Category Archives: Park Personnel

Drawing Today’s History to the Page

For decades, comics have been a gateway into the world of reading for many children. During today’s challenging times, creating personal comics can also help young people chronicle their unique view of the history-making COVID-19 pandemic, according to an artist who also helps students discover history at the Clermont State Historic Site.

In 2016, Emily Robinson, a professional comic artist and the site’s School Programs Coordinator and Camp Director, founded History Comics Club, a unique program that connects underserved youth with their local history, builds an interest in art and writing, and helps create a sense of place at our historic site for students and their families in the community. Each student learns to draw their own comic while learning about the history of the Livingston Family.

Seven successive generations of the family left their imprint on the site’s architecture, room interiors and landscape. Robert R. Livingston, Jr. was Clermont’s most notable resident. His accomplishments include drafting the Declaration of Independence, serving as first U.S. Minister of Foreign Affairs, administering the oath of office to George Washington, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase and developing steamboat technology with Robert Fulton.

Clermont State Historic Site, which remains closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Credit: Friends of Clermont)

Thanks to funding from Friends of Clermont, History Comics Club has provided the program to more than 1,000 students from age 7 to 17, resulting in the program’s publication of five books of their collected comic art and prose.

“Drawing requires the students to look at the history represented at Clermont, from clothing and how homes looked, to pets that lived on the estate,” said Robinson. 

As part of her work to help introduce students to Clermont’s history, she created a series of comics from the point of view of the family dog, Punchy, who gives a “tour” of the mansion in his own inimitable way. View some of it here

Punchy the dog makes an appearance at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival in 2018 to introduce visitors to the history of Clermont.

During the pandemic, families are sheltering at home, and many children might feel anxious over what the future might hold. Art can be a powerful way of processing that anxiety and interpreting ongoing events through their eyes as part of a historical record.

“Art can be a great healer,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t matter how well you draw or write, it’s about being creative and conveying information.”

Emily Robinson’s comic version of herself urging students to consider creating their personal comic or other record of their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a child grows older, each piece of art will provide a window into their younger years, said Robinson, who recalled being in fifth grade during the September 11th terrorist attacks.

“I remember the confusion of those early days, and how my own teacher used art as a creative outlet,” she said. “I struggled writing the script for the COVID-19 comic, because I wanted to address kids in a way that wasn’t patronizing but didn’t scare them. They’re already stressed out; art should be a welcome window to self-expression.” Robinson continued, “I hope kids will feel pride that their artwork could help inform future historians’ understanding of life during the pandemic.” 

It does not take many supplies to start creating comics at home, a drawing pad and something to draw with. Robinson suggested that students may start with a basic sketch book, which includes stencils and general information on how to draw expressions and symbols. But almost any kind of white paper, like computer printer paper, will do.

During the last four years, Robinson has taken the program to the Hudson City School District, Germantown Central School District, Rhinebeck Central School District, and the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, as well as the Hudson Valley Writers’ Project in New Paltz. She also has presented on the program at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival and in 2018 hosted a panel at Comic Con in New York City.

Clermont’s Historic Site Manager, Susan Boudreau, is extremely proud of the program and what it offers to area children: “As I’ve seen over the life of the program, the art of making comics can make a great impact on the lives of our students. No student needs to have any artistic experience to participate, and some find that they are quite talented, which is so empowering. The openness of the comic genre encourages students to explore their own identities, fears, hopes, and dreams, which is a wonderful gift in these uncertain times.”

Emily Robinson, under her pen name Emily Ree, is best known for her young adult graphic novels, Anarchy Dreamers and Marshmallow Horns. You can see more of her work on her websites, EmilyRee.com and AnarchyDreamers..com.


Cover Photo: Emily Robinson’s comic representation of herself wearing a protective mask. All photos from New York State Parks.

By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks

Tender Care For A Most Egg-cellent Collection

How do you clean an egg more than a century old? Very, very carefully…

That was the challenge facing conservator Heidi Miksch at the State Park’s Historic Preservation Division at Peebles Island State Park. She had just gotten a case of bird eggs that had been collected in the late 19th century by the children of famous Hudson River School landscape painter Frederic Church.

