Friday, December 18, 2009

Season's Greetings

This time of year marks a number of different holidays for people of all religions and cultures.

It also marks an important time of year for the Laurel Museum. The end of December traditionally marks the closing of our exhibit and the final stages of planning for our upcoming exhibit.

This year is no different. Today is the last day to see our current exhibit, "Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s". This exhibit was the first exhibit I took part in for the Laurel Museum.

In some ways, I am sad to see it go. No more poodle skirt figurines will greet me as I walk in the door each morning. No longer will I have nostalgic 50 (and 50 something) high school reunions coming back to point out all of their friends in our exhibit.

But sometimes change is good. So as we look forward to the New Year and our new exhibit I am excited about several things:

1) Our new exhibit was planned with the help of several community groups. We looked to different places of worship and service organizations to helps us identify what Laurel is like today. Along the way we met many new friends. I hope we can continue to maintain these relationships in the New Year. If we do, it will benefit us and I hope the community groups we worked with.

2) Our new exhibit is going to be much more interactive than our last. One of the things we realized in our 1950s exhibit was that people wanted to give back. People wanted to contribute their memories, their life stories to our exhibit. We had a function for that--a story book--but it led us to realize that there is so much more than we can do. So with this exhibit, you'll find that there are a number of ways you can interact and contribute to the exhibit.

3) Our new exhibit will continue to grow as it stands in the Museum. I don't want to give too much away, but our exhibit won't be static. Because of people's contributions throughout the year it is up and because we will be changing certain things, our exhibit won't be the same for the entire year. And that in and of itself, is exciting.

So, if you haven't seen our current exhibit, try to stop by in the next 3 hours. Or give me a call and arrange for a tour before we take it off the walls in January. Either way, please join us in looking forward to our next exhibit.

Oh, and we finally settled on a title for the next exhibit:

Snapshots in Time: Our Community in 1910 and 2010

Friday, December 4, 2009

Holiday House Tour

Some things that take place at the LHS are done with very little supervision on my part. I greatly appreciate those times when I know something is being handled by a capable volunteer and all I have to do is check in from time to time.

One such instance where I've been able to sit back and relax is the Holiday House Tour. The Tour, a bi-annual tradition for the LHS, is taking place this year.

I know that a number of our volunteers have been VERY hard at work arranging the Holiday House Tour. One family in particular has done a lot for the house tour this year. The mother in this family is the chair of the Holiday House Tour Committee and she has worked very hard since last spring to plan the House Tour.

She has changed several aspects of the tour, including one wonderful new idea: expanding the sponsorship opportunities available to local businesses. In thinking of this idea, she has done exactly what we want all of volunteers to do: consider development as a part of their undertaking, not just the board's.

Now, we won't be buying a new building with the money she has pulled together, but it is a considerable amount. Furthermore, it was only made because she thought outside the box. Of course, she was thinking outside the box while still juggling all of the responsibilities of the House Tour Committee chairmanship. And she has done a wonderful job in both instances!

The house tour takes place on December 12. We have a number of exciting places to visit (all of which are a secret--shhhh!). I hope some of you are able to join us. Come see what our new chair has changed and what classic aspects of the tour have remained the same!

Friday, November 20, 2009

What do you think?

Can anyone guess what is happening in this image?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Yummy Day With The LHS

This year for the second year in a row, the LHS hosted "The Taste of Laurel." This is a free event that we hold to showcase all of the wonderful food that Laurel has to offer. If you're sitting there thinking, "what wonderful food", read on!

This event is made possible because of the generous support of Main Street Pharmacy. Thank you Joan!

Beginning in the early summer, we start making the rounds to local restaurants and businesses inviting them to bring the best of what they have to offer to share with the community. Sometimes it is a hard sell, particularly if businesses have never heard of the Historical Society.

The point we try to explain to the businesses is: we are trying to provide a venue for them to show off their specialties. We want the Laurel community to know just how great our business community is and how much we have to offer. We want people to know what we already know about Laurel--There is a thriving small business community in Laurel, ready and willing to serve them!

