Why I love the Waterworks Museum

Before I get started, I just want to say, this isn’t a plug. I’m not writing this post because I want you to visit the museum (I mean, I do, but that’s not the point). I’m not writing this because one of my supervisors asked me to. I’m writing it in response to a visceral reaction I had to being at work today, and I felt like I needed to share that with my community.

Today marks my one year anniversary of volunteering at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. I remember last year, sitting in my Intro to Museum Studies class, listening to former director Beryl Rosenthal talk about the museum, and I remember perking up when she mentioned that the majority of employees are actually volunteers. I emailed and set up an appointment to talk with Lauren Kaufmann, who showed me around the museum and told me about all of the opportunities available to volunteers. I was there for almost an hour talking with her, excited at the possibilities. I remember meeting with Eric Peterson, my boss, and talking about all of the issues with the collections database, what I could do to help with that, along with any research that could be added to the database, and new objects that might need to be added to the collection.

Today, sitting at my desk, talking with Eric about potential new storage options for the permanent collection, I realized just how far I have come. In one year, I have grown from a nervous pre-grad student, not entirely sure what she was going to do in the museum world, to a confident grad student who talks about storage options, research opportunities, connecting with other institutions, and database upgrades like it’s her job.

And it is. I might not be getting paid, but the fact remains: it’s my job.

Today, Eric asked me to compile a list of all the manufacturers housed within the building. While making this list, I fact-checked everything we had in the database and learned even more about our collection than I had previously known. I discovered that, while we might have a few loose Lunkenheimer Company parts in storage, I have seen the same company seal on dozens of valves and grease caps when climbing on the Allis-Chalmers steam engine. And as I was getting ready to leave, I felt the urge to put my stuff down and go into the Great Engines Hall and document every single piece of Lunkenheimer Company parts that I could find. And I realized then that I absolutely love this place, this old building that I now call home.

I love the Waterworks Museum for so many reasons. I love that they took a chance on me and let me come work with their collections, and have let me grow into the confident collections management volunteer I am today. They have become my second family. I love that I am always amazed by the machines in the Great Engines Hall. Every time I look at them, I find something new to be fascinated by. Last week, Dennis (one of our board members who is incredibly knowledgeable about the site) helped me figure out where a loose bell crank might have fit, and we finally found a matching one on the second level of the Allis. It made me think about these machines as more than just the sum of their parts. Each piece is incredibly important, from the massive flywheels down to the last screw.

I could go on, but I have homework to do (ah, grad school), so I will end with this. Thank you, Lauren and Eric and Beryl, for opening your doors to me. Thank you for trusting me with your collection. Thank you for opening my eyes to this museum, and thank you for letting me grow. I have learned so much in the past year and I hope to learn more in the coming years.

Why I love the Waterworks Museum

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