Relics and Souvenirs

Like many law-abiding citizens of her time, Julia Wilbur collected things in a way that we would describe almost as vandalism today. This was not a question of going into the museum gift shop or finding a great cache of items on ebay. She took plantings from Mount Vernon ("Not a single leaf of anything is given away, but we all succeeded in getting something"). In Alexandria, she took some seat buttons from George Washington's pew at  Christ Church and a piece of wallpaper from Mansion House Hospital, among many other things. She even was a second-hand collector. As she wrote on March 20, 1863

Mr. Wells has brought many relics from the battle fields, & he gave us each a bayonet from the field of Antietam, also an apricot stone from the tree that Washington hacked with his hatchet, & would not lie about it to his father. This tree is in Fredericksburg where Martha W. monument is. So it was not a cherry tree after all.

Apricot or cherry, the story is still questionable. But the volume of relics collected by her and others is not.

In the book The Nineteenth-century Relic: A Pre-History of the Historical Artifact, Theresa Lynn Barnett notes the Civil War unleashed a popular tradition of collecting and preserving relics: "The practice of collecting Civil War artifacts quickly became a mass phenomenon in a way that no relic collecting tradition had been before or would be again..." (pg. 109).


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