What I find most difficult about convincing people of this is that we, a small historical society, would like to help them--a local business. I think it's hard for people who have never thought of a historical society taking on that role to conceive of why we would want to do that. They tend to think of us as the people who tell them whether or not they can hang a neon sign, but remember, that is not us!

The next step in the planning process is telling the community about theTaste of Laurel. We invite the Laurel community to attend this free event to sample local food and meet local business owners. As most people know, the idea of free food is an offer that will usually draw a good sized crowd, no matter the venue.

But as one of our vendors explained to me after the event, the people that attended really seemed to care about their community and care about the places they patronized. They are the type of people that quickly become regulars and support businesses because of how they are run, not just because of prices and quick deals. Which is great, because this is exactly the type of crowd we were hoping to attract!

And our crowd this year was big--we had over 100 people attend and 8 vendors participate. Aunt Susan's Kitchen, Fruit Flowers, Kafe Kabob, Main Street Sports Bar and Grill, Mango's Grill, Nuzback's, Toucan Taco, and Red Hot and Blue all brought their best food for visitors to taste.o t

Visitors had to visit the Museum first to collect tickets in order taste the free food. Tickets could be earned by walking through the door, completing a scavenger hunt of the current exhibit, entering a free raffle, and in several other ways.

Although we may have tricked them a little with the offer of free food, most visitors were happy to visit the Museum first. Many visitors who usually attend special programs and events at the Museum were happy to look through the exhibit closely. The West County Gazette has an article by Elizabeth Leight in which she quotes a visitor, Brennita Swan, who said "We come here all the time, but this scavenger hunt really helps us focus on certain things we may have missed."
Overall, I believe most people were happy to visit the Museum in order to get a taste of Laurel.

But this successful day, like so much of what goes on at the Museum, is only the tip of the iceberg for all of the planning and hardwork that went into putting the Taste of Laurel together. Thank you to all of LHS' wonderful volunteers for their hard work.

And if you own a local business and you'd like to take part in next year's Taste of Laurel, contact me soon!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Exhibit Takes Shape....Sort Of

Every year the Laurel Museum features a new exhibit.

When I arrived, the current exhibit was "Buy It Here: Laurel Advertises". The exhibit we opened last February and which will run through this December is "Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s".

Right now we're working on an exhibit that compares life in Laurel in 1910 and in 2010. We're tentatively calling it "Snapshots in Time: Our Story 1910/2010".

We know what our goals are with this exhibit:
Explore the many ways we conceive(d) of community in Laurel in 1910 and in 2010.
Have people leave with a deeper appreciation of their community.
Be interesting, engaging, interactive, meaningful, and visually exciting.

That doesn't sound too difficult? Right?

We're plugging along on the exhibit. We've done a lot of the broad research comparing Laurel in 1910 and 2010. But what we're really trying to base the exhibit on is pictures.

For 1910 we have the Sadler images. See a previous blog to learn more about Sadler. The images are great and frustrating.

The really wonderful thing about the Sadler images is that they tell 1 story of Laurel in 1910---one man's story of his family and friends. That allows us to discuss how history is saved and who defines history. This man saved his images, so his story largely defines our visual understanding of Laurel in 1910.

The not so wonderful part about the Sadler images is that they are VERY hard to scan. Apparently glass plate negatives neither like our old scanner or our new one.

I can not tell you all that we've done to try to get them to scan, but suffice it to say that I was taken off the duty of scanning because I could not control my emotions.

My wonderful coworker Monica was put on the task. She has been somewhat successful, but is seeing that success wear-off.

But that's okay. We anticipated that the scanning would be a huge task and it is. Somehow, someway, we WILL have images of 1910. We have them in our collection and we can make it happen.

But what about 2010? We want 2010 to be different--to not just have 1 man's story be the central part of the story. We want everyone in Laurel to help us tell that story.

Remember a while back when I predicted that people would think their story wasn't worth telling? Well, I think I was right.

We've put the word out through flyers, emails, newsletters, newspapers, etc and haven't had much luck. We've seen a trickle start, but definitely nothing overwhelming. I think people always assume that someone else's story is more interesting.

So here's what I have to say to that mentality:

You know you, the one sitting there reading this?I know what you're thinking...I don't have any pictures that are interesting.

