Impressive Delaware Exhibit Fashioned after DEATH BY PETTICOAT


Who knew that DEATH BY PETTICOAT would have such a far-ranging reach? Certainly not I. But when I arrived in Odessa, Delaware, last week to speak at a museum conference on history myths, I discovered they had outfitted their 1772 Corbit-Sharp House for the fall season with a special exhibit drawn from my book! It was an impressive use of the information, with every room in this large colonial home (I can’t count how many rooms were in the basement, first floor, second and third floors) sporting 4-5 examples of myths that related to something in that room. “Beds were shorter back then because people were shorter” in one bedroom, or this one, above, about fire screens that were intended to save a lady’s makeup from melting, and so forth. Truly an inspiring exhibit! They told me it had been one of their most popular exhibits. And their information center had a second exhibit with myths painted on the walls that corresponded to antiques in display cases all around the room. 

“Discover some of the most persistent fabrications and embellishments in early American history!

Visitors to the Historic Odessa Foundation will explore myths repeated at museums and historical societies all across America… about people, their objects, and architecture. Through this informative exhibit the foundation seeks to discredit and discourage the retelling of tall tales like…houses didn’t have closets in colonial days because people wanted to avoid paying the closet tax… beds were shorter because people slept sitting up…Venetian blinds were invented in Venice…just to name a few!

Please join us for this insightful look at the myths that have made very appealing stories for generations but are completely false…and… share with us the myths you may heard when visiting other cultural institutions.”

 I never in a million years imagined anything like this would come from my book. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, because when I was visiting Durham, North Carolina in August, Historic Stagville had done something similar. They’d taken their colonial-era house and fashioned a handout for a self-guided tour that took you through it on a history myths tour. Some myths came from my book, like “Kitchens were built separate from the house so that if the kitchen burned down, at least the house didn’t burn as well.” Others were myths that pertained more to their own location, like “Plantation houses were big fancy homes with large porches and columns that look like the movie Gone With the Wind.” (Not Stagville, which is far more typical.) The handout was inexpensively produced but very professional, and I was very impressed. 

If you live within striking distance of Odessa, DE, do drive over for a look, before their Christmas exhibit takes out their fall exhibit on Oct. 31. Or contact these two excellent museums if you want more information or a sample of their handout–maybe you can do something similar at your own museum!

8 Responses to Impressive Delaware Exhibit Fashioned after DEATH BY PETTICOAT

  1. janice says:

    this is great! of course those who follow your blog have been impressed with it. glad that they are doing this at museums. as a museum goer, i know i would enjoy seeing this.

  2. How nice both for you and museum visitors. Congratulations on inspiring these exhibits.

  3. rosyrobey says:

    Hallelujah! Wonderful and gracious way of educating the public by letting them in on “myth-tery” while using the “scenario of the crime!”

  4. Susan Smyer says:

    Hi Mary, What a wonderful tribute to your book! I’m so pleased that you shared this with your readers. Maybe some day the worst of the myths will be stamped out. I hope sales are going well for Death by Petticoat; I’ve really pushed it in Texas. Regards, Susan

    • Mary Miley says:

      Well, I don’t think the myths will ever really go away . . . the best outcome I see is that docents everywhere are becoming more skeptical about some of the statements that previously would have been accepted unquestioningly/ And that’s all to the good.

  5. Deborah Brower says:

    From small acorns grow large oaks! The history community had needed a book like yours for a while. It explains myths in a common sense way without making people look stupid. It is already a classic

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