Historical Society solicits ‘objects of history’ from community

Posted 4/8/20

The Jefferson County Historical Society’s physical sites are closed until further notice, and its in-person programs are canceled through at least April at least, but JCHS Executive Director …

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Historical Society solicits ‘objects of history’ from community


The Jefferson County Historical Society’s physical sites are closed until further notice, and its in-person programs are canceled through at least April at least, but JCHS Executive Director Shelly Leavens wants the public to know she and her crew are striving not only to serve the public, but also to preserve the tumultuous current events as history.

“I have found, on this rollercoaster of the last few weeks, that I am struck simultaneously with a sadness at how this pandemic is hurting our community, in a million visible and invisible ways, and profoundly proud of the people in our community for the outpouring of support and caring for each other,” Leavens said. “There is no other place I would rather be than right here in Jefferson County.”

Like many of us, Leavens has heard these described as “historic times,” but she pointed out that we observe and take part in history every day, regardless of whether there’s a community crisis at hand.

“It simply seems strange to document life when everything is looking fine,” said Leavens, who quoted J.R.R. Tolkien’s assertion that “days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome may make a good tale and take a deal of telling anyway.”

To that end, Leavens expressed confidence that accounts and “objects of history” from this time will be of interest to those looking back a century or more from now, so she encouraged the public to submit their stories, letters (both electronic and hand-written), artwork and photographs to the historical society.

“These are tangible aspects of history in the making that are worth setting aside now,” Leavens said. “We see the masks you are making for our local healthcare workers. Save one of those for us. We see the doodles of political figures you are making while ‘working from home,’ and they’re amazing. We want to collect your photographs of empty streets or ad-hoc spaces, such as mass held outside, and hear about your culinary feats — did you cook 30 days of meals in one weekend? — and understand how you are helping each other while staying at home.”

Leavens shared a photograph of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Townsend as its parishioners conducted an outdoor mass during the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic as an example of capturing “history in the moment.”

“Pen and paper never goes out of fashion,” Leavens said. “Now would be a fantastic time to write a letter to someone you love, or write in a journal. Our community’s heritage is something we all invest in, and that the historical society holds in trust, for you and yours.”

Members of the public are invited to share their stories via email to stories@jchsmuseum.com, or by writing letters addressed to 540 Water St., Port Townsend, WA 98368.

“If you’re making art, writing poems, baking or practicing music, we want to see that as well,” Leavens said. “We’re interested in the experiences of folks of all ages—kids as well as adults.”

Leavens said submissions “might end up in one of those fancy acid-free boxes or on exhibit,” but said the historical society would always ask for permission to share anything provided to the JCHS archive.



Leavens emphasized the virtual door swings both ways, because just as the historical society is soliciting the community’s contributions, so too is it introducing “JCHS Comes to You,” by posting highlights of new and existing online content on Tuesdays through the weeks to come, on jchsmuseum.org and the Facebook page at “jeffcountymuseum.” And don’t miss “Friday Features” for the inside scoop on an object or document from the JCHS collections.

“Did you know you can virtually visit our world-class and world-famous research center by searching our online photograph collection?” Leavens said. “The possibilities are only limited by time and your imagination.”

Search criteria can include locations, years, collection headings and topics, the latter including the paper mill, Fort Worden, hiking, maritime history and railroads, among other subjects.

If you find an image you like, and want a copy without the watermark, or have questions for the archivist, email research@jchsmuseum.com.

Leavens hopes the public will keep in touch with the historical society on Facebook, over email, and by leaving funny messages on the museum’s phone at 360-385-1003.


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