No. 1293—What do Municipal Historians Want?
Photographs, arrowheads, cemetery records,
potsherds, deeds. I have spent most of
my life poring over these relics of a dead past, trying to make them
speak. I thought of them last Friday, as
I narrated the vignettes that the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Museum Committee
presented at the once upon a time
Dick Anderson had found period photos that he projected on a rear-projection screen. Photographs of life at The Point in the early 1900s flashed by—boats, people, hotels, all telling us that people really lived then, really went fishing, went boating.
The committee has been striving mightily to
build a replica Oak Orchard Light House to replace the one at the end of the
west pier at the mouth of
The theater was the brainchild of Dick
Anderson, the president of the
Therefore, Dick, an energetic fellow, sent
out letters to all the municipal historians, asking if they had pertinent
information. Lysbeth Hoffman, the
He then appealed to the other cottagers on the lake. He received photographs. He received clippings from the local newspapers, copies of articles, written reminiscences. How could Dick find all this stuff, which brought the dead history to life? Because people had treasured all that junk. And saved it.
Why do I say junk? Because many people consider old photographs, newspapers, diaries, letters, business journals, calendars, and church records junk, and throw it out. I know this in a very personal way. When my grandmother died, we all gathered in her house to disperse her goods. One of my aunts had already started cleaning, and had taken all the family photographs to the dump. Luckily, my youngest uncle had found out about it and retrieved them. We almost lost three generations of memories.
So, while I was narrating I thought about how this material must be systematically saved. It is all worth saving. But the obvious place to start now is photographs. Scanning is easy; storage is so efficient; and making copies is a snap.
So I am offering, and will be asking, to scan people’s photograph albums (or shoeboxes) to preserve our life. And I mean life from 1824 to the present. We sometimes forget that today will soon be history and in very little time--ten years?—fifth graders will be wondering what life was like in 2008.
And I want to save all the other things too. I generally use the Swan Library as my repository. Each town, moreover, has a historian, and I will share with them, as they share with me. But the main thing is to make sure that all these items that illuminate our past are kept safely where people can look at them and be amazed at how strange things used to be.
FREE CEMETERY TOUR—County Historian C. W.
Lattin and I will lead a cemetery tour of