Unmentionable: The Indiscreet Stories of Artifacts

People have a right to be shocked, the mention of unmentionable things is a kind of participation in them.

 – Logan Pearsall Smith, 20th-century scholar and expert on the English language

We don’t use the term “unmentionable” much in this day and age. People are less prone to being shocked by things, and few subjects are unsuitable for conversation. Exploring what is, or is not, unmentionable in our modern era is an intriguing endeavor simply because while some topics are not shocking now, they were in the past. Conversely, some subjects not considered controversial in the past, we now find objectionable.

In a museum setting, artifacts illustrate a moment in time, a social movement, a person, a place, a scientific development, or an idea. Artifacts stay the same, but their meaning changes based on what is happening around us.

That’s what Unmentionable: The Indiscreet Stories of Artifacts is all about. The controversial, unusual, intriguing, gross, scandalous, interesting, disturbing, awful, uncomfortable, discriminatory, and surprising artifacts in the Nabb Research Center’s collection all in one place.


The exhibition was curated by Curator of Exhibitions and Engagement Melinda McPeek, along with Nabb Center Archivists Ian Post and Jen Piegols and Nabb Center Director Creston Long. Exhibit curation and online exhibit by Graduate Assistant Emily Jester. Numerous Salisbury University students also contributed to the exhibition through researching, digitizing materials, and writing exhibition text. We thank the following students for their assistance: Malone Dampier, Emily Jester, Samantha Steltzer, Rihana Stevenson, Emma Tarquinio, Jacob Young, and Sandra Zelaya. Unmentionable: The Indiscreet Stories of Artifacts was originally conceived by the Hayward Area Historical Society and made available through Exhibit Envoy