Oberlin Heritage Center Blog


Posts Tagged ‘History’

Living Through History

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

My name is Michelle Myers, and I am a summer intern at the Oberlin Heritage Center through the Leadership Lorain County Internship Program. This is my second summer here. I was born and raised in Elyria, and I am currently working on my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Swarthmore College. This is why I have come to the Heritage Center for my second summer: because I love learning about and talking to people.

History, as I have come to learn it, is not facts. History is stories. History is the light in someone’s eyes when they recall an event that made headlines. History is a grandfather telling his grandchildren about the war at a family event. The past is what connects us all together. It is all of our stories interwoven in a conversation where people recall the good old days, the not so good days, and feel less alone. History is not the history of individuals, but of a common humanity who has been through and seen it all. History is what makes us live forever.

This is why I love giving tours of the three buildings at the Oberlin Heritage Center. I love when a visitor recognizes an item in one of the historical houses and says, “My grandmother has one of those in her house.” Someone else says, “I used to use one of those when I was a kid.” Then a conversation starts. People talk to each other. A human connection is made. Meaning is made out of washboards and rug beaters.

When a woman and I talk about the hardships a mother with her child could have faced trying to find freedom from slavery, and the visitor is nodding her head, her eyes deeply concerned, I feel as if something beyond our words is being fulfilled. She understands what it means to work hard, to face destitution. Both women understand. It is all three of us in this conversation. We live through each other’s thoughts and words. This is what history looks like.

But history is also the amazement and hilarity that ensues when first graders realize what a chamber pot is. They get on their hands and knees on the wooden, creaky floors; look under the rope-wrung bed; see the white, shiny bowl; and cry “People would poop in that?!” Maybe they imagine a life, long before televisions and video games, without bathrooms. They have something to go home and tell their parents about. They gave me something to remember. They fill these buildings with laughter and excitement. They keep these buildings and the Oberlin Heritage Center alive. Thank you to all of you, past and present, who keep this place alive.

1940 DeSoto Coupe: History Lesson on Wheels!

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

By Mary Anne Cunningham, Assistant to the Director

Last month, OHC staff visited with Michael and Dorene McAndrews of Brooksville, Florida, who traveled to Oberlin as part of a journey to research and document the history of their restored 1940 DeSoto, once hailed as “America’s Family Car.” The couple purchased the car two years ago, and since then have lovingly and painstakingly restored it to its former glory. Mike and Dorene not only are proud of their pristine restoration, but they’ve enjoyed all the history lessons they’ve acquired through their automobile. Early in this process, they discovered gas ration coupons and a tire inspection record that were used during WWII by the automobile’s original owner, Clyde A. Rawson (1879-1974), of Oberlin. The McAndrews began doing research via Ancestry.com. Some months later, they discovered a copy of Mr. Rawson’s WWII Draft Registration card that listed Oberlin College as his place of employment. The couple requested the assistance of the Oberlin College Archives, the Oberlin Heritage Center and most recently have spoken with a few current residents of Oberlin who remember Mr. Rawson proudly driving his 1940 DeSoto through the streets of Oberlin.

1940 DeSoto Coupe

1940 DeSoto Coupe
(Photo courtesy of Mike & Dorene McAndrews)

The couple compiled a biographical sketch about Mr. Rawson as well as the beautiful DeSoto that they are preserving as a piece of American History. Clyde was the athletic equipment manager at Warner Gymnasium on the Oberlin College campus for 37 years and loved his DeSoto so much that after purchasing the car new in 1940, he never purchased another vehicle and drove it until his death in 1974. He kept the car in his garage at his home on Lorain Street and proudly showed it to admirers who came by knocking on his door asking to see the car.

Clyde Rawson

Original Owner Clyde Rawson
(Photo courtesy of the Oberlin College Archives)

Mike and Dorene have also explored the history of the DeSoto Automobile which was part of Chrysler Corporation from 1928 – 1961. Thanks to the record keeping of the Chrysler Historical Society, they learned that the car was shipped to McDonough Motors in Cleveland in December 1939. In old newspaper articles the couple found about Mr. Rawson when they first began their research, there was information about Mr. Rawson visiting his Mother at the Cleveland Clinic and he himself being in the Cleveland Clinic Hospital. The pieces had finally all come together.