While growing up in the family home at Olana in Columbia County, Church’s four children were part of the then-popular hobby of bird egg collecting, also known as oology or “birdnesting.” The children managed to collect and fill a large case with hundreds of specimens in wooden trays, each in a small labeled box lined with cotton.

The case had been stored ever since at what is now the Olana State Historic Site, where staffers intend to display part of the collection for the first time ever this spring in an exhibit on connections between art and the environment.

The mansion at Olana State Historic Site, where landscape painter Frederic Church and his wife, Isabel, , raised their four children who took up the popular Victorian-era hobby of egg collecting.

But many of the eggs were blackened with decades of dust and grime, and had to be cleaned before being displayed. So Miksch, who has conserved objects from a stuffed black bear to a piece of the Parthenon, researched a bit, and came up with her technique _ using conservation-grade cotton swabs, a dab of water, and gently rubbing. An average-sized egg takes about 20 minutes to clean, and the case contains eight trays, each with 36 boxes with most boxes containing one or more eggs. Miksch uses water, and not a cleaning solution, for fear of degrading the delicate eggshells.


Curator Heidi Miksch shows how she cleans bird eggs more than 100 years old.

Click through the slideshow as conservator Heidi Miksch (wearing the blue sweater) shows the Church childrens’ egg collection.


“The Church children collected many different kinds of eggs,” said Miksch. “I have even found a flamingo egg in there.” (For the record, a flamingo egg is white and oval in shape, appearing much like an oversized chicken egg.)

In the early 20th century, conservation concerns over the impact of bird egg collecting began to mount, and the practice later was limited in the U.S. under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

But when Church’s children – Frederic, Theodore, Louis, and Isabel – were growing up in the Hudson Valley during the 1870s and 1880s, egg collecting was seen as a good way for children to learn about nature while also engaging in healthy outdoor exercise.

To preserve a collected egg, a tiny hole would be drilled into it, and the contents would be aspirated out of the hole, and then the egg would be rinsed out to prevent rot and decay. Or two holes could be drilled and then the contents would be blown out. The empty egg was then carefully stored.

Egg collecting was not just a hobby for children. Cultured gentlemen of the era, particularly in England, amassed large collections and ranged over many nations in pursuit of rare or unusual eggs. One of the world’s richest men at the time, English financier Baron Rothschild, had a collection of nearly 12,000 bird eggs, which now resides in the British Museum of Natural History.

Egg collecting was at its zenith from about 1885 through the 1920s, with children being the vast majority of collectors, according to a 2005 research paper by Lloyd Kiff, past director and curator with the California-based Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology.

Collectors of the day would trade eggs among themselves. There also were commercial egg sellers, who would offer eggs for sale in catalogs, just like dealers in stamps or coins.

Examples of egg collector catalogs. (Photo Credit- The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology)

An American collector, William Brewster, who in the 1880s was the chair of the American Ornithologists’ Union Committee on Bird Protection, collected thousands of eggs that are now held in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

But the hobby began dying out as conservation principles and legal restrictions took hold, and by the 1940s the practice was all but gone. Today, it is illegal to collect bird eggs in the U.S. without a permit issued for research purposes.

The practice is also outlawed in England, although a few fanatical collectors persist despite legal sanctions.

Kiff’s study estimates that there about 80 major egg collections in the U.S., composed of about a half million egg sets, representing some two million individual eggs. These collections have demonstrated significant scientific value in subsequent years, supporting the discovery that exposure to the pesticide DDT was causing eggshell thinning in birds like bald eagles, Peregrine falcons, and pelicans.

This evidence formed the basis of a $140 million federal government settlement with DDT manufacturers in 2001, which Kiff described as the most important ecological use of any bird-related specimens.


“By now, hundreds of eggshell-based studies of (DDT) have appeared in all major regions of the world, and the present ban on DDT use in all but a handful of countries is a direct result of this research.” – Lloyd Kiff

History, Present Status, and Future Prospects of Avian Eggshell Collections in North America, The American Ornithologists’ Union (2005)

He suggests that eggshell collections may also be useful in the future for the study of ongoing climate change and its impacts on birds.

This comes as expertise in this field is fading away, Kiff wrote, adding “The body of traditional oological knowledge may vanish, except on the browned pages of extinct journals, and existing egg collections may gradually become objects of greater interests to historians than to biologists.”

