Even though I spent several years living and working in Pittsburgh it always feels something like going behind enemy lines each time I visit. I had the good fortune to be raised in a strong Cleveland sports household and proudly wear my Cleveland Browns fandom on my sleeve, which can be downright dangerous in the city of our divisional rivals. Even still I am lucky to live just a short drive from all Pittsburgh has to offer, including what I consider the hidden gem of Civil War destinations, located in the Pittsburgh bedroom-community of Carnegie.
I had the good fortune to recently spend some time with my mentor and good friend, Diane Klinefelter, the dynamic Curator and Social Historian at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall (ACFL&MH) in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Diane has been the driving force behind the restoration and revitalization of the Captain Thomas Espy Grand Army of the Republic Post, one of the most intact (and impressive!) surviving GAR Halls, replete with relics, artifacts and uniforms collected by the veterans themselves. Diane has also built up what I believe to be the finest Civil War collection (both circulating and reference) to be found in any public library in the United States. If you have not been to the ACFL&MH you really need to make a point to visit.
Diane has also developed a monthly Second Saturday Lecture Series that has brought quite a following to the library and the Espy Post. After Diane asked me to speak earlier this year as part of the Series I agreed, but only if she would grant me an interview for Emerging Civil War. With some Civil War roundtables struggling to put butts in the seats, and with some media wanting us to believe that interest in the Civil War is waning, I thought it may be helpful for our followers to hear how Diane has built a solid program for both speakers and attendees…
JE: You have been a familiar face at ACFL&MH for many years now. I had the good fortune to intern under you more than a decade ago while in graduate school. Truth be told you are still one of the best bosses I have ever had. Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role at ACFL&MH.
DK: My background is in business having been in the environmental consulting industry for almost 30 years. At 52, I decided to go back to school and get a Masters in Library Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The ACFL&MH was looking for a Library Director just as I graduated. My undergraduate degree was in American History, with a concentration in the Civil War. It was a match made in heaven! I retired several years ago from being the Library Director but have stayed on as Curator for the Espy Post which includes Civil War programming and building the library’s Civil War collection.
JE: While the Espy Post has been featured several times here on ECW, please give our readers a brief background of your institution.
DK: The Captain Thomas Espy GAR Post 153 was chartered in 1879, moving into the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall (ACFL&MH) in 1906. The Library opened in 1901 and was seen by the Civil War veterans as a symbol of strength and permanence. Thus, in 1905 they approached the Board of Trustees asking for space within the building where they could hold their meetings and house the artifacts, books and weapons they had collected over the years. Our GAR Post is the last Post left in the country that has been completely restored, is significantly intact, and was never used for any other purpose. When the last veteran passed on in 1938 the room was locked and remained locked for over 50 years. To put its importance in perspective, at one time there were more than 7,000 GAR Posts in the country. It’s unique!
JE: Public programming, specifically relating to the Civil War, has been strong at ACFL&MH for as long as you’ve been there. I think it was 2008 or 2009 that I first heard Ed Bearss speak in your music hall. How long has your Second Saturday Lecture Series been going on?
DK: We’re going into our seventh year this fall of offering the monthly lecture series. We bring in speakers in from all over. And you are correct – it was Lincoln’s birthday in 2009 that Ed Bearss came to the ACFL&MH to speak. That evening gave people one last chance to the see the Post before kicking off a year-long closure for restoration work.
JE: All lectures in the Second Saturday series are held in the second floor Lincoln Gallery at ACFL&MH. Explain to our readers what makes this such a unique setting for Civil War lectures.
DK: The ACFL&MH owns a collection of 100 of the approximately 132 known photographs taken of Abraham Lincoln. Through these photographs captured for posterity one can witness the transformation from a smooth-shaven to a weathered, bearded statesman. From the earliest known daguerreotype taken in 1847 to Alexander Gardner’s iconic “cracked plate” portrait taken just before his assassination, the collection depicts a sweeping portrait of this most revered American President. When we acquired the collection in 2015 we couldn’t think of a more fitting location to display them than the Captain Thomas Espy GAR Post.
JE: I had the good fortune to speak to your group earlier this year. I was shocked to see more than 70 people show up. On a Saturday afternoon. In January. I would like to think it had a lot to do with my exhilarating topic, but I think it had more to do with the community that you have built up. We often hear about Civil War roundtables struggling with membership, or at least having trouble putting butts in seats. How did you grow this lecture series into the dedicated group of attendees you have today?
