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Baker Mansion to open July 3 with new exhibits

The 104-year old Blair County Historical Society will open its 98th season in the 1849 Elias Baker Mansion with new room restorations and new exhibits starting Friday, July 3.

The restored single parlor and the library and office of Elias Baker and his son, Sylvester, will be opened to the public for the first time. The parlor features stenciled wallpaper, painted plaster moldings and a newly acquired portrait of Suzanna Blair, daughter of Blair County founder, John Blair.

On display is a rare, metal and mother-of-pearl mantle clock belonging to Elias Baker, the first shelf clock made in the USA using springs rather than weights.

A similar one is in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

The library/office has painted wood-paneling and newly restored bookcases holding the Baker family library and a recently donated 1850 wall clock.

The completion of these rooms concludes a five-year project to restore all rooms on the first and second floors to their stunning and colorful 1850’s look.

Michael Allison of Studio EFX, who has been the “in-house” restoration artist, has also restored two second floor bedrooms, bathroom, sewing room and hallway as well as former bedrooms now used for rotating exhibits.

Six new exhibits are featured at the opening of Baker Mansion beginning in July.

These include the Italian-Altoona Immigrant Experience, Remembering the Korean War, The Victorian Period Lady in America, Utensils of the 18th, 19th and 20th century, World War II Exhibit focusing on Italian-Altoona Veterans, and Women’s Right to Vote and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

The Italian-American Immigrant Experience illustrates the challenges and changes from arrival in America to first and second generation adaptation through stories of individual Blair County families. Local Italian businesses and organizations throughout the past century are featured in the exhibit, showcasing the influences of cuisine, religion, Italian culture and mutual aid societies.

A multimedia presentation features over 50 photos of Altoona’s Little Italy neighborhood with restaurants, gas stations, corner stores, car dealerships, churches and more. Original artifacts such as an early wedding dress, Italian Society banners and immigration papers, are a just few of the pieces on display.

Remembering the Korean War features 80 photographs by Altoona war photographer, the late Sgt. Ronald A. Mickel.

These display his unique perspective on and behind the battlefield including depictions of US, Korean and Chinese troops, war orphans and street scenes in Seoul.

The exhibit also includes the stories of Technical Sergeant Donald McMasters, US Army and Staff Sergeant Donald V. Altiero, USMC.

A room dedicated to the Victorian Period Lady in America presents fashion, accessories, manners and the leisure time hobbies of the women of that era.

Reaching deep into the Historical Society’s archives, a large display of the most unusual kitchen utensils has been assembled along with a quiz for guests to try to identify their uses.

Hint: meat grinders for deer and cow meat, ribbon candy making machine.

Also on exhibit are samples of lighting from candle-making molds, to kerosene and gas lamps, and light bulbs from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The World War II exhibit has been updated with the stories of Italian-Altoona soldiers and sailors.

Coming in late July is a special exhibit on Women’s Right to Vote in America and the celebration of the 100th year anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

The display is from the National Archives of the Smithsonian Museum.

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