Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Alena Pirok’s The Spirit of Colonial Williamsburg.

I think the main thing this engaging first book does is explore the putatively irrational side of historical preservation and museum creation. We take for granted that there is something sane and logical in a desire to preserve past things. But if you tug a bit, the mask slips and something less narrowly rational comes into focus. In her dissertation, Pirok looked at how hauntings were foundational to elite Virginians’ creating their past, and as a consequence, were also central to the historical preservation projects they set in motion. The highest profile, most influential, and perhaps most successful of these was Colonial Williamsburg, so it makes sense that the book version of dissertation focuses on that museum. There are already two significant books that take this museum as their topic. One is Richard Handler and Eric Gable’s 1997 The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg which is an anthropological study of the museum’s educational and corporate culture. The other is Anders Greenspan’s 2009 history called Creating Colonial Williamsburg: The Restoration of Virginia’s Eighteenth-Century Capital which outlines the museum role as a political and cultural meaning maker. Pirok though goes in very different direction. Her’s is neither a straight history nor a critique. Instead, what Pirok does is explore the sort of tug-o-war Colonial Williamsburg’s planners felt between a project justification rooted in authenticity claims on the one hand, and the need to meet visitors’ desires for something rich and personal in their experiences on the other. Pirok labeled that missing dimension as “emotion,” a word she took from 1940s consultants hired by the museum to recommend a way to breathe life into a meticulous but sterile reconstruction. Emotion meant people, life, and activity. As Pirok showed, Rev Goodwin who started the whole project in the 1920s was a firm believer in ghosts–not metaphorical ones, but actual spirits of dead colonial people. His worry was that changes in the city threatened to disrupt the happy afterlife these specters enjoyed haunting their old homes and streets. Restoring the town to its colonial glory secured the ghosts future presence. The professional rebuilding of the town though distanced itself from something as silly as ghost stories. But it did so only to find that the ghosts had created real meaning and connection for locals and visitors, and once they were sort of written out of the story, there was nothing left facilitate the emotional connection that visitors wanted. The ghosts had to come back–and so they did, first in the form of plays, then in the form of first person interpreters, and finally in the form of ghost tours. The museum originally resisted these tours since they challenged the museum’s sense of self and left the project to private businesses. but as Pirok shows. the desire to reap the financial rewards of the popular tours led the museum to welcome ghosts back into the official fold. Her study is about a single museum, but Pirok has touched on something that has a varient at most other open-air and house museums. She is exploring the sentimental core of all historical connection and interaction. 

Colonial Williamsburg During COVID-19

ClaytonClayton Richards is a graduating MA student at the University of South Florida with interest in American history, particularly American expansion and imperialism.


Colonial Williamsburg During COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused all business to change the way they operate. This includes historically based businesses, such as museums, both traditional and “living,” and open-air historical attractions. This can be particularly difficult for these types of businesses, as they rely on attracting large amounts of people to their locations and in the case of living museums, on the interactions between the visitors and the interpreters. However, in the face of these massive upheavals, living history museums have been forced to adapt to theses new circumstances. A prime example of this is Colonial Williamsburg. Forced to close in the wake of COVID-19, Colonial Williamsburg has moved their interpretations online, encouraging visitors to their website to “travel back in time from their couch.”1 These interpretations take the form of blogs entries mainly, written by historical interpreters. These blog entries often look to educate people on certain aspects of 18th century life, while also heavily involving the interpreters themselves. There are blog entries exploring certain characters and figures from Williamsburg. Others are done in more of a Question and Answer style, with interpreters answering questions either their work as interpreters in Williamsburg or questions about their characters, such as Thomas Jefferson. They have also posted an entry about how 18th century apothecaries would have dealt with COVID-19. Colonial Williamsburg has also tried to include more interactive material on their website. They highlight their online interactive resources on their page, even including activity pages for younger visitors and how-to guides for crafts and colonial-style food recipes for adults. This shows how Colonial Williamsburg is trying to remain relevant during the COVID-19 crisis. They are still pushing the interactive elements that have made them famous, but they are embracing new mediums for this out of necessity. Colonial Williamsburg is using its resources and archives to keep its history relevant during this current crisis, by combing online and their signature interpretations as best they can. With the circumstances caused by the COVID crisis, history has had to push pasts its traditional zones in order to stay active in the public.