If you would like to see the eggs collected by the Church children displayed in the home where they grew up, visit Olana between May 9 and Nov. 1 for the exhibition entitled “Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment.”

This exhibition features Martin Johnson Heade’s 19th-century series of hummingbird and habitat paintings – The Gems of Brazil – and their relationship to Hudson River School landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Church.

Co-organized by the Olana State Historic Site and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, as well as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, this exhibition will also feature work by contemporary artists including Nick Cave, Mark Dion, Jeffrey Gibson, Paula Hayes, Patrick Jacobs, Maya Lin, Dana Sherwood, Rachel Sussman, and Vik Muniz.

And finally … here is a look at that flamingo egg.

Cover Shot- Close-up of part of the Church children’s egg collection. (All photos and videos by NYS Parks unless otherwise noted)

Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks


Resources

History, Present Status, and Future Prospects of Avian Eggshell Collections in North America, 2005, Kiff, Lloyd L., American Ornithological Society.

The Code of Nomenclature and Check-list of North American Birds

Ornithologists and Oologist, Semiannual, January 1889 – Victorian-era instructions on collecting and preserving. Explains collector practices of the time period.

Fragile Beginnings: Bird Egg Collection – Blog post on collection decisions made at Wesleyan University

University of WisconsinSearchable online database for egg identification

Ready At The Rope

It was going to take heavy ropes and safety gear to rescue a 75-year-old man who was hurt and bleeding after falling near the rocky summit of Dutchess County’s highest point — 2,316-foot Brace Mountain.

With temperatures above 90 degrees and humidity thick that July 4th weekend afternoon, crews at Taconic State Park faced a half-mile hike up the mountain to reach the victim, who could not walk after injuring his head and extremities in a fall on a steep trail.  Initial reports also indicated the man was on blood thinning medication, which could make his bleeding harder to stop.

Setting out from the trailhead, the crew included myself, members of the local Millerton Volunteer Fire Department, an emergency medical technician, two forest rangers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and members of the Northwest Connecticut Rope Rescue Team. With about 300 pounds of ropes and hardware for the crew to carry, the hike in took about 45 minutes.

Some five grueling hours later, crews had carried and lowered the 125-pound victim hundreds of feet down the mountain, with the help of the stout ropes, a metal basket, and a piece of equipment called a stokes wheel. A stokes wheel is a single ATV tire that clips to the sides of a metal rescue basket, making transportation on rough terrain more comfortable for the patient and easier on rescuers. The victim was then airlifted to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Using a stokes wheel, the rescue crew carries an injured hiker down Brace Mountain.
A helicopter heads to Brace Mountain to extricate an injured hiker.

This is not the first occurrence of this type of injury on this trail. Earlier that year, a hiker had fallen on the icy trail and injured his ribs, requiring rescue crews to carry him out on a stokes wheel. A few years earlier, another visitor fractured his leg while slipping on leaves and was airlifted off the summit of Brace Mountain after being carried by crews for more than a mile to a suitable landing zone.

As park attendance continues to rise, and social media convinces more potential hikers to head for the backcountry, we are seeing an increase in patron injuries and so-called ‘technical’ rescues in our State Parks. Such rescues are becoming more common at places like Taconic State Park and Hudson Highlands State Park in the Taconic Region, Minnewaska and Bear Mountain State Parks in Palisades Region, John Boyd Thatcher in Saratoga Region and Letchworth State Park in Genesee Region.

People fall while taking selfies, slip while wearing improper footwear, or enter hazardous and closed areas of our parks. Some patrons fail to dress for the weather, do not bring flashlights or maps, fail to bring enough water and are generally unprepared to hike some of the terrain our beautiful parks offer. The mighty cell phone has made many of our patrons more confident knowing help is only a call away. This false confidence has started to put a strain on park resources along with surrounding first responders who are constantly being called to parks for injuries, and search and rescues.

In order to work better together and streamline communications between rescue crews, here at Taconic State Park we have started annual rope rescue drills with local fire departments, forest rangers, rope rescue teams, park police and other first responders.

The drills include using Incident Action Plans and the Incident Command Structures we all learn in our classes as park managers. By drilling, we get to practice putting together planning documents and working with Incident Commanders who coordinate with park officials on such emergencies. We gain valuable facetime in a non-emergency atmosphere where we can dissect our pre-planning and offer each other suggestions and advice.

