The Susquehannock Case at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

The Susquehannock Case in the Archaeology Gallery at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA, is a complex case. It contains approximately 100 artifacts, which are some of the best Native American artifacts in the museum’s collection. Only one artifact, the breastplate, could not be exhibited and was modeled because of its deteriorated state.

The exhibit tells the story of the Susquehannock, a lost people, from the 16th Century to the 18th Century spanning five historical periods. The Susquehannock migrated from northern Pennsylvania into the Lower Susquehanna Valley and subsequently traded with the newly arrived Europeans. Many of the objects on display show the various stages of their culture. The Susquehannock culture came to an end in 1763 when the Paxton Boys from Harrisburg became outraged by stories of native atrocities against white settlers, destroyed and killed the Native American residents in the settlement, Conestoga Indian Town.

The case was designed to be universally accessible. An audio presentation tells the story of “A Lost People” using focused speakers hanging above the main label panel and hearphones, which enhance the same audio presentation for visitors who are hearing impaired or for visitors who cannot hear because of other groups in the gallery. A version of the audio is printed above the hearphones for people who are deaf. The main label is slanted so children or people who use wheelchairs can look at the photographs to identify objects in the case, some of which are described in the audio, read the text, and feel the two models. Visitors who are blind can access the same story not only through the audio presentation, but through surface mounted panels that contain the locations of the Native American sites and the accompanying Braille text. The panels are made of etched stainless steel—the lower parts are blackened out while the high points reflect light for sighted visitors visiting this area the gallery, which is low lighted for ease of viewing the diorama and to minimize reflections from adjacent walls and exhibits.

The exhibit, which is the first exhibit in the museum to contain labels in Braille as well as other accessible features, was curated by Stephen Warfel, senior curator of archaeology, and designed by Robert Bullock, Chief of Exhibits, who also painted and built the diorama. Our disability consultant was Londa Hauser from the Tri-County Association of the Blind, and case fabrication was done by the museum’s fabrication section while the Braille and graphic panels were produced by USA Models, Loch Haven, PA. The complex wiring for the audio and light show was developed and engineered by The Magic Lantern, an audio-visual firm in Pittsburgh, PA.

For more information on the Susquehannock Case contact:

Robert Bullock, Chief
Exhibition Management
The State Museum of Pennsylvania
300 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0024


The citation for this article is: 

National Center on Accessibility. (August 2003). The Susquehannock Case at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Making the Grade. Indiana University-Bloomington: National Center on Accessibility.