CV19 and Historic Cemeteries

LaurenLauren Piccinini is a Master’s student with the University of South Florida. Her area of concentration is American History with a specialization regarding American Prisoners of War.

CV19 and Historic Cemeteries

Shortly after Andersonville National Historic Site began conducting virtual tours, the Andersonville National Cemetery announced that they would be limiting visitation to the graveyard to just the weekdays. Then they announced that burials, while remaining available for eligible veterans, they would be done without military honors or a committal service. Additionally, no more than ten family members would be permitted to attend the internment.[1] Meanwhile, Arlington Nation Cemetery is still permitting military honors, but limiting other honors and procedures. Additionally, Arlington is requesting that guests, limited to those with Family Passes or those interning family members, wear masks and/or avoid leaving their vehicles during ceremonies.[2] Within days of these announcements, The Washington Post broke the news that New York City was burying unclaimed Coronavirus patients in mass graves on Hart Island.[3]

Hart Island, a mile long island off of the Bronx, has a long history of unclaimed or indigent burials. Dating back to the Civil War Era, the island is home to Civil War soldiers, the homeless, AIDS patients, and stillborn babies. Due to the mass infection and mortality rate in New York, authorities have struggled with how to deal with the large amount of unclaimed deceased Coronavirus victims. Naturally, Hart Island welcomed these unfortunate souls with open arms. New York is not a stranger to mass burials during previous pandemics; Central Park, then known as Seneca Village, was used as an internment site for victims of the Cholera epidemic of 1849.[4] While the idea of mass burials seems like an antiquated practice, it is one of the few options available, especially since scientists have discovered that the virus can spread after death.[5]

1: Workers in Hazmat Suits Burying COVID Victims, Hart Island, New York

As the worldwide death toll surpassed 164,000, the question of disposing of the deceased sparked a troublesome debate. Are these individuals granted the same rights as everyone else, or should they be quarantined to their own section of a mass grave, identical to the treatment of AIDS victims during the 1980s? The answer appears to be somewhere in the middle and depends on the next of kin’s abilities to provide funeral services.  If the family is able to afford the funeral costs, the decedent is released into their custody through a funeral home; however, if they are unable to afford these services or aren’t aware of the death, the decedent is interned in a mass grave. New York is not alone in this struggle; countries, such as Iran and Italy, have also implemented mass burials and suspended religious ceremonies. Iran has since dug a mass grave so large that it is visible from space. China, where the virus ravaged the population, ordered that any person who died from complications from the virus be immediately cremated without a farewell ceremony.[6]

2: Mass Burial Site, Qom, Iran

While the total loss of life is continuing to grow, it is to be seen how the treatment of the dead will alter and when this ordeal will cease. Presently, the measures being taken at Hart Island is limited to New York City and other epicenters of this virus like Iran and Italy. Other institutions, such as national cemeteries, are taking precautions and temporarily changing procedures in the interest of the public safety. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has promoted, these cemeteries are encouraging the use of masks, social distancing, and limiting the number of persons in a gathering. Only time will tell if individual burial plots will continue in this pandemic or if mass graves will become the new normal.

[1]“Alerts & Conditions.” National Park Service, April 3, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[2] “Frequently Asked Questions.” Arlington National Cemetery, April 5, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[3] Yuan, Jada, “Burials on Hart Island, where New York’s unclaimed lie in mass graves, have risen fivefold.” The Washington Post, April 16, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[4] Martin, Douglas, “A Village Dies, A Park is Born” The New York Times, January 31, 1997. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[5] Baldwin, Angela N., Ph.D., “Coronavirus’ reach from beyond the grave: Deceased body transmits COVID-19” ABC Action News, April 17, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

[6] Woodward, Aylin & Mosher, Dave, “Sobering Photos Reveal How Countries are Dealing with the Dead Left by the Coronavirus Pandemic,” Business Insider, April 13, 2020. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Enduring Xenophobia and COVID-19.

