Due to the ongoing public health crisis created by the COVID-19 virus pandemic, the Birmingham Museum is closed to the public until further notice as we plan for safely re-opening.
Museum staff is available for public inquiries and research questions:
Tuesday-Friday, 10 AM to 4 PM
via phone at (248-530-1928 or 248-530-1682)
or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also reach us through Facebook www.facebook.com/TheBirminghamMuseum, or Twitter https://twitter.com/bham_museum and we will do our best to get back to you quickly! We're also working to provide even more of our entertaining and educational content online, so stay tuned for updates!
Mission Statement: The Birmingham Museum will explore meaningful connections with our past, in order to enrich our community and enhance its character and sustainability. Our mission is to promote understanding of Birmingham's historical and cultural legacy through preservation and interpretation of its ongoing story.
Recognizing Birmingham's Black History
With Birmingham's Black history just coming into sharper focus based on recent research, we will be launching several articles about three important African American families that are all connected to early Birmingham and each other: the Taylors, the Farmers, and the Harrises. But first, we would like to introduce our web visitors to Black history through burial practices and symbols, and how the Friends of the Birmingham Museum and museum staff Donna Casaceli created remembrance bouquets to place on the unmarked graves of Birmingham's first African American property owners in Greenwood Cemetery.
Flowers for Black History Month: Grave Bouquets Placed at Birmingham’s Greenwood Cemetery for George and Eliza Taylor, and Abraham and Abbie Farmer Harris
By Donna Casaceli
Bouquets Mark Their Graves
George and Eliza Taylor and Abraham and Abbie Farmer Harris were African Americans who lived in early Birmingham
and who are buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Until recently, their stories and heritage were unknown, and three of the four had no grave marker. When it was recently learned that Birmingham’s Black history revolves around these people, the Friends of the Birmingham Museum provided funds to recognize the location of their graves with silk flowers during Black History Month. This effort involved some focused research and effort to prepare bouquets that reflect the symbolism of our nation’s Black History, and this article explains the meaning behind the flowers used for our bouquets. The bouquets will be left in place during the month of February, but funds have already been raised for the Taylors’ grave markers, and Abraham will be added to Abbie’s marker as well.
The Flowers’ Meaning to Enslaved and Freed African Americans
The plants I used in the bouquets were chosen for special reasons. They may not seem like mourning plants to our modern eyes, but they had special meanings to many enslaved and freed African Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. African American and enslaved burial grounds were not as manicured as the typical public cemetery of the Victorian period. They tended to be more “overgrown” and wild. This was because the first enslaved Americans were given peripheral land for burials, usually wooded, or otherwise not usable for agriculture. Enslaved Americans had little means to mark the graves, so they relied on customs from their homeland, such as seashells, plants and objects that were beloved or last used by the deceased (cooking pots and other items denoting trade were first “ruined” before being placed. They were “ruined” so they would not be stolen.)
Families also marked graves with plants and perennial flowers, which would return each year in memory of the deceased loved one. After the end of slavery, many African American cemeteries continued the tradition of marking gravesites with plants and flowers, giving African American cemeteries a more natural landscape – wooded and overflowing with wildflowers and perennials. Today, the Periwinkle Incentive (http://slaveryandremembrance.org/partners/partner/?id=P0087) and other organizations use the presence of these plants to find the burials of enslaved Americans through the South, and the graveyards of late 19th and early 20th century African Americans.
The Language of Flowers in Black History
The flowers used in the arrangements are associated with the cultural practices used by African Americans before and after the Civil War. There is no “standard” Black History Month designated flower; rather, the arrangements that I made for the Taylors and Harrises are an expression of my research and understanding thus far.
Periwinkle – this plant is thought to be one of the most popular flowers brought to the graves of the enslaved. Today the Periwinkle Initiative is an organization that is creating a database of enslaved burials. They are so named because this nearly evergreen plant with small blue flowers still persists over many of the graves enslaved African Americans, allowing them to be located and recorded. The flower today signifies the endurance of the enslaved Americans and their legacy today.
Yucca plant – Yucca is another plant that marks many early graves even today. It can live hundreds of years and represents eternity. In many African American communities it was also traditionally thought that yucca kept restless spirits in the grave.
Daffodils – daffodils have been associated with cemeteries for a long time, with one variety even known as the “Cemetery Ladies.” The daffodil was also used to mark graves because it is a perennial, and because of its hardy nature. Also due to its ability to spread, it was known as a “pass-along” plant for those who could not afford to buy the bulbs to mark a grave. Many enslaved cemeteries have daffodils and other like perennials growing throughout.
Cedar branches – the branches in our Greenwood bouquets represent the cedar trees that are commonly found on African American Burial grounds. The cedar was sometimes used as a grave marker because it is an evergreen, and represents everlasting life in many cultures. It is also known as the Cemetery Tree in many parts of the U.S. South, with a traditional belief that the tree keeps away evil spirits.