Mike and Dorene expanded their research to include materials on gasoline and rubber tire rationing, coupon books and promotional materials that rallied citizens around the wartime efforts as well as learning a great deal about America’s home front during World War II. Not only do they now feel a kinship with the car’s original owner, they are thrilled that they’ve been able to drive the local neighborhood streets upon which their vehicle traveled nearly 75 years ago and walk down the same sidewalks where Mr. Rawson went to work at Oberlin College.

You probably have a treasure of your own that can initiate a fun and fascinating new history lesson for you and your family!

Winter Term 2012: Finding Community Through History

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Until my time spent at the Heritage Center, my interest in museum work and cultural heritage management was underwritten by my fascination with the objects involved—Classical archaeology was only as interesting as its statuary and American history was only as interesting as the objects which told its stories. My concept and appreciation of museum work gained another crucial dimension during my month with the Heritage Center: the importance of community. In many ways the Oberlin Heritage Center is a professional institution, but in seemingly as many other ways it is a community club of sorts, relying heavily not only on the monetary support of its members but also their expertise and experience.

Towards the end of January, Prue Richard, the Collections Assistant, invited me to attend a collections committee meeting, which would be held at—to my surprise—Kendal (a local retirement community). On the way to the meeting I remember asking Prue if these meetings were public or private, if the committee was composed of board members or paying members, and who would be attending. The answers to these questions were not at all what I had expected. The committee was composed of an incredible diversity of volunteer talents, each of which was hugely valuable to the Heritage Center. The use of community talent and expertise seems essential to the continued prosperity of the Center.

I also enjoyed and learned quite a bit in my more day-to-day tasks at the Center. Interested in both research and collections management, I was able to spread my time somewhat evenly between these two interests. In terms of research, I was given the task of updating biographies on the previous tenants of Monroe house to go with the new furnishings plan. I focused primarily on the Monroe Children—Emma, Mary, Charles, and William. As far as collections management goes, I was able to help Prue develop a new salvage plan which would be used to evacuate the most important objects in the event of a fire or other major crisis. In performing these two tasks I became very familiar with the museum database program Past Perfect as well as a number of genealogical research databases. I also spent a good deal of time in the College archives poring over old financial and legal documents.

The tasks I was given by the Heritage Center staff were undoubtedly personally valuable—and hopefully valuable to the Center as well; but, the aspect of my time here that I may have enjoyed most was being my friends’ personal Oberlin historian. Dozens of times other Oberlin students would approach me with questions about the age of their home or the previous tenants, and given my access to all the information stored at the Heritage Center, I was more than capable of answering these questions. From finding the building history of my house on East College to finding that my friend’s apartment was previously a Masonic Temple, these small bits of historical knowledge have really brought Oberlin to life for me—breaking out the four year cycles I tend to see Oberlin as being stuck in, and revealing a community with a rich, important history that needs to be told and remembered.

Greg Brown
OC Class of 2012

Young Scholars Defend Research

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

By Donna Marie Shurr, Teacher Oberlin High School

For the eleventh year, Langston Middle School and Oberlin High School students have represented Oberlin at District 3 National History Day.  On Saturday, March 19, students traveled to Case Western Reserve University to present their work before panels of judges. The 2011 contest included 400 students.  This record number of entries made for a very exciting day.  Students prepared original exhibits, historical papers, creative performances, media documentaries and imaginative web sites.

Representing Oberlin High School for her fifth and final year, senior Katherine Cavanaugh presented her original, individual performance entitled “ Roe vs. Wade: The Life Saving Debate .”  One of Cavanaugh’s judges commented, “Your final scene was very powerful.” Freshman Julia Robinson defended her paper, “Passion: John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry” before a panel of three judges who asked scholarly questions. Sophomores Madeline Geitz and Hannah Kim dramatized a group performance entitled, “Emma Goldman.”  Geitz and Kim were recognized for their research into local history by the Early Settlers of the Case Western Reserve.  They received certificates and a check for their work.

In the Junior Group Division, four Langston Middle School students also submitted their projects on the theme of “Debate and Diplomacy in History.” All 8th graders wrote a research paper for English class on a National History Day topic of their choice that fit into the theme. Those who wanted to do the projects for the competition worked on them during NHD club time on Wednesdays during the 21st Century Program.