ROY Blog PhotoAlissa Roy is an undergraduate student majoring in history at USF Tampa with an interest in environmental history, memory, and ancient Egypt.

Enduring Xenophobia and COVID-19

The Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and their response during the covid-19 pandemic optimally threads past immigration themes and patterns with aspects of contemporary society. The CHSA Museum is uniquely positioned, with content intimately dealing with the legacy of Chinese immigration, situated within the context of COVID-19 – and the outbreak originating in China’s Province of Hubei. Due to these factors, the CHSA Museum has been extremely responsive in their online presence and content distribution throughout COVID-19.

Perhaps most imperative, is the CHSA response to current Xenophobia directed at Chinese Americans. posted an article titled, “Xenophobia Heightens” on February 18th, 2020. This article addresses the increased occurrence of physical violence, bullying, and racial profiling that is affecting Asian Americans during this time. The article reads, “The COVID-19 is the latest in the sad and sorry mistreatment of Asian American communities during public health scares.”[1] The Museum’s Instagram page also contains numerous posts along the same lines. On March 27th, their Instagram page posted about their partnering with San Francisco State University with a link ( to report xenophobic incidents, stating there are “almost 100 cases a day reported and growing.”[2]

Picture2On April 9th, their Instagram posted an anti-Asian American cartoon from the museums’ collection stating, “this tradecard from the 20th century perpetuate the underlying racism against Asian Americans and how issues back then are still reoccurring today.”[3]

Despite the hardships being endured by the CHSA Museum at this time, they continue to offer a variety of activities on their website and other platforms. MandoMeet, which would usually come together as a physical meeting to discuss and use the Mandarin language, has transitioned to incorporating resources on the website to sharpen Mandarin language skills while face-to-face conversations are not an option.[4] Additionally, the museum hosts an online roundtable discussion, or “book club” that anyone can sign up to participate in. The next “meeting” will occur on April 22nd from 3:00p.m. – 4:00p.m. and focuses on books, films, and tv shows, such as Finding Kukan, Netflix’s Tiger Tail, and The Woman Warrior to name a few.[5] Participants are also encouraged to discuss their favorite recipes and what they miss about visiting Chinatown, while San Franciscans are asked to shelter-in-place.[6] Additionally, on April 1st the website updated their policy regarding COVID-19 and the museum closure. The article states that they will remain closed through May 3rd, 2020 but hope to reopen by May 6th, 2020.[7] However, should this timeline change, they will continue to update these measures as needed.[8]

Picture1In conclusion, in the face of ongoing harassment and discrimination, Asian Americans and the CHSA Museum work to report xenophobic incidents and continue to educate the public about the pervasive effects of racism – both historically, and unfortunately, within contemporary society towards Asian American immigrants. Their unique position and incredible actions to combat racism and misinformation, like those of their brave predecessors, deserve a positive moment in the spotlight, amidst a plethora of negative and largely false media coverage.









COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor

odowdDaniel O’Dowd is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida, concentrating on European History in the Early Modern Period.

COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor

Much of the talk about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has centered around comparisons to earlier national crises and the relative efficiency of the government and public response.  Some of the most common non-disease comparisons have been to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  As the sites of these attacks have their own related museums and memorials, public memorialization of those events has been impacted by the current pandemic.  While the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a National Park Service administered site, the USS Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Memorial and Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are all non-profits without direct government funding.  All of these sites have been closed since March 17th, following guidance from the CDC.  I wanted to take a look at how these sites were handling the pandemic and resulting closures, and to see if any of the parallels in public response to crises were being recognized by the museums themselves.