Sea Shells – Although found in mourning rituals in several cultures, the seashell in enslaved African American culture held an especially significant meaning. The seashell symbolized the concept that it was the sea that brought the people to the shores of America in life, and it was the sea that would take them back to Africa – and freedom – in death. Many graves were covered in seashells, and shells were used well into the 20th century to mark African American graves. The tradition is traced back to many cultures in Africa who still use seashells in mourning rituals. People still place seashells – and coins - on graves. They are placed as a sign that the person buried is still remembered, and that they had a visitor.
Where to Look in Greenwood
The graves of the Taylors (buried in 1901 and 1902; unmarked) and the Harrises (buried in 1903 and in 1953; only Abbie is identified on the marker) are located in Section E, just north of the east-west drive (see map below for red dots). Greenwood Cemetery is open dawn to dusk, but there is no parking in the cemetery. Please park along Oak Street in designated areas.
New! Online Payment Options for Research Services, Donations, Project Support, Membership, Gift Shop, and More!
The Birmingham Museum now offers convenient and secure online payment options for fees, purchases, and donations using the City of Birmingham's online payment forms. Want to renew payment or donate to one of our current projects? Follow the links below to check out the projects or make a purchase at our virtual gift shop, or call 248-530-1682 for more information.
Research Services Fees: Pay for the research you requested and arranged with museum staff at https://bhamgov.wufoo.com/forms/waeoq401wi6gzh/
Donations and Project Support: Donate any amount or support a project of special interest to you at https://bhamgov.wufoo.com/forms/zw2oa9v05w8vrb/ , such as;
Contribute to the George and Eliza Taylor Grave Monument at Greenwood Cemetery
The Taylors were formerly enslaved people who made their way to Birmingham in the late 1800s to become the first African-American property owners in town. They died in 1901 and 1902 and were buried in Greenwood Cemetery without a marker. Recent research by George Getschman of the Friends of the Birmingham Museum and museum assistant Donna Casaceli uncovered their story, and now you can contribute to the fundraising project to erect a grave marker for the Taylors. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Birmingham Museum and the Piety Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who have committed $2,000 to the project. Your donation will help us raise the remaining $2,700. Any excess funds will go to a Greenwood Cemetery preservation fund with the Friends of the Birmingham Museum.
Or make your check payable to the Friends of the Birmingham Museum (a 501c3 non-profit organization) . Call 248-530-1682 to learn more. Many thanks!
Want to help plant a tree to restore the historic landscape at the museum?
The grounds of the Allen House at the Birmingham Museum need restoration to return to their former glory of the 1920s. Invasive plants must be removed, and original trees such as these graceful elms must be re-introduced. Additional work is planned to create a heritage community perennial garden and a children's garden in the area between the Hunter and Allen Houses facing Maple Road. You can now make a donation directly for the project. To make an online contribution, you can use the "Donations and Project Support" link above, https://bhamgov.wufoo.com/forms/zw2oa9v05w8vrb/ or call 248-530-1682 for more information.
Program and Exhibit Support: If you appreciate our informative and enjoyable videos and filmed lecture series, this may be the ideal way for you to contribute to our ongoing virtual content and exhibits, especially at this challenging pandemic time. You can do so at https://bhamgov.wufoo.com/forms/w1t0dzvk1dz3xoz/
Membership: Now you can become a member of the Friends of the Birmingham Museum, a 501c3 non-profit organization, or renew your membership online at https://bhamgov.wufoo.com/forms/py6jx4c0rxez2l/
Museum Gift Shop: Selected books and museum post cards can be purchased online and picked up curbside if you wish. The ideal way to get that special historical gift and support the Birmingham Museum; https://bhamgov.wufoo.com/forms/w148wb420f8s2z8/
Museum Receives Legislative Tribute
State Representative Mari Manoogian presented the Birmingham Museum with a State of Michigan Legislative Tribute on August 23, 2019. The document was signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilcrist II and is a testament to the museum's efforts to reach new audiences in engaging ways:
LET IT BE KNOWN that the Birmingham Museum has since 2001 provided a top-quality educational experience to the people of Birmingham, Michigan.
Thank you, Rep. Manoogian, and thank you to all our patrons and visitors (both virtual and physical)! We look forward to even more creative contact in the future.
