A Quirky Pastime to Help Time Pass on the Island

Katherine RivardArtifacts
Blue ocean in front of a brick Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park, a park in Florida
— Leslie Velarde/NPS

Every generation of elementary school students has a fad that kids are desperate to be a part of. Think pogs, Pokémon, the newest lunchbox, or more recently — fidget spinners. For some, it was the sticker book. A colorful binding of enclosed wax pages that allow one to collect, and then potentially swap, stickers with friends on the playground.

Travel back in time about 150 years and you may be surprised to find something similar to a sticker collection at Fort Jefferson, which is now part of Dry Tortugas National Park.

Amidst the crystal blue waters of the Florida Keys stands Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its construction took almost 30 years, and even then, the fort was neither finished nor fully armed. Still, the fort acted as a deterrent to enemy ships, allowed Union warships to harbor during Civil War blockades, and became a prison, largely for Union deserters. So, how does this relate to sticker collections?

leather bound Leaves of Friendship book of dried seaweed at Dry Tortugas National Park
National Park Service

Albums, such as Leaves of Friendship which is preserved in Dry Tortugas National Park’s museum, were commercially sold and enabled collectors to gather algae and seaweed specimens for fun. Much like pressing flowers, people pressed and mounted their sea finds on cards as a hobby. The cards could then be sold or traded with other collectors. For soldiers staying at Fort Jefferson, or even some prisoners held within, this became a popular pastime in the 1860s and 1870s. This album thus acts as a historic artifact highlighting how Americans from a bygone era spent their time, while also preserving objects of a scientific nature. However, unlike a specimen preserved by scientists, which are usually preserved with each plant on a separate page, the collectors who created moss cards often used multiple species per page, aiming to create a work of art that would be pleasing to the eye.

Captain H.D. Brown of the 100th New York Volunteers, who gave the Leaves of Friendship album to Emma, used plants that are still common in the area surrounding Dry Tortugas. Though the album does not provide insights into any extinct plants or species that no longer inhabit the area, it provides a fascinating look into the daily life of those living at Fort Jefferson during the 1800s. To learn more interesting facts from around the National Park System, read about other captivating artifacts that are preserved in our parks, or get outside and #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque in person!

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