In late October, staff at Taconic State Park held a Joint Rope Rescue drill that brought together over a dozen responding agencies from two states and three counties. The drill was a mock exercise that practiced communication between different departments, navigation and various rope rescue skills and strategies.

Members of the Brace Mountain Joint Rope Rescue Drill in October.
A map of the Brace Mountain region used during the safety drill.

We also review our rescues to learn not only what we did right but more importantly, where we can improve. One lesson from the July 4th incident is that we will now use staging areas for motorized UTV’s that shuttle rope gear to a pre-planned location near the summit of the mountain so that heavy equipment no longer needs to go uphill with rescuers on foot.

By using motorized vehicles to bring heavy gear above where a rescue has to happen, rope crews only have to carry this equipment downhill, which saves more of their energy for when they reach a victim. It takes a few more resources to do this but ultimately increases the efficiency of getting equipment to the injured hiker.

Also, we have established multiple hoist locations in the area, so if available, a helicopter can save us the time and effort of carrying and building lowering devices with ropes and hardware in the field. This will not always be available, but it is another tool that we can use to make rescues faster and safer.

All parks are required to have an All Hazards Emergency Action Plan. However, some emergencies in our parks require more planning than the normal fire drill or patron with heat exhaustion. Some potential emergencies require park managers to meet with local first responders on a regular basis to enhance the speed and efficiency of their response.

No matter what size the park or historic site, it is always essential to have an open line of communication with the local fire chief, rescue squad and Park Police so that the one day they are needed, they know your face and who you are. It just makes things easier – and ultimately safer – for the thousands of visitors who use the trails in the rugged regions of our State.


Post by Chris Rickard, Park Manager, Taconic State Park


Prepare To Help Avoid Accidents

  • For a safe hike, there are things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots, and bring water and snacks for the trail. Wear clothing appropriate for the weather.
  • Be mindful during hikes on steep terrain or that go near cliff tops. Hiking poles can help stabilize yourself against a potential fall, and transfer stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.
  • In the winter, when snow and ice can cover trails, carry and use traction gear on boots, such a webbed spikes or crampons.
  • Carry a small first-aid kit in case of emergency. Hike with a partner, so if something happens, help is present. Hiking alone is risky.
  • Use a trail map, which is available online at each park website at https://parks.ny.gov/ and at the main office at each park, in season. Check the park’s individual website to see if its maps can be downloaded to your iOS Apple or Android device, but a paper map is a good backup in the event of device failure.
  • For some facilities, data is available as a Google Earth KML file or a map is available to download to your iOS Apple and Android mobile devices in the free PDF-Maps app. Learn more
  • Once you have a map, you can tell how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. As days grow shorter in fall and winter, having a flashlight or headlamp in your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
  • If issues arise, be prepared to turn around. Don’t fall victim to “summit fever” – the desire to reach the top regardless of the risk.
  • And, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside during spring, summer and fall, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard. Thankfully, ticks are not normally active during the cold of winter.
The Brace Mountain rope drill team nears the summit.

All pictures courtesy of NYS Parks

Fire On The Mountain

As all park managers know, times of peace and quiet in the park are only temporary.

On a Friday afternoon last month, Hudson Highlands State Park in the Taconic Region felt the transition from tranquil to full-throttle, when after a trail steward with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, crossing the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over the Hudson River, noticed smoke to the south. And it was coming from Sugarloaf Mountain in the park.

Smoke rises from Sugarloaf Mountain. (NYS Parks photo)

It was a little after 4 p.m. on September 20 when the steward reported his sighting to State Parks. Almost simultaneously, Hudson Highlands Park Manager Evan Thompson — elsewhere in the 8,000-acre park — was told by a patron of a potential fire on nearby Breakneck Ridge. That report turned out later to be of the Sugarloaf blaze, but added to initial uncertainty over possibly having two fires at the same time.

Gathering staff to investigate Sugarloaf and knowing that recent dry conditions had increased the danger from wildfires, Thompson also called the New York State Park Police, Parks Forest Rangers, and the Department of Environmental of Environmental Conservation for assistance. He learned that DEC officers were responding to a search at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and another fire at Cranberry Mountain, both several counties distant.

