Since 1934, generations of students, faculty, and staff of Gloucester high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts, passed by a frame holding the tattered remains of a coat. A photo inside the frame is of former principal Albert William Bacheler, who brought the coat back from the Civil War. His story reads like a novel and is made all the more poignant by the survival of this fragile garment.
Bacheler was born in Balasore, India, in 1844 to missionary parents. He enlisted as a teenager in Company E of the 12th Regiment, New Hampshire volunteers and was promoted from private to corporal, sergeant, and finally first lieutenant. Bacheler fought in every battle the regiment engaged in except for Cold Harbor. He received injuries at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and was captured by Confederate forces on November 17th, 1864. Bacheler was held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia where he and another soldier were able to dig to their freedom. During the three weeks between escaping and reuniting with the US Army, he was sheltered by African-Americans. One of them gave Bacheler this coat.
Returning to New Hampshire after the war, Bacheler earned his degree from Dartmouth College. The coat went with him when he became a teacher at Gloucester high school. After his retirement it was given to Roger W. Babson, Gloucester high class of 1894. Babson gave the coat to the school in 1934, at which point it was framed. The following year, a photograph of Albert W. Bacheler along with his heroic story, were printed in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of Gloucester High School Cadet.
The coat might have remained in its frame at the high school had concerned Gloucester parent Kim Minnaugh not noticed mold growing on the inside of the glass. Minnaugh brought the problem to the attention of the Gloucester Committee for the Arts, and Museum Textile Services was hired to assess the coat. We developed a proposal for deinfestation, cleaning, stabilization, mounting, and displaying the coat inside an existing display cabinet at the high school. Initially they contracted us only to unframe and deinfest the coat while the City of Gloucester pondered how to pay for the full treatment.
In the next blog, we will outline the conservation, mounting, and re-installation of the Bacheler coat.
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