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial has been posting updates on Twitter, along with images from the memorial exhibits, referring to this as a #VirtualVisit. While there are some short videos about the exhibits available on the official website, these predate the current situation.  The @PearlHarborNPS account did promote a Zoom educational talk on April 8th featuring an eyewitness to the attack, which shows there is some effort being made at replacing events which would normally have been done in person.  As the memorial is government funded, there are no appeals for extra support from the public.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial is offering free guided virtual tours over Skype[1], although these tours are not a new COVID related effort and have been done for over a decade.  The Memorial does not appear to have made any special appeals for public support at this time.  The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is still posting updates on Twitter but does not appear to have any new virtual content available.  However, the museum was undergoing substantial renovations prior to the pandemic, and while the submarine itself was still open to the public prior to March 17th much of the grounds and the main museum building had been closed and under construction since August 2019.  For this reason, the current disruption in attendance and income from the pandemic may be less keenly felt by the institution.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has added a section to their website, called Pearl Harbor At Home,[2] to provide educational materials for parents at home with children during school closures.  In addition to materials that were available before the pandemic, the museum is offering web seminars over Zoom.  The museum is also making special appeals for donations, and offering discounted membership, to try to raise funds.  Using the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII propaganda catchphrase “We Can Do It”, the museum is making appeals to patriotism and national civic identity to help drive support and try to keep spirits up.  It is interesting that this is the only one of the four main Pearl Harbor museums and memorials to do this, as I expected to see more attempts to appeal to WW2 patriotic sentiment in relation to the pandemic given how frequently the comparison is being made outside of the museum context, in news media and politics.



Public Health Meets Public History.

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

Public Health Meets Public History

While all museums have been impacted by COVID-19, for some its hit especially close to home. Across the country, health museums have had to wrestle with the same issues as other similar institutions— how to stage engaged with the public, layoffs and furloughs, etc. But they also feel an additional responsibility to educate their communities about this health crisis.

In Houston, The John R. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science, better known as The Heath Museum, has attracted over 2.5 million visitors. Just last fall, the Smithsonian Institution exhibit Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World opened at the museum. The exhibit reveals how infectious diseases emerge, how they spread so quickly and what scientists are doing to fight them. A review described entering the exhibit— “A mockup of a real-life pandemic response—complete with HAZMAT equipment and staging—will serve as the dramatic entrance to the very real world of life-threatening potential outbreaks.” Since closing on March 17, the Health Museum has been very engaged in the fight against COVID-19. Staff members have appeared on local television to discuss the virus and its webpage contains an impressive list of links to useful resources, everything from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the US Chamber: Resources to Assist Small Businesses. Both its Twitter and Facebook accounts have been very active, posting videos and articles on such topics as how to fight the social distancing blues to advice for caregivers treating COVID-19 patients. And just last week the museum hosted a four day blood drive and donated 3,000 face masks and 3,000 hand gloves from its DeBakey Cell Lab to a local hospital.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine (Silver Springs, Maryland) aims “to preserve, inspire, and inform the history, research, and advancement of military and civilian medicine through world-class collections, digital technology, and public engagement.” While the museum is currently closed, visitors to their website can tour several virtual exhibits, including Closing In On A Killer: Scientists Unlock Clues To The Spanish Influenza Virus. The exhibit gives the history of the 1918 epidemic and the work of Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger to recreate the genetic structure of the virus in the 1990s.

According to its website, the Public Health Museum (Tewksbury, Massachusetts) “strives to preserve artifacts and records of our nation’s history in public health and serve as a resource to the community to educate and promote public health initiatives that address current health issues.” Among its current exhibits is an Infectious Diseases display that teaches how medical experts attacked previous infectious diseases and the impact of their work has on us today. The museum was forced to close on March 13, but has remained active on social media, posting several COVID-19 related articles and links to videos about hand washing and social distancing.

COVID-19 has driven these museums to shut their doors, but they still have found creative and important ways to serve their communities.


Covid-19 Closes the USS Constitution.

BursteinCheryl Burstein is pursing a Masters degree in history at the University of South Florida.