On Monday, June 8, 2020, City of Birmingham Mayor Pierre Boutros issued the following Proclamation on Social Injustice on behalf of the City and all its departments, including the Birmingham Museum:
ON SOCIAL INJUSTICE
WHEREAS, the death of George Floyd, an African American man, by the hands of police officers of the Minneapolis Police Department while in custody, leaves all persons shocked, appalled and infuriated by police misconduct , and
WHEREAS, the actions and in-actions of those officers were a disgrace to the law enforcement community, and were so egregious that the people of the United States of America have taken to protests and demonstrations throughout the nation to confront the issues of racial discrimination inequality and misconduct by police, and
WHEREAS, it is incumbent upon every person in this country to take a stand against racism, discrimination , misconduct, and violence, and send a clear message that those behaviors have no place in a civilized society; and
WHEREAS, our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected, especially the families and friends; by the social injustices that have occurred, and
WHEREAS, all people must condemn and refuse to tolerate racism, injustice and violence of any kinds toward any person and that all people must work together to build a future that ensures fairness, respect , dignity, security, and justice for all, now
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that I, Pierre Boutros, Mayor for the City of Birmingham , proclaim the condemnation of the killing of George Floyd, and further condemn all forms of misconduct , racism, and discrimination , and we set forth our commitment to work for a more just society that provides safety, opportunity , and equality under the law for all those in America , irrespective of race, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation .
Mayor Pierre Boutros
On behalf of the City of Birmingham this 5th day of June, 2020.
Expanded Hours with "Second Thursdays"
In addition to our regular schedule of Tuesday through Saturday, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the museum will now be open until 8:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month! Check out our ongoing exhibits, enjoy our special programs, or make advance arrangements to use our research services. Regular admission pricing applies: adults, $7; seniors and students, $5; Friends members and children 5 and under, free.
Find Us on Facebook!
Check out the Birmingham Museum Facebook Page for more information & photos from events and exhibits.
The Birmingham Museum was established in May 2001 at the former Marion and Harry Allen House and surrounding four acres. It includes the oldest house in Oakland County, the 1822 John West Hunter House as well as the 1928 Allen House. These historic structures are linked by a public plaza, the gateway to the grounds, which were dedicated in 2007 as the John West Hunter Historic Park. The landscape includes some of the most complex and diverse topography, including a spring fed pond and connection to the Rouge River corridor, all just a short walk from downtown Birmingham. The Allen House features changing exhibits about Birmingham and its heritage, while the Hunter House (also listed on the National Register of Historic Places) reflects 19th century pioneer life in the settlement. Watch a brief promotional video produced by Birmingham Bloomfield Cable Television.
The museum works in partnership with other community organizations, such as the Friends of the Birmingham Museum (also known as the Birmingham Historical Society) and the Baldwin Public Library. Together, we provide public tours, entertaining lectures, and special events, such as our popular adult lecture series and children's storytime in the historic Hunter House.
School & Group Tours
School, community organizations and other group tours can be scheduled in advance. For more information, please contact the museum at 248.530.1928, or send an email to email@example.com.
For the second time in recent years, the Birmingham Museum was the recipient of an award for excellence from the Michigan Museums Association, which represents hundreds of museums large and small all over our state. In 2018, MMA introduced a new Outreach Award to recognize a museum for excellence and leadership in the museum community in the area of public engagement. To be considered, the project or program needed to be unique, innovative, and community-driven, as was demonstrated by our year-long bicentennial exhibit, "The People of Birmingham: 200 Years of Stories."
In 2014, the Birmingham Museum was also recipient of an MMA award in the category of "Best New Experience," which recognized a museum's innovative way of enriching visitor experience and forming meaningful connections between people and culture. “Afternoon Backstage with Chad Smith” brought the local rock star and special guests together at his exhibit at the museum. Smith, Grammy-award winning drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, grew up in the area and was featured as part of the Sounds of Birmingham music exhibition. The museum worked to keep the event personal and intimate for both guests and Smith, while raising needed funds. The reception brought the museum and its music exhibition to a whole new audience, and received rave reviews from both guests and Chad and his family.
Updated 2017-2020 Strategic Plan
In 2013, the museum adopted a three-year 2013-2016 Strategic Plan to identify goals and related activities, and to help the museum achieve its operational and professional objectives. The plan received input from focus groups and from the general public, and has been very well received. During 2016, the Museum Board updated the plan for the next three year period. The revised 2017-2020 Birmingham Museum Strategic Plan was approved by the Birmingham City Commission and is now available to view.
Master Landscape Plan for Historic Museum Site Now Complete
In accordance with its strategic plan, the Museum Board has been working for some time to evaluate and develop a conceptual Master Landscape Plan that would provide guidance for future planning of the nearly four acres of grounds around the museum. In addition to identifying and preserving the natural and historic resources of the landscape, providing enhanced barrier free public access and interpretive opportunities are key provisions of the final 2018 Birmingham Museum Master Landscape Plan.
Hours and Admission
Hours: The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. and 1:00 to 8:00 p.m. the second Thursday of the month. Appointments for research or special tours can be made outside those times in advance.
Seniors (65+): $5.00
Students (5-18): $5.00
Children under 5 are FREE.
Friends (Birmingham Historical Society) Members: FREE