After additional contact with the Park Police, DEC sent Ranger Robbi Mecus to the park. Park Police officer Jeremy Pickering arrived at the trailhead as did Mecus, with the pair leading a crew of eight on a 2.4-mile hike up 900-foot Sugarloaf Mountain. There, they found a fire covering about nine acres at the rocky summit.

A state Police helicopter was called in, dropping water drawn from the nearby Hudson four times before dark in an effort to slow the spread of the fire. The crew stayed on the mountain digging fire lines — areas where dried grass, brush, trees and other flammable materials were cut and shoveled away to create a buffer line difficult for fire to cross. The ground crew only stopped when it became too dark to see safely.

Smoke covers the scorched summit of Sugarloaf Mountain . (NYS Parks photo)
On this map, Sugarloaf Mountain is located at the red trail labeled SL, with its summit marked by the binoculars icon.

By then — perhaps only four hours after the first report of the fire — Taconic’s Assistant Regional Director Tom Watt had asked for additional assistance from DEC and the State Parks’ adjoining Palisades Region. State Parks Forest Ranger Lt. Mickey Cahill from Palisades Region arrived, sharing Incident Commander responsibilities with DEC Forest Ranger Captain Greg Tyrrell.

Watt also started calling State Parks facility managers at home to gather manpower needed for the next day; he soon had a roster of twenty Parks staffers scheduled to report to an 8 a.m. briefing Saturday. Meanwhile, several other agencies and organizations offered help, including the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

A crew of more than 30 was ready to climb the mountain by that morning, coming from State Park’s Palisades Region as well as from the far reaches of the Taconic Region on the other side of the Hudson. Splitting into two teams, the crews continued the physically-demanding process of hand-digging fire lines — also called fire breaks — around the perimeter of the rugged, rocky mountain top.

Crews on Sugarloaf Mountain use shovels and other hand tools to create the fire break meant to contain the blaze uphill from them. (NYS Parks photo)

At Sugarloaf, crews made these breaks by scraping the ground clean of combustible material for up to four feet, with a foot-wide, 6-inch deep cut into ‘mineral earth’ along the center of the break. Hazard trees nearby were downed, both to protect crews and prevent fire-weakened trees from falling across the fire containment line to act as a bridge for fire to spread. Digging these breaks was challenging due to the steep, rocky terrain and a thick layer of duff, which is decomposed organic material overlaying the soil.

From the air, a State Police helicopter continued dropping water gathered from the nearby Hudson River. And the fire itself was not the only hazard for those working the mountain. Crews had to watch out for fire-loosened rocks that tumbled down cliff faces without warning, as well as for rattlesnakes and ground-dwelling wasps. By Saturday evening, a preliminary line of fire breaks had been created to isolate the blaze, which by this point was estimated to cover about 14 acres.

A State Police helicopter brings a massive container of water from the Hudson River to drop onto the fire. (Photo by New York-New Jersey Trail Conference)

By Sunday’s 8 a.m. briefing, the fire-fighting crew had swelled to more than 75 people, with many working to strengthen fire lines in temperatures that soared to more than 90 degrees. In some instances, their work meant abandoning a section of line that would be difficult to defend — on a very steep slope, for instance, where burning material could tumble downhill across the line to spread — and dropping back to dig a new section.

Crews also created ‘cupped’ lines by piling material on the downhill side of lines meant stop burning material from sliding over and spreading. By this time, the fire covered about 25 acres.

On Sunday morning,  a complex network of fire hoses was laid out just outside the fire line. The hoses were routed to portable tanks at locations where tanker trucks could deliver water; gasoline-powered pumps provided water pressure to the hoses. Air operations by helicopter continued throughout the day. By nightfall on Sunday, the fire lines were as good as could be expected given the difficult terrain, but hardly impregnable.

A crew member uses a hose to water down the brush fire at Sugarloaf Mountain that has ignited dry grass. This summit is classified as one of the best examples in the state of a Rocky Summit Grassland natural community by the NY Natural Heritage Program. Learn more about this fire-adapted ecosystem in NYNHP’s Conservation Guides. (NYS Parks photo)

Monday dawned sunny and warm, with crewing working to improve the fire breaks. More than a mile of containment line was dug or improved on the rugged western flank of the fire, and by the end of the day, Park Rangers were confident that the lines were good. That evening, Rangers and Parks staff lit backfires on the east side of Sugarloaf to consume combustible material under controlled conditions. During the night, numerous large trees fell from roots being burned and weakened by the fire, with crews cutting trees that crossed the line.