Covid-19 Closes the USS Constitution.

With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, a great many of us have been asked to hibernate for at least for the next month, and public spaces throughout the country have been forced to close, including entertainment and educational venues. As such the museums around the country have been shuttered. Through my perusal of the internet, I found many of the larger museums and museums in larger cities are offering wonderful activities for families and students ranging from downloadable histories of the time period, to craft booklets, and videos. I would like to share with you one museum has done an excellent job creating their site for viewer engagement,The USS Constitution Museum in Boston, MA.

They announce their closure on their website’s front page and in the same announcement proclaim they can bring their museum to you. On this page is a list of areas on their site that “serve students and the public who are working remotely, we will provide complimentary access to additional content on our digital platforms for adults, children, educators, and students”. [1] There are resources for pre-k to adult visitors, from knot tying, sailor games, or being on a voyage. Photos of artifacts are easily accessible as are histories and stories shared by the current museum historian, Carl Herzog. The museum has included numerous videos not only to invite you into their museum but also aboard the Constitution, herself.  Their commitment to the museum’s mission of engaging all ages in the story of “Old Ironsides” to spark excitement about maritime heritage, naval service, and the American experience is well articulated in the on-line offerings.[2] There is so much to do and see on this site, it will surely help pass the time at home as we wait for the virus to depart.


[1]  page 1 “read more” prompt in top box

[2] Ibid.

Three Viennese Museums’ Responses to Covid-19. Three Natural History Museum Vienna.

ObermuellerAlexander Obermueller currently works on his Master’s thesis on the Raiford prison uprising of 1971. Before coming to USF he graduated from the University of Vienna and worked on a project on the Austrian Civil War.

@nhmwien Natural History Museum Vienna

A picture showing the closed but well lit facade of the natural history museum Vienna informs the public that the museum remains closed due to Covid 19. Like the Jewish Museum of Vienna the NHM staff invites visitors to visit the Google Arts&Culture page to investigate some objects of their collection like the famous figurine Venus of Willendorf, in closer detail. Hash tags like #cultureagainstcorona and #cultureintimesofcorona accompany the post from March 17th.

NHM staff posts regularly in English and German and uses already existing digital material like a video on the current exhibition concerned with the moon. Astronomer and astrophysicist Gabor Herbst-Kiss stresses that even astronauts have to go into quarantine in preparation for their venture into space. Highlights of the NHM’s collection like dinosaur skeletons and the mineral collection make a featured appearance on the institutions Instagram channel. Staff first references the new reality, namely social distancing, directly in a post on Bronze Age jewelry. Its spikes supposedly assist in the quest to keep a distance from potentially contagious peers.

With schools closed, NHM staff devised a format to entertain and inform kids about the museum’s collection. In the first colorful episode of a segment dubbed #NHMWienFromHome facilitator and educator Elli Jegel talks about unicorns. Donning a unicorn onesie, Jegel takes kids into the mythology of unicorns and ties the popular creature to the museum’s collection. Another educator with the NHM, Jasmin Hangartner, talks about ancient salt mines in the region of Upper Austria. After introducing the life of salt miners, Hangartner provides a recipe that archeologist came up with, after closely examining preserved left overs and human feces. Hangartner takes the audience through

the preparation of the dish called “Ritschert.” In doing so, Hangartner skillfully combines the necessity of cooking at home due to the Corona shelter in place regulations and historical knowledge usually presented at the NHM.

Irene Gianordoli addresses the viewer directly and starts her video off with a reference to protective facemasks she encountered on one of her rare trips outside. To engage children, who form a large part of NHM’s audience, Irene combines footage from the museum’s dinosaur hall with a how-to guide to create dinosaur sculptures out of toilet paper roles and fun dinosaur facemasks for kids to wear. Crafting miniature dinosaurs out of the left overs of the rare commodity toilet paper or facemasks provides children with an opportunity to make sense of the current situation while tying them to the museum. NHM staff usually uses these techniques during on site visits to engage their young audience. By moving them online in a worthwhile manner, they achieve the goal of engaging an absent audience and aid parents in their struggle to keep children occupied.

