BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
The elegant glass pokal hasn't been seen by anyone but Barry Rauhauser in the past 30 years.
The pokal -- an engraved and lidded goblet, a rare surviving piece of Henry William Stiegel glass from the 1700s -- is among the treasures stowed in the basement at LancasterHistory.org, the umbrella organization for the Lancaster County Historical Society and President James Buchanan's Wheatland.
"It's amazingly beautiful," Rauhauser says. "It haunts me. Every now and then, I peek in at it just to be sure it's still there."
Rauhauser, 42, is the Stauffer curator and director of history on the web for the organization.
Lately, that lofty-sounding title means Rauhauser spends much of his time unpacking boxes.
The society is moving back to its home on President Avenue, which more than doubled in size during an $8.6 million construction project.
During construction, the society's collection was kept in storage or in temporary digs at 4 W. King St. They started moving back in December.
Packing items for storage took nearly four years, Rauhauser notes.
"Now we're trying to unpack everything in three weeks ... although it's going to take a couple of years before we come up with the best arrangement for everything. It's not a fast process."
All told, Rauhauser is responsible for some 18,000 items of historic significance -- the society's entire collection of three-dimensional objects, from campaign buttons, clocks and candlesticks to portraits, furniture and an old courthouse bell.
The collection includes about 2,750 items from the former Heritage Center, as well as close to 100 pieces from the defunct Quilt & Textile Museum. Other collections -- the society's library, photographs and archive of records -- fall under a different department.
The headquarters upgrade gives Rauhauser a degree of freedom he never had before.
Under the old system, he says, exhibits would go up and stay up for months at a time, often constrained by a theme that dictated which items could be displayed.
Maybe 1 percent of the society's collection was on view on a given day, he says.
"There were some absolutely beautiful and important objects that were never seen for years at a time," Rauhauser says, citing the pokal as an example. "Just because they didn't match the theme."
Themed exhibits aren't a thing of the past, he says -- but the flexibility of the space allows a broad range of display choices.
When the center reopens on Friday -- and the collection is unveiled with a gala on April 27 -- 10 to 20 percent of the collection will be on view, Rauhauser says. Even better, he adds, the selection of items can be rotated more often, giving visitors a reason to return to the premises.
"Before, we focused on providing a narrative," he says. "The new focus is on the objects, and letting the objects tell their story."
Even items that remain in storage won't be entirely hidden away, he says.
The new layout allows visitors access to a window-lined hall in the basement, where they can see many of the items that aren't out on display. If they're curious about something, Rauhauser says, they can ask for a closer look.
Of course, he admits, a new facility brings some frustrations, too.
"In our old building, I knew where every stud was," he says. "I knew where to put a nail, I knew where I could hang a picture.
"This new building -- it's exciting, but there are still a lot of question marks."
Rauhauser was raised in York and lived in Marietta and Lancaster before moving recently to Parkesburg to be closer to his girlfriend in West Chester.
The distance doesn't stop him from commuting to and from work -- when it's not quite so cold -- on a bicycle.
"It's a beautiful ride," he insists.
An avid cyclist, Rauhauser teaches a class on bicycling at Penn State York, where he is an adjunct professor.
That, too, is a story. As a student there, Rauhauser was pondering a major in English or engineering when he took an elective in American studies and was hooked on history.
"I hated history, honestly, when I was growing up -- because of the way it was taught," he recalls. "You read a book and memorized names and dates. That doesn't inspire you in any way."
In college, though, he had his first hands-on experience in a graveyard, studying tombs, and he discovered the appeal of doing his own detective work and uncovering history for himself.
He completed graduate work at the University of Delaware. Later, his former professor, Gary Collison, asked Rauhauser to assist him with the American studies class that first inspired him. After Collison died in 2007, Rauhauser was hired to continue teaching the course.
"It's so great that I get to teach the class that made me fall in love with history," he says.
"I know I'm not going to engage all of my students -- you learn that quick," he adds. "But I might engage a few."
nNew LancasterHistory site offers more space to display objects and collections. Upcoming move keeps curator busy.