Max Annable and Schuyler Coleman presented their group documentary, American Isolationism before WWII.  Ian Sweet defended his individual documentary, The Hetch Hetchy Dam Debate and Tong Li explained an individual exhibit, Nanking Massacre, the Forgotten Holocaust.

Alison Smith, eighth grade language arts teacher explains, “I am very pleased with the quality of work that all of the 8th graders produced for their research projects and I am very exited about these NHD projects. It’s exciting to see students excited about research and history and to see them take on these projects as their own. THEY chose and researched their topics so they are highly invested in the content matter. This is IB at its best- student directed and student initiated projects.”

LMS teacher Alison Smith and OHS teacher Donna Shurr are the History Day advisors for Oberlin district students.  Bravo to all of the student participants for their hard work and for representing Oberlin and the Oberlin school district!

A Winter Term at Oberlin Heritage Center

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

By Timothy Krumreigh (Oberlin College class of 2012)

Timothy Krumreig encapsulates a historic document so it is safely protected in our archives.

Week One:

The first week interning at the Heritage Center was devoted to introduction and familiarization. Liz and Prue showed me around the basement and allowed me to familiarize myself with the location of resources. Additionally, Prue pulled out documents and books  (i.e. Collections Goals of OHC and Introduction to Museum work) based on my interested in the museum field so I could begin obtaining some background knowledge.

Week Two:

During the second week of interning at the Heritage Center, I began to utilize the resources to start some projects. Rachel and I did a very basic inventory of 123 (formerly 21) South Professor Street for the owner. We looked through directories,  at online documents, and in college guides in hopes of discovering more information about the residents of 123 S. Professor Street. Additionally, Prue showed Rachel and I two examples of scrap books and explained the problems and solutions for preserving old scrapbooks. After the discussion, Prue showed us a recently donated scrap book and demonstrated the construction of a phase box.

Week Three:

Week three of interning at the Heritage Center was really exciting. Rachel and I continued to work on the inventory of 123 S. Professor Street. We completed looking through documents and electric resources and will now move on to the final write up for the file. I went on the field trip to McKay-Lodge conservancy and was very impressed. The trip gave me a good idea of some of things that can be done with conservation and allowed me to see some of the awesome processes used in order to conserve a piece of art or historic document.

When we arrived back at the Heritage Center, Rachel and I discussed gaining experience and working with historic objects and documents with Prue. The next day, Prue collected various documents and pictures in need of preservation. She showed us the flat file of Soldiers Monument and taught us how to encapsulate the documents and pictures that were in the flat file. After walking us through the first encapsulation, she allowed Rachel and myself to encapsulate the remaining documents. On Friday, Rachel and I were given a register from the college and asked to build a phase box, with some assistance were were able to complete a box.

Week 4:

I think week four of our winter term internship was probably the most exciting. The Heritage Center sent us to a symposium in Indianapolis, Indiana for two days. The symposium was called “The Green Historic Preservation Symposium,” which was sponsored by the EPA region five. The symposium brought together people from many different fields: preservation, conservation, construction, business, and many more. The idea of the conference was to bring different minds together to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change in terms of green historic preservation. People are now beginning to realize that tearing down historic homes to make way for “new, green construction,” is not actually green. Green historic preservation is a new and developing idea; hopefully as this idea develops, we will see it applied in Oberlin.

Week Five:

During our last week of work at the Heritage Center, we began working more on the doll house and the objects found in the attic. I was shown how to remove the surface dirt from the furniture and toys by using vulcanized rubber. After the toys were cleaned, I recorded the type of objects so they could later be accessioned. Prue showed us how to add an accession number to the Pass Perfect program and Rachel and I printed a new deed for the found doll house items. The last big project we worked on involved writing the accession numbers on the objects themselves. This process involves different chemical and products that allow a museum to write on the object, but also remove the writing if necessary. We painted on chemicals and wrote the tiny accession numbers on the collections.

Working with the Heritage Center has given me a lot of great insight to preservation and museum work. I would like to go into the preservation and/or museum field after Oberlin, so this internship has allowed me to “get my feet wet” and get an idea of what I may be getting myself into. I had a great time working with the heritage center staff and the other winter term volunteers. I hope to continue working with the heritage center in the future.