In the latest post, biologist Andreas Hantschk takes his audience to a pond, where he focuses on the mating season frogs and toads. After catching a toad and explaining its physique, Hantschk emphasizes the importance of protecting native species. NHM holds large collection of amphibian specimen that visitors are usually allowed to explore. Tying both the biologist’s fieldwork and the museum experience together, Hantschk stresses that visitors would soon be welcomed back to the NHM.

NHM chooses yet another approach to engage its audience during the Covid 19 shut down. By creating a series of videos aiming at children, an important segment of the museum’s audience, under the title NHMWienFromHome, museum staff certainly addresses Covid 19 but also tries to provide a framework suitable for children to make sense of the new reality. Unsurprisingly, different institutions respond to Covid 19 with their respective audiences in mind. Whereas the Jewish Museum sticks to its current exhibition and caters to an adult audience, the NHM clearly created its video series with its younger audience and their parents in mind.

Among the three museums under consideration only the Wien Museum varies its content depending on the respective platforms. Whereas the Jewish Museum and the NHM roll out every post in the same manner on Instagram and Facebook, the Wien Museum creates different posts for Facebook. Attuned to the possibility of longer reads, Wien Museum staff links to their blog where curators provide in depth analysis of historical parallels to the current situation.

Covid-19 and Presidential Libraries.

JoshJosh Sanders is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida. He majors in 20th Century American history with a minor in 19th Century American history.

Covid-19 and Presidential Libraries

As the United States reacts to the coronavirus, I have taken it upon myself to see how presidential museums and libraries have responded. I have been following their Twitter accounts to see how they have interacted with the public. Generally, there have been two standard responses. A few of these institutions have continued in their normal interactions with the public, tweeting out their usual “this day in history.” The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Libraryand Museum has not even acknowledged the pandemic on Twitter, instead maintaining its routine. The more common and expected response is the attempt to tie the current crisis to some crisis during their presidency. For example, the Fred W. Smith National Library has tied the coronavirus to various eighteenth century diseases George Washington would have dealt with. Even if there is not a direct correlation with disease, these institutions have taken this as an opportunity to tweet out inspirational quotes of national unity and perseverance during adversity. The most active of these accounts are Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan, with their institutions tweeting inspirational quotes daily.

The most unique response has been that of the George W. Bush Center. Along with the typical inspirational quote, the Bush Center’s Twitter account is actively responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Rather than making a historical parallel to the uncertainty of the 9/11 aftermath, this institution has taken it upon itself to respond to the current crisis. In fact, they have made no correlation to 9/11 thus far. Instead, members of the Bush Center are writing about how to respond to the coronavirus. According to an article posted on March 19th: “Whether it’s reading lists to help with educating children from home, or teleworking tips to make your life easier, or insight from the unique perspective of Bush Institute experts on leadership during trying times, we’re working to provide a helpful, optimistic response to the unique times we’re experiencing together.” For the past several days, multiple times per day, their Twitter account has posted articles promoting social distancing, giving tips for online schooling, and suggesting activities to keep one busy at home.

This coronavirus activism seems out of place, especially in comparison to other presidential museums and libraries. However, I decided to take a look at how Dallas (where the Bush Center is located) was reacting to the pandemic. The local governments within the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been struggling to respond. A few days ago, a county judge threatened to overturn a stay-at-home order, believing it to be too strict. The McKinney mayor, George Fuller, said that he would ignore the judge’s rule and enforce it anyways. Another example is the mayor claiming on March 31 that citizens were ignoring social distancing measures by going to parks in large groups. As of April 3, Dallas county has extended its stay-at-home order until May 20. However, it seems that the struggle with the local government and actions of citizens was a cause of concern for those at the Bush Center. Since the local government was not responding efficiently enough, the Bush Center took it upon itself to actively respond to the pandemic. The Bush Center perhaps sees its role to engage with the community and provide materials to respond to the coronavirus that was lacking from the local government. It will interesting to see if the Bush Center continues tweeting coronavirus articles, or will it lessen now that the government has stepped in.