DK: It might be the free coffee and cookies we put out! Seriously, it’s taken a lot of hard work and planning, but I think there was a need in the southwestern PA counties, eastern Ohio, and northern West Virginia for this type of continuing education on the Civil War. I also try to bring in speakers who have been vetted and talk on a wide range of topics that will appeal to a broad range of people.
JE: For being located several hours from the nearest battlefield, Pittsburgh actually has an embarrassment of riches for the Civil War community. From the Espy Post and the outstanding (read again – outstanding) Civil War research collection at ACFL&MH to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. Rich Condon with Civil War Pittsburgh has done outstanding work highlighting Pittsburgh’s Civil War history on social media. The Heinz History Center, Photo Antiquities Museum…even two very active Civil War roundtables. How do you all work together and where do you overlap?
DK: Jon-Erik you were very instrumental in getting us off the ground here. You introduced us to Kristopher White with the American Battlefield Trust and Emerging Civil War. It just snowballed from there. I was the librarian at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, so I am well acquainted with Mike Kraus. I interned at the Heinz History Center while getting my graduate degree. I know a lot of people from there as well. It’s a close camaraderie. We all have our unique strengths and support one another’s missions.
JE: You have had a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of Civil War speakers participate in this lecture series over the years, but I have been most impressed with the flavor that you put into your lineup…it’s not all stuffy shirts. You have been very good to Emerging Civil War authors over the years and have given an outlet to a lot of young historians making names for themselves. Earlier this month you brought in John Heckman of the popular Tattooed Historian podcast. This month is Codie Eash of Pennsylvania in the Civil War. Why has it been important for you to reach out to the various arms of the Civil War community, from academics and professional historians to bloggers and social media gurus?
DK: I believe interest in the Civil War is changing. For instance, many more women are attending our lectures than when we first started almost seven years ago. I try to appeal to everyone’s level of interest, especially paying attention to what might younger people find intriguing. There are those that still only want to hear about the “blood and guts” topics, but I find more want to know about the social history – how did the war affect those who were fighting and those they left back at home.
2020 is the Year of the Woman at the ACFL&MH as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage with a full year of programming. So I’ll be giving the lecture in November “Mothers, Marms, and Madams – Women’s Roles in the Civil War.” It’s a topic I’ve been researching for years and have to say I disagree with Margaret Mitchell when she said, “war was men’s business.” That lecture will be November 14.
JE: Speaking of social media, you were recently featured on the popular ‘First Mondays’ Facebook video from Civil War Times Magazine. How has the lecture series and the Espy Post benefited from your social media outreach?
DK: Social media has been a tremendous boost to getting the word out about the Espy Post. We have no publicity or marketing budget so we use every available platform we can to bring attention to this national treasure. That kind of exposure (over 5,300 views) is priceless. And to attract younger people, one has to embrace social media and emerging technologies (whether we personally like it or not!).
JE: What does the future hold for the Second Saturday Lecture Series? I hear rumblings about a possible bus tour this summer. Tell us about your upcoming speakers for the remainder of the season.
DK: As you stated above, Pittsburgh has lots to offer to the Civil War community. Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about them. Rich Condon (Civil War Pittsburgh) and I did a bus tour for the General Meade Society of Philadelphia last fall that was well received. I am working on a similar tour for June 13 stopping at several notable sites and ending back at the ACFL&MH for lunch. Changing up the lecture model a bit. April 25 is our Civil War Living History Day and features an opportunity to chat with U. S. Grant, Clara Barton, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Marie Tepe. In addition, Janet Croon, author of “The War Outside My Window: the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham” is speaking on her bestselling book. Jeffry Wert is joining us on May 9 to talk about “Civil War Barons” and the contributions of 19 northern businessmen to the Union cause, including Andrew Carnegie.
JE: Where can our readers go to find more information about the Second Saturday Lecture Series, the Espy Post and the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall?
DK: Our website has information on all our upcoming events in the Library, Music Hall and Espy Post (www.CarnegieCarnegie.org). If you are on Facebook, like our pages, Captain Thomas Espy GAR Post 153, or the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall page, or sign up for our monthly e-newsletter by giving us your email on our website.
JE: One final question…I hear there are a growing number of people clamoring, nay, begging to see the mayor of the Civil War Defenses of Washington, Steve Phan, at ACFL&MH. What are the odds we can get him to Carnegie? Will the forts be heard from?
DK: Yes, Steve Phan is on our schedule for September 12! We’re looking forward to hosting a lecture with him. He has extensive experience as a park ranger (Gettysburg, Richmond, and Stones River) and historian at the Civil War Defenses of Washington, which includes 17 cities in the Capital region. The forts will be heard from!