The next day, Parks Rangers and DEC backburned privately-owned land to protect a cluster of houses at the north end of the mountain. With permission of the landowners, crews successively lit fires inside the containment lines and allowed the fires to consume burnable material. Crews then went to work to extinguish flames within 25 feet of the lines. That evening, crews again patrolled overnight to ensure that the fire remained ‘on the black side of the line.’

Crews keep working the fire break line. (NYS Parks photo)
Crews that manned the fire line. (NYS Parks photo)

By Wednesday morning, Sept. 23rd, the most immediate danger had passed, although the fire was still burning inside the break lines, which by this point contained about 50 acres. Secure breaks and less combustible material inside the lines meant that the hardest work was done.

The fire was contained, with no one hurt and no homes damaged. The Wilkinson Trail to Sugarloaf summit has since reopened, although part of the trail at the summit is rerouted to avoid steep, eroded and dangerous conditions.

A smaller team remained at the mountain for several days to conduct “mop-up” operations, like corralling equipment that had been distributed over miles of trails and patrolling for sparks or breaches of the fire line.

Given the nature of the soil and the terrain, the fire was expected to continue to smolder and burn until rains finally put it out. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although initial reports suggested it might have been an illegal campfire. State Parks rules allow fires only in designated areas under supervision by an adult.


Post by Steve Oakes, manager of Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park and Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site

How will the plants and animals that make up the Sugarloaf Mountain ecosystem respond and recover from this fire? Keep your eye on the NYS Parks Blog for a future post on that subject.

21st century technology Recreates 18th century Luxury

When Alexander Hamilton was married at Schuyler family mansion in Albany, the residence was a pinnacle of style in Colonial America.

Home to one of the region’s richest families, the Georgian-styled mansion was decorated with luxurious wallpaper, rich fabrics, and even an ornamental papier maché ceiling that had been custom made and imported from England around 1760.

This ornate ceiling graced the mansion’s Best Parlor, where Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in December 1780, as the Revolutionary War raged into its fifth year.

Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. The couple have new-found popularity from the successful Broadway musical play Hamilton. Source: Friends of Schuyler Mansion

To get his decorative ceiling, Philip Schuyler had simply selected designs from a catalog, provided room dimensions with his order and a complete ceiling was shipped ready to install.  Schuyler could have chosen from birds, flowers, shells, moldings, festoons, musical instruments — images that represented his interests and image.

This was not made with the papier maché that people might recall making in school — no newspaper and white glue. This was cotton rag pulp and papier maché that was mixed with water into a oatmeal-like slurry, and then pressed into a variety of hand-carved wooden molds to dry and set. 

The resulting super-light and slightly flexible ornaments were inexpensive to ship and easy to install. After a little glue and few tacks to set the ornaments in place, a ceiling was ready for painting.   Once done, it gave a stylish look similar to more expensive plaster ornamentation.

During the years, the parlor ceiling at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site was removed and lost for reasons unknown. But Historic Site Manager Heidi Hill wanted it back after part of efforts to restore mansion for its 100th anniversary as a State Historic Site. 

The challenge to the Peebles Island-based Bureau of Historic Site and Park Services, part of the NY State Parks Division for Historic Preservation, was how to recreate something that has not been commercially produced in 150 years.

Making new hand-carved molds was out of the question; it would take too much time and cost too much money.

However, the team at State Parks had an amazing resource — an existing, rare and wonderful example of a mid-18th century papier maché ceiling at the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, Westchester County. This mansion has the only complete surviving example of this type of ceiling in the United States.  

However, this ceiling was too significant and too fragile to risk being damaged by the pressure and stress of taking contact from a traditional mold. This is where laser-based, 3D imaging technology came to the rescue.

In a pioneering project, State Parks partnered with Ithaca College’s Physics and Astronomy Department and the Friends of Schuyler Mansion to have the Philipse Manor Hall ceiling 3D scanned by portable laser units that fire pulses of light up to one million times a second. Light is then reflected back to a receiver, which measures how long the light took to return, using the data to create high-resolution scans that captured details down to 100 microns or 4/1,000th of an inch.

