Hello PoCo Muse followers!
Some of you might not be aware of the recent oral history partnership the museum has developed, but as last year’s award-winning Central Stories Project exhibit is preparing for its final few months of display, the sequel to this project is already well underway. Joining forces with the Hour Glass Museum in Ogden Dunes, the PoCo Muse is excited to bring the Ogden Dunes Stories Project to Porter County in 2014.
As the primary researcher for this project, my duties and general output are somewhat the same as what Jake and Emily dealt with in the Central neighborhood last year: interviewing residents of the area, preserving the stories they share, and using those interviews to determine what has made a place in our community (in this case, Ogden Dunes) a place that is also integral to the lives we lead and the memories that give our lives meaning. To me, this everyday, human angle is the most engaging part of local history, yet unfortunately it is also the part that stands to be the most easily overlooked and forgotten. But hopefully through this project, recollections of the way life was (and is) really lived in Ogden Dunes will be preserved for future historians.
Although there will be not one but two exhibits commemorating the Stories Project by this summer—one in Ogden Dunes and one right here at the PoCo Muse—I’d like to share with you the exciting news about doing the groundwork for collecting oral histories in Ogden Dunes. First of all, it might be surprising to note that only about half of the people I contact even think they have something useful to offer. “Oh, I don’t know much about Ogden Dunes,” they might say as I try to set up an interview with them over the phone. “I’ve only lived here since 1964.” As you might imagine, these people actually have a tremendous amount to share. Emily often goes to these interviews with me, and we have discovered a number of fascinating tidbits that would probably never be found in the pages of an “important” history volume—the route that the Memorial Day parade used to follow through town in 1958, for instance, the story of the soccer team’s beginning or the innocuous characters the former town marshal used to encounter while patrolling the streets twenty years ago.
Even more rewarding, however, is getting to see the effect the telling of these stories has on real people right now. Apart from the importance of preserving the stories in a place like a museum where they will be protected for future access, there is also a sort of poignant quality for many of these people to be talking to someone who is interested in the everyday things that have been significant to them. Whether it involves unearthing a memory of a bygone community event the interview subject was a part of, or listening sincerely as he or she recalls a family member who has passed away and used to live in Ogden Dunes, what occurs between the telling of a personal story and the recognition of its importance from an “outsider” is something valuable to be a part of. The act of doing this, for all involved, helps bring things that may have remained as abstract memories into the forefront of how we remember ourselves and live our lives today.
As someone who has engaged in this kind of memory exchange with the Central Stories Project last year, Jake has designed an introductory exhibit for the Ogden Dunes Stories Project at the Hour Glass Museum that encourages visitors to dust off their deepest held memories and bring them into the present day, making them real for others to access as well. If you are ever in the Ogden Dunes area, we encourage you to stop by the Hour Glass to look at the vignettes of Ogden Dunes we have begun to assemble—pictures and stories strung about in old-fashioned Polaroid form—and write down a memory of your own that the images may recall for you.
Of course, the great part about working with the people in Ogden Dunes is that so far as the promotion of community gathering today is concerned, they already have that taken care of. This is a community of lively residents, all of whom are immediately interested in getting together to remember the good times of their town, debate the issues that concern them, and, undoubtedly, have a lot of fun.
The most recent gathering I was able to be a part of was put on by the Hour Glass Museum itself: the annual English Holiday Tea. The old-home feel of the museum lends itself already to serving as a festive site of yuletide cheer (snow building up around the brick structure, a pair of vintage skis in the doorway, the upstairs fireplace blazing with warmth), but on December 7th, the museum’s committee members transformed the space even further for the season.
A series of tables throughout the museum’s upper level were decorated with vintage holiday linens and set for multiple English-style tea servings throughout the day. Although I cannot really imagine how the committee held themselves together over the course of the event’s several hours—what with the constant refilling of tea pots, laying out plates of miniature dishes both savory and sweet, all with a consistently full house and a busted oven—the lively spirit of the event was tangible and addicting.
This is a community that takes itself seriously enough to make the effort to enjoy one another’s fellowship, welcoming in newcomers to the Dunes right alongside the residents who have been reliable figures for fifty years or more. What a great gift this time of year to get to be a part of it.
Have a happy and safe holiday everyone!