Thursday, April 11, 2013
Museum Review: The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson
Review for Public History class, Masters in History program at University of Nebraska - Kearney.
March 31, 2013
This is a review of the visit to The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson, which encompasses only the tour of the mansion itself. Many visitors choose to take the full tour, which includes an audio tour of the museum within the visitor’s center, as well as the grounds. This particular visit only included the mansion because of time constraints and interests of the author. The website encourages visitors to understand that “The Hermitage is much more than the mansion”. However, this particular visit ensued on the same day as that the internship. So, time was of the essence, especially since the number of visitors there numbered extremely high. Indeed, this author wanted to leave before the museum closed!
The mission statement is reduced down to three main words “Preserve, Educate and Inspire”. The number of students and other visitors that successfully come through ever year, means that this statement can only persevere if those three words are taken to heart by the staff and board members. The site does meet the mission statements points on all cases. Because this author is an intern and has numerous years in other locations, she has learned many of the things that are done at other sites (like the use moth balls to keep the snakes away), are not used here because of possible destruction to the buildings and/or artifacts. Education is also another point that the personnel undertake. There is a department of staff specifically for education, as well as the docent personnel. In fact, the docents are called “interpreters” because they do not just take people through the mansion. This leads to the third word in the mission. Inspiration is absolutely there because of the many questions that the excited and interested (as well as interesting) interpreters bring to the tour.
The tour of the mansion begins by waiting in line as two interpreters give the official count for the next tour, and at the same time keep the waiting audience interested by giving the history of the construction of the house, the fire that gutted the building, and the fact that the house had only been lived in by Jackson family members. The number of visitors that were there the day of this visit was so numerous that this author had to wait in line for three “cut-offs” before being allowed within. Because it was cold outside, a winter coat was worn. However, underneath the interpreters were able to discern the “intern” badge, which allowed handshakes and warm welcomes, but no additional special treatment. The interpreters were so warm, welcoming and knowledgeable, that everyone felt special just to be there.
Once inside the mansion, the interpreters described many objects and history of the Jacksons to the visitors. The house is sectioned off so that one interpreter has to hand the group over to another so that one will not have to do the full length of the tour through the overly large building. No canned speeches by these men and women, these people obviously knew each object, and spoke in a conversational tone. Each guide then asked for any questions from their audience. The most exciting items to this author were the color of the walls in “Junior’s office”, and in the dining room. These were original colors of peach and robin’s egg blue, respectively. The information appeared to be accurate because of how the interpreters spoke. However, this information is beyond this author’s knowledge, so it is taken as accurate purely on their presentation abilities. Interestingly, the interpreters made sure to include information on the slaves that had lived there, both before and after their emancipation. This made the tour feel very well rounded.
Clear Plexiglas divides off each room of the mansion so that visitors only walk through the halls. This was done in the 1980’s according to one of the interpreters to help create a stable environment within the rooms. Because the house is getting older, and people bring in moisture with their bodies, the glass creates rooms with constant temperature and humidity. This is to keep the artifacts from decaying, as quickly than if the glass was not there. However, with that glass, there also comes a feeling of elite attitude because no one is allowed within the rooms. This is only for the building itself because the interpreters make sure that the visitors feel like they belong there with their words and gestures. The glass makes it difficult when there are large numbers of people in each group because the space is crowded and many people push for their chance to peer into one room, and then another. It also makes it difficult to see items around the corner, specifically portraits that are on the adjoining walls. This is probably the worst part of the tour because this author wants to see everything. The lighting was absolutely adequate to see everything that was being presented on this particular day. This may or may not be so on an overcast day. The only way to know would be to visit another day.
The visiting audiences are varied for this location. This is because of the man to whom this house belonged. There are visitors from all over the country, and many from within the state. There are the romanticists who have nostalgia for the Old South. There are the political inquisitors, as well as those who are just curious over an old building. There are many students of all ages that visit for school projects. There are even those that visit for the newest information on slavery. This museum absolutely includes all of these people within the tour of the mansion.
As stated earlier, The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson gives visitors audio tour equipment as they enter the visitor’s center, as well as having interpreters. The interpreters control guests entering the mansion, as well as give tours of the majority of the house. After the visitor has gone through most of the house, including the upstairs, they then exit the back of the mansion to see the kitchen, the pantry, and also the dining room. It is really necessary that the visitor have that audio equipment to fully understand these points of the house because there is no interpreter in these areas. Both the interpreters and the audio tours are great ways to get the visitor to understand the history of the house. The only point that could make it better would be to have an interpreter sign for someone who could not hear. However, this may be available, but was not offered due to lack of this disability.
This is a very successful museum. It is obvious that this location has been a museum for many years because of the precision of the demonstration and the beautiful set spaces. People of all interests are able to find something to excite them. The interpreters were knowledgeable and friendly. The only thing that could have been better from a visitor’s point of view would be to be able to walk in the rooms. However, from their stand of preservation, this too, is acceptable. This author would give three words for this museum “beautiful, exciting, and educative.”
“Membership” The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson. N.d.
https://secure.sitemason.com/www.thehermitage.com/support/membership. (accessed March 31, 2013).
 The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson. N.d. https://secure.sitemason.com/www.thehermitage.com/support/membership. (accessed March 31, 2013).
 “Membership” The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson. N.d. https://secure.sitemason.com/www.thehermitage.com/support/membership. (accessed March 31, 2013).
 Interpreter, personal communication with author. March 28, 2013.
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