Headed by Professor Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers, the Ithaca College team 3D scanned nearly the entire interior and exterior of the historic Philipse Manor Hall, said Charles Casimiro, an historic site assistant there.

Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers, right, with Ithaca College students Evan van de Wall and Ryan Fedora, using laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

“This effort for Schuyler Mansion was a very exciting project to work on … we were using this technology to do something that had never been done before,” said Rogers, who recently became the new chairman of the Physics Department at the University of Colorado at Denver.

It took three visits to Philipse Manor Hall between 2015 and 2017 to get all the scans, he said. With the newest scanner, students could use a hand-held device, wave it around the room and watch the image on the computer as it filled in, “kind of like painting with your hand,” said Rogers.

Ithaca College student Demitri Hector sets up a laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers.
Lasers scan a ceiling bust of Sir Issac Newton. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers
The scans are rendered into an image on the computer. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.
Ithaca College student Kevin Pomer uses a hand-held scanner on the ceiling at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

In 2015, Rogers’ team also 3D scanned the Grant Cottage State Historic Site in Wilton.

The scanning of Grant’s Cottage, where Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life writing his memoirs, is now being used to help protect the 1870s structure from fire, said Ben Kemp, site manager for the Friends of Grant Cottage. He said the data is being used to help design a modern fire detection and suppression system.

Rogers said this kind of scanning technology also will help in the rebuilding of fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was scanned in 2015.

When the laser scans at Philipse Manor Hall were completed, State Parks had computer images that revealed every paint brush stroke, age crack and tiny detail on the manor’s 250-year-old ceiling, which features images of lute players, bagpipers and singers, as well as busts of Sir Isaac Newton and poet Alexander Pope .

A drawing based on the 3D laser scan of the ornate ceiling design at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site

To reproduce this ceiling in Schuyler Mansion, the original idea was to use the scans for a 3D printer to create each unique ornament in plastic. The Bureau of Historic Sites would then use traditional molding and casting methods to make new molds, which would then be used to produce the papier maché ornaments.

But Rogers’ team then figured out how to use the 3D imagery to create computer commands for the State Parks printer to instead make the concave molds used to receive the papier maché .  A total of 55 unique molds were needed to recreate the Philipse Manor ceiling.  

These molds were printed in Peebles Island’s Architectural Conservation lab at the Bureau of Historic Sites & Park Services. A printer works using a spool of bioplastic filament, which is heated into a liquid and then fed through a printer head that created the molds layer by layer.

State Parks Architectural Conservator Erin Moroney making molds on a 3D printer at her Peebles Island offices.

Many molds were too large to fit the printer bed, and so were digitally rendered into smaller pieces and then physically welded together later with a high-temperature 3D pen.  

With molds ready, we started making papier maché. Traditional cotton rag papier pulp was pressed  into the molds and the water squeezed out  with large sponges. 

A section of papier maché ornament with its mold.

More than 300 pieces were cast to make the ceiling, using over 500 pounds of paper pulp. The edges of each casting were hand trimmed. Each piece of ornament was then primed and boxed up for installation.

More than 98 percent of the ceiling was installed by three State Parks staffers in under a week. Hot glue was used to adhere the ornament to the ceiling. The ornament edges were then caulked where necessary and the entire ceiling painted. Once finished, the ornamental ceiling now looks like it has always been there.

Now installed at Philip Schuyler Mansion, this is only the second complete papier maché ceiling in the Unite States.

Erin Moroney and Bill VonAtzingen install the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Erin Moroney paints the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Bill VonAtzingen, a State Parks restoration carpenter, paints papier maché ornaments for installation.
See the complete process, from 3D printing of molds, to installation of the ceiling.
A detail from the ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
A 360-degree view of the restored ceiling.

Over the next few weeks the Parlor also received a crystal chandelier, an imported English loomed carpet and new custom-made drapes. The result is amazing.  For the first time in over a century—the grandeur of the Best Parlor is restored to the time of the Hamilton wedding, from the floor to the ceiling.

Philip Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.

Post by Erin E. Moroney, architectural conservator, Bureau of Historic Site & Park Services.