Coaxing stories from everyday antiques is History major’s dream internship

McDaniel College history major researches artifacts at historical society
October 04, 2019

At first glance, Sera McClintock saw nothing out of the ordinary about the antique child’s desk she had gently pulled from storage at the Chester County (Pa.) Historical Society. And then, the McDaniel junior opened the desk drawer — and discovered treasures more valuable than gold.

No one at the historical society had known that here, tucked away for more than a half century, were reflections of a little girl’s life. Pieces of glass a child had painted with scenes of flowers and grass. A well-used recorder. Two fans. Candy wrappers. Pieces of wood, most likely from toys still waiting for repair.

McClintock, a summer intern at the historical society in her hometown of West Chester, Pa., could not believe her good fortune. The desk was a historical item but the contents of the drawer offered a look at the people who inhabited a long-gone era. Her history classes at McDaniel gave context to the people and objects she was researching.

She loved every minute, even cleaning the cobwebs out of a covered wagon.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life and that was reinforced during my internship,” says McClintock, who knew in high school that she wanted to be a History major and wants someday to work at the Smithsonian. “I loved where I was working — the research, the discoveries, even the small things of moving furniture I enjoyed too.”

On top of activities she relished, the internship was at the historical society in her hometown, a place where generations of her family had lived. In fact, a few family connections showed up in her research — tools from a carpenter who shared a name with one of McClintock’s ancestors and items found on a land preserve that had family ties.

“I found it so interesting and special how my family tied into this,” says McClintock, who is a member of the Green Terror golf team and serves on the Student Athlete Advisory Council. “I’m passionate about where I grew up and I’m very family oriented so this internship was perfect for me.”

McClintock coaxed stories from everyday items and often was surprised by the details. She and another intern found a cane that had not been documented. On it were initials, a last name and the date Dec. 25, 1800-something. Research told them the owner was just married the year on the cane, which hinted that it was a holiday gift perhaps from his new in-laws? They found records of where he built a house to live with his new wife and went in search of a home at that address.

“We discovered that the house was still standing and that we had walked past it every day on our way to the historical society,” says McClintock, whose internship was supported with a Summer Intern Fellowship supported by The Rupe-Stuart Internship Award and The Nora Roberts Foundation awarded through McDaniel’s Center for Experience and Opportunity. “That’s the great part about this — something you would have overlooked all of a sudden means something else.

“This house we barely noticed suddenly was the home of a gentleman who owned this special cane and probably propped it next to the door.”

It was a summer McClintock won’t soon forget. She’s already setting her sights on an internship in history-rich Philadelphia next summer — maybe at the new Museum of the American Revolution — or who knows, Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian.

McDaniel College History major at the historical society during her internship

Sera McClintock (left) researches artifacts from the Chester County (Pa.) Historical Society's collection during her summer internship.