VCU Graduate Student Gets to Play With Dolls and Explore

Despite her ripe old age of over 150 years old, Nina continues to stir controversy and intrigue.

Nina, a nearly 3 foot long doll from the Civil War era, was donated to The Museum of the Confederacy (Richmond, VA) in 1923 by the family of Gen. James Patton Anderson, commander of the Tennessee Confederate Army.

Nina came to the Museum with a history all her own. She was believed to be used to smuggle much‐needed medicines across Union blockades to Confederate soldiers, the most valuable of which were quinine and morphine. The desperate conditions during this time, and extreme ingenuity used to acquire these drugs, which were in limited supplies in the South, set the stage for a rare investigation of this historical “criminal” activity.

In late October 2010, a preliminary x‐ray examination of Nina and Lucy Ann, the only two dolls at the Museum allegedly used for such purposes, was performed at the VCU Medical Center. Results revealed that their papier‐mâché busts were indeed hollow and spacious enough to house small packages or vials of medicine. These findings captured the interest of the History Detectives at PBS, who decided to film a documentary surrounding Nina’s story.

img_1204-01The PBS History Detectives and Catherine M. Wright, collections manager at the Museum, next enlisted the help of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS). On January 21, 2011, tests were carried out in attempts to identify the presence of drugs, particularly quinine or morphine, within Nina’s head cavity. Swabs used to sample from within Nina’s head were analyzed directly by AccuTOF‐DARTTM, an instrument that continues to gain notoriety for its ability to analyze a variety of samples in a rapid and non‐invasive manner.

The analysis was supervised by Robert Steiner, M.S., a Principal Forensic Scientist in the Controlled Substances section at DFS and affiliate assistant research professor in VCU’s Forensic Science Program. Casey Mims, a second‐year Forensic Science graduate student at VCU, was selected to help with the analysis because of her concentrated studies in trace evidence and drug analysis and previous experience as an intern with Mr. Steiner.

Get behind the scenes with VCU’s real science sleuths at the premiere of “The Mystery of Nina: The Civil War, Drugs and a Doll” a Forensic Science Red Carpet Event, which will take place on November 9th at 7:00 p.m. in the VCU Student Commons Theatre. The History Detectives documentary will also be screened revealing the results of the analysis, as well as a history of the dismal medical conditions during the Civil War. Come see this captivating exploration of our country’s history, and ability to incorporate the AccuTOF – DARTTM in this novel research.