Monday, January 23, 2012

Our New Besom

"...I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts." Isaiah 14:23 KJV

It is not often that we purchase an artifact for the Annapolis Heritage Society collections. Over the years, most of our artifacts have been donated by generous friends and members. On rare occasion a piece comes on the market that is so valuable to our local history that we make a significant effort to acquire the piece. The 1759 Horten Powder Horn and the Harris Paintings are examples of artifacts that we have pursued in recent years. The piece featured in today's post is nothing like that. This artifact, a besom, has neither a great monetary value nor a long history in our community. What then makes this strange inexpensive (it cost $10) version of a broom an interesting artifact for our collection.

What this besom provides is the possibility for some interesting exchanges with visitors to the O'Dell House Museum. Visitors are invariably drawn to strange looking artifacts. This gives our interpreters the opportunity to discuss the artifact, how it was used and relate it to the story of the community. While this is a piece of indeterminate origins, it is typical of what would have been found in our community at one point. In that way, it can be used as a representational piece to link other stories. It is also an appropriate piece to have on display in a period house like the O'Dell House Museum.

The besom is built pretty well as it appears. It is a broom made of sticks tied around a central handle. A besom is always round due to the way that the sticks are tied. The handle appears to be made of ash but I am not yet certain of the type of wood used for the brush. While birch was a common wood for the brush, this does not appear to be the case here. While they are uncommon today, besoms were a common household item before the introduction of broomcorn (Sorghum vulgare var. technicum). Even after the introduction of broomcorn, besoms were still a useful outdoor tool.

There is an added bonus with this piece in that this is the sort of broom commonly associated with witches. When the haunted house at the Sinclair Inn Museum comes back next October this piece will doubtlessly have a central role. By the way, I am hoping that ours is not the besom of destruction.

All for now,

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