CV19 and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo, NY.

Miller 2Scott Miller is a PhD student at the University of South Florida. His area of concentration is 20th Century American history with a focus on the Cold War.

The Strenuous Life of a Historic Site

April 18, 1906. 5:12 a.m. San Francisco, California. An earthquake rocks the city to its core.  When the shaking stops, a massive fire breaks out. When the smoke clears, 28,000 buildings are destroyed, half of the city’s 400,000 residents are homeless and an estimated 3,000 people are dead.  4,500 miles away, President Theodore Roosevelt immediately grasped the gravity of the situation. “At this moment I am much taken up with trying to do whatever can be done to help the poor people of California in the midst of the awful disaster that has befallen San Francisco. It is a terrible calamity,” he writes his son Kermit. Roosevelt establishes the precedent of direct White House involvement to aid major disasters; his approves a Congressional appropriation of $2.5 million and makes a public appeal for donations to the American Red Cross.

More than a century later, the nation is again stricken by a national crisis. Its effects are being felt throughout country. Including the very building where TR was sworn in as President, following the assassination of President McKinley.

Since it opened its doors in September 1971, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site has been one of Buffalo’s historical treasures. But for years it was lost amongst the city’s other more high-profile landmarks, such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Pierce Arrow Museum.  However, the last several years have seen it become one of the area’s premiere historical attractions. A key to the museum’s recent success has been an emphasis on widening its appeal through public programs. Such events as Speaker, Vintage Game and TRivia nights have been successfully attracting a new more diverse audience.

But with the corona virus forcing its closure, site leaders quickly regrouped and devised a new strategy. I spoke with Executive Director Stanton H. Hudson, Jr. to discuss their game plan.  He shared that several years ago they created a virtual tour of the museum that can be viewed through their website. But recently, they’ve been working to take things to the next level with the TR VR Tour. The new tour takes items from their collection (artifacts, newspapers articles, interactive exhibits) and incorporates them into a high-definition virtual reality tour geared towards school children. They also have developed corresponding lesson plans for teachers. The original idea was to make it accessible to local school districts later this year.  But with recent world events, they’ve decided to make what they have available to more than just to schools, but the general community. They plan to get the TR VR Tour up on their website shortly.

In a move that may surprise some, Hudson hopes to begin airing local television commercials.  The spots will direct viewers to their website to experience the virtual tour, with the hook of “watch the virtual tour, than book your actual tour.”  Hudson hopes these commercials drive more than just educators and students to the website, but also the general public.

To keep in touch with the more than 4,000 people on their contact list, the site will start sending out a weekly newsletter. Each newsletter will highlight a program the museum is running during its closure.  For example, the first newsletter will announce on the premiere of the TR VR Tour. The second newsletter will focus on previous Speaker Nite presentations that will be made available to view online. Besides keeping them informed, at the bottom of each newsletter will be a link that allows members to renew their membership or make a donation.

According to Hudson, the site will also be stepping up its social media presence.  Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they will be rolling out new content. For example, this past Tuesday they posted on Facebook— “Quarantine Conversation: If you were stuck at a home with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, what would you talk about?” They hope that by having set social media days it will become appointment reading for their followers.

The site’s Deputy Director/Curator Lenora Henson is also working to save the popular Speaker Nite event. In addition to topics relating to Theodore Roosevelt’s 1901 inauguration and his presidency, speakers in this series discuss topics that were significant during TR’s time and remain relevant today. Henson is exploring the possibility of conducting the presentations remotely through a video conferencing program.

All museum’s efforts to stay relevant take on greater significance because next year it celebrates its 50th anniversary.  While Hudson and the staff’s primary focus is on current events, they already have an eye on next year’s celebrations. They realize all their work now is vital to making the golden anniversary truly golden.











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