Friday, March 25, 2016

Saving History

by Nell Pratt, from Dead End Street (Sheila Connolly's next Museum Mystery, 
coming June 2016)

I love my job. I’m the head of a major historical institution in a major American city, which sounds really important, doesn’t it? But it’s like trying to wrestling eels, because there’s stuff everywhere in our building and half the time we don’t know where it is (don’t tell!). Occasionally we don’t know what it is, either.

But I don’t do it for the personal glory, and certainly not for the money. I do it because I love history—I love discovering unexpected things (which happens in our collections quite often), and I love presenting history in ways that make it come alive for people—school children, tourists, even people who have lived around Philadelphia all their lives. I want them to stop in front of an exhibit, or come in to do some research, and say, “Wow, I didn’t know that.”

The problem is, Philadelphia, like most big cities, has a lot of problems these days. I can tell you what it looked like the year it was first settled, and at each stage along the way—how and why William Penn laid it out, what happened with the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, and the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Bits and pieces of all of those slices of history are still visible, if you know where and how to look.

Some of those parts aren’t pretty now. For a long time Philadelphia boasted a lot of thriving industries, and then those closed or moved away, and what was left was too many crumbling neighborhoods, just inviting crime. I recently had an up-close and personal experience in one of those neighborhoods, one that almost got me killed.

That made me mad. There had to be something I could do, to make people see what those parts of the city had once been, and to inspire them to try to bring them back somehow. I know better than most that you can’t erase or reverse history. But I really believe you should try to save the best parts and build on them. That’s why my job matters, and why I’m trying to make a difference.

What about you? Do you visit historic places? Was there some place you saw as a child that you’ve never forgotten?


Dead End Street is available for pre-order now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

www.sheilaconnolly.com







15 comments:

  1. Yes! We visited the Alcott home called Orchard House and I never forgot the sight of wallpaper under glass that was there when L was.

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    1. I've been there once. Remember the drawings on the bare plaster?

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  2. Colonial Williamsburg made me feel like I'd gone back in time... Plimouth Plantation, too.

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    1. The only time I've visited Williamsburg was with my daughter's fifth-grade field trip. I'd love to see it without a couple of kids demanding to find the bathroom, which is of course on the other side of the site. But what I did get to see was lovely. And I live less than half an hour from Plimoth Plantation, so I get there more often.

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  3. The best part about traveling is visiting historical locations and learning the history.

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    1. You see history very differently when you're standing in the middle of where it happened, don't you? The first time I saw Independence Hall in Philadelphia, my first remark was "it's so small!" particularly when you realize what big events happened there.

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  4. We visited Gettysburg when I was a kid. Mostly I never forgot it because I got stung by a wSp while we were there. I climbed on one of the cannons and there was a wasp nest inside. I have been back there as an adult and I'm sure I got a lot more out of the trip this time.

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  5. During my teaching career, I visited many historical places in California related to lessons: missions, rancheros, former government buildings, Native Californian sites. Every time I travel I will visit strange and unusual places with historical connections: hideout for in Paris where people met upstairs plotting to overthrow the monarchy.

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    1. I lived in California for ten years but never saw much of its history, I'm sad to say. I love the way some cities (like Paris) have these little forgotten gems that you can just stumble on.

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  6. We are long time visitors and supports of Colonial Williamsburg. It's our top vacation spot followed by Cape Cod, Newport,RI, and upstate NY.

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  8. I visit Old Sturbridge Village at least once a year (it's about an hour away), because you can stand in the middle of the green and believe you're in another century. I was there once with my daughter, during her school break in April. Since it's in New England, of course it was snowing lightly, which kept most tourists away. The only other people we saw were the re-enactors in costume. Like stepping back in time.

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  9. We just visited The Alamo a couple of days ago. That was quite interesting!

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  10. Climbed up the rickety winding metal staircase to the top of the Statue of Liberty. And although there was only room for one person at a time,we had to hang over the rail when someone else was coming down. The view from the crown is breath taking.

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  11. I love the books and killer takeout sounds great! Donamaekutska7@gmail.com

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