The Everhart Museum’s collections never fail to amaze and surprise, and from time to time I am able to spend some time researching a specific object that illustrates the intersection of several elements of our collection. This exquisite basket is a feathered gift basket, made by the Pomo peoples, circa 1900. The Pomo are a Native American nation found throughout the state of California, but concentrated in northern California, including the counties of Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma.
Both men and women made these finely crafted feathered gift baskets, though each group made baskets for different functions and with different methods. Men plaited (braided) baskets for babies, fishing weirs (trap), and bird traps. Women made coiled, twined, and feathered baskets; the former were used for cooking and storing food, and the latter for special ceremonies and gifts.
The designs were inspired by dreams and therefore imbued with spiritual power. They were also woven with a Dau: a small opening in the pattern created by a small change to the stitching; this is also called the Spirit Door, which allows good spirits to come in and circulate in the basket and releases the other spirits.
Originally made for use by members of the Pomo nation, these types of feathered baskets were being made specifically for sale to tourists by the late 1800s, and could command a high price as an art collectible, as they took a great deal of time to produce. Today, Pomo peoples continue their basket making traditions but have adapted and changed their techniques to create unique artworks that are highly valued as cultural heritage and expression.
Many of the materials used to make this basket are also found in our collections, including plants, birds, and rocks. The Pomo used a variety of plants for their baskets, including swamp cane, saguaro cactus, rye grass, black ash, redbud, willow shoots, and sedge roots.
The feathers in the basket come from these birds: Mallard (dark green iridescent), Western Meadowlark (yellow spotted), Northern Oriole, Western Bluebird, and California Quail.
The Pomo had an elaborate numbering system and were known as the money-traders, trading beads of magnesite and clamshell beads, such as the ones found around hanging as pendants around the edge of this basket. We have examples of magnesite in our rocks and minerals collection.
The Everhart Museum is unique as well; it is wonderful as a curator to have so many diverse collections to unite and interpret in a variety of ways. I always enjoy exploring so many different materials to bring forth current research and relevant information on our natural and cultural heritage.
Years ago, when I worked as a security guard, patrons would occasionally ask about the Museum’s founder. Their questions revealed that the general public’s knowledge of Dr. Everhart was limited to three or four half-remembered stories. What seemed to be known about Dr. Everhart is: 1) he may have at one time lived in the Museum; 2) he definitely at one point fell down some stairs in the Museum; 3) this fall may have killed him; 4) his ghost definitely haunts the Museum.
The reality behind the death of Dr. Everhart suggests there are some kernels of truth behind an incident that has passed into urban legend. For the 43 years that Dr. Everhart lived in Scranton, he made his home at 135 Franklin Avenue, near the corner of Spruce Street. His home was demolished long ago and on its former site is the parking lot for the city’s unemployment office. In 1907, shortly after he announced his gift of a museum to Scranton, Dr. Everhart suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. Though in frail health, he had recovered sufficiently to attend the Museum’s dedication and oversee the installation of his collection in its new home.
On April 12, 1911, Dr. Everhart fell while visiting his museum. This event was reported on the front page of the Scranton Republican: “Dr. Everhart, who gave the Museum to the city, slipped and fell on the floor, receiving a fractured right hip…Dr. Everhart’s physician says that he does not consider that the injury is serious, and he expects his patient will be able to leave his bed in a few weeks.” The injury, however, turned out to be more serious than reported and was complicated by the fact that Everhart “refused for some days to allow the surgeon to set the broken hip. The result was that the affected hip did not heal as rapidly as it would.” He ultimately would not recover from this injury and died at home on May 26, 1911.
So there you have it. Our Museum Mythbusters report: Dr. Everhart never lived in the Museum. He did, in fact, fall in the Museum, but it doesn’t seem as though stairs were involved. The fall seems to have hastened his death. As to whether his spirit haunts the Museum, no one currently on staff has had any supernatural encounters.