Elgin museum seeks 'living history' submissions about COVID-19 pandemic

  • The Elgin History Museum's latest initiative is the "You Are Living History," collection of experiences and photos submitted by people of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a photo submitted by a participant.

    The Elgin History Museum's latest initiative is the "You Are Living History," collection of experiences and photos submitted by people of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a photo submitted by a participant. Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

  • A photo submitted by a participant in Elgin History Museum's latest initiative, "You Are Living History," about experiences of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A photo submitted by a participant in Elgin History Museum's latest initiative, "You Are Living History," about experiences of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

 
 
Updated 4/29/2020 6:30 AM

How will the COVID-19 pandemic be remembered in 100 years?

Will people focus on the heartbreaking death toll or the uplifting stories of survivors? The memories of sharing quiet family moments or the frustrations of children's e-learning? The gratitude for essential workers or the protests about government overreach?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To ensure the memory of the extraordinary circumstances we are living through is preserved, the Elgin History Museum launched its "You Are Living History" initiative to document perspectives and photographs about the pandemic.

People can answer four questions -- about socializing, voting, shopping, and home and family life -- and adults and children are encouraged to respond. People can decline to submit their names, but so far only one of the 50 or so respondents has done so, museum curator Beth Nawara said.

"This is something that we want to have documented, so that when 2121 comes along, people are going to know what happened," Nawara said. "It just seemed like a good reaction to try to get it done now, instead of 10 years from now."

Participants said they love the idea.

Moira Savel of Elgin shared her experience of grocery shopping, which she's always disliked and now leaves her emotionally and physically drained.

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"We are living in unprecedented times right now," Savel said. "I admire that they recognize that this needs to be documented and captured, because we learn from our histories."

Jackie Marcus of Carpentersville shared appreciation for the safety measures taken by her local grocery store. She and her husband grew up hearing stories from their parents about the Great Depression, and it will be equally important to share today's reality with younger generations, she said.

"It will preserve those memories for people in the next generations who are maybe little kids now and don't understand why they are not going to school, or don't understand the full benefit of why we are doing what we are doing," Marcus said.

Nawara said the idea surfaced last month as the museum worked on the 100th anniversary of Elgin's worst natural disaster, a tornado that killed seven people March 28, 1920.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I equated the two (the pandemic and the tornado) to be two extremely significant events in Elgin history, and I wanted to have information for people 100 years from now ... so they are going to have a well-organized, well-documented file to be going through."

The museum will take submissions until the end of the year at elginhistory.org/research/you-are-living-history. The goal is to hear primarily from Elgin residents, but anyone else is welcome to contribute. The museum will decide later whether to do an exhibit in-person or online, or both, Nawara said.

What can be learned so far from the submissions? Nawara said the initial accounts of how families have been dealing with the anxiety of sudden confinement have slowly morphed into stories of how much they are enjoying their time together.

"The slowing down, the not rushing, have been good experiences for families," she said. "Maybe as things have settled down, they've gotten more used to it. ... They are really starting to notice what's good or bad about being at home -- and being willing to share that."

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