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A Curious Collection  

Harriet Miller Ellwood passed away quietly on July 16, 1910.

You say you’re not familiar with Harriet? She married Isaac Ellwood, a fabulously wealthy businessman who earned his millions selling and distributing barbed wire.

Diana and I visited their estate in DeKalb, Illinois—a town known for corn more than wire.  Apart from the stately home the Ellwoods built, what caught my eye was an unusual collection of, well, stuff.

I refer to the lot of minerals, relics, and curiosities made by Mrs. Issac L. Elwood. Its treasures number in the hundreds and include:

  • A flower from Lincoln’s coffin
  • Lava from Mount Vesuvius
  • Piece of petrified snake
  • Petrified fish
  • Petrified potato (what’s with the fixture on petrified things?)
  • Stones from Washington’s monument
  • Gold quarts from the Black Hills
  • Pot from Old Ireland (cooking pot, not the stuff sold today on every street corner as CBD)
  • Stones from the Island of Ischia (extra credit if you can find it on a map)
  • Part of Washington’s flagstaff from Mount Vernon
  • Wood from an old treasure chest owned by Washington’s grandfather
  • Beans from the Sandwich Islands (huh?)
  • Jawbones of sawfish
  • Wood from the battlefield of Waterloo
  • Turkish newspaper

Such an eclectic mix begs questions like: Why did Mrs. Elwood want these things in the first place? How much did she pay for all that stuff (the petrified fish, for starters)? Precisely what was the going price for a flower from Lincoln’s coffin—or a hunk of Washington’s flagstaff?

It's easy to paint Mrs. Elwood as a strange lady with even more eccentric tastes.  But we collect, too: stamps, coins, dolls—and remember Beanie Babies?  We’ll leave them all behind, of course, when death comes knocking. But I hope when that day comes, I am known less for the collection of my physical stuff (my garage is embarrassingly cluttered) and more for the invisible:

  • A life of steady prayers
  • A mind of favorite Scriptures
  • A trail of faithful witness
  • A heart of Jesus’ love

Now there’s a collection worth sharing.

 

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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