 1807 and died in 1874. He served in the Pennsylvania Militia, retiring after 31 years of service in 1859 at the rank of brigadier general, according to Shockey's research through local historical records.

Detrich, an undertaker, opened his cabinet-making shop out of necessity.

In those days, people didn't die in great enough numbers in Greencastle to support his family strictly with the coffin business, so he added cabinetmaking, Shockey said.

In 53 years in the business, Detrich is said to have made 3,830 coffins, Shockey said.

"We know where there is one in the area," Shockey said. "It's in the rafters of a privately owned building."

For more information on the exhibit, call the museum at 717-597-9010 or visit

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