Well, I bet you do. As long as they were taken within the greater Laurel area in the last 5 years we're interested. To learn more about exactly what we need, see this slightly confusing, but useful form.

I promise, we want your help. Not the guy sitting next to you in the computer lab at the library, but yours. Well, his too, but definitely yours as well.

And I promise, I won't make you try to use the scanner. All I ask is that you help us tell the story of Laurel today---your story.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Friendly Ghost Story

This past Sunday at the Laurel Museum we had our Kids Fall Fun Day. Featuring the wonderful world of Pumpkins, this 2 hour event brought about 30 children and their families. We had some fun crafts like pumpkin weaving and pumpkin seed mosaics. We also had a pumpkin patch for children to pick their own pumpkins that they then decorated. We had lots of tasty pumpkin related food--pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin whip, pumpkin butter, etc.

We also told the public that we would be having an age appropriate ghost story. I took up the charge to be the person to tell the age appropriate ghost story. I spoke to one of our wonderful volunteers who is also the vice principal at a local school for some rules on what I could and could not talk about.

Here were my parameters:
It can not be scary.
No one can die.
You can not talk about dead people.
Try to make it related to the history of Laurel and the house.

Hmm. Sounds easy, right?

The ghost story was to begin at 2:15 and right around that time people started trekking to the spot we picked for our ghost story.

As I watched the little ones trickle in, I realize how much of a challenge this will be.

We had kids ranging in age from those who could barely walk to those who were already putting on makeup. It might be a little difficult to reach all of them with the same story.

But that's fine. Who doesn't love a great challenge? Certainly not small museum directors--we live for the challenge!

So I begin telling them the story.

I start by talking about the Museum building and how 4 families would have lived in the house.

I asked them where the people would have worked (The Mill), how old they had to be to start working (8yrs), etc.

I tell them about a little girl who was only 5 yrs old named Samantha who was left alone in the house to do chores while all of her family went to work. Her mean older sister liked to play tricks on her and hide things from her so that she couldn't finish her chores.

My story was interrupted by one boy who insisted Samantha could not have told us this. I asked him why, and he said "Because she's dead". I realized at that point I had never given a date for the story and asked him how he knew she was dead. And he said because this happened like a long time ago. GREAT!

I responded, "Yes, this all happened over 100 years ago." Whew! I almost didn't tell them the date. And I thought, yes, she is dead, but you brought it up so I didn't technically go outside my set parameters.

Now back to the story...

Luckily, the little girl had a friendly ghost named Rebecca who would help her with her chores. Rebecca helped Samantha find the bucket to get water from the river for doing laundry that her mean sister would hide from her before she went to work. Rebecca also helped Samantha find the soap and other things her sister would hide.

All of this concluded with the children coming up one by one to plunge the washer plunger into the clothes bucket three times.

Throughout the experience I tried to keep their attention by asking questions. I asked them things like if any of them ever hid things from their brothers and sisters. I also kept asking them how old the little girl was and how long she had to wait before she could work at the mill.

Some of the kids were really annoyed that the story wasn't scarier. According to our evaluations, others seemed to really enjoy the story.

In the end, it was an interesting experience of us all. I learned that maybe I should plan out the ghost story a little better next time so the kids don't end up doing laundry. But I'm not sure. I think some people liked the "hands-on appropriate for all ages ghost story." We'll see. Maybe Samantha and Rebeccawill make another appearance sometime soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Magic of Technical Difficulties

As I write, my phone plays corny 80s music. No, I did not buy a new ringtone.

I am on hold with the company that hosts our webpage (read: does the magic that makes our website appear).

Why would I want to spend my Tuesday morning on hold, listening to 80s music?

Because we're experiencing technical difficulties.

Apparently our website was hacked. Why would someone want to hack the LHS website? I don't know. I really don't.

Maybe they wanted to rewrite Laurel history. Maybe they couldn't resist our online walking tour. Maybe the fluffy teddy bears for sale in our online shop were too much for them to resist. I really don't know.

But what I do know, is how much we here at the Laurel Historical Society depend on people outside the organization to help us do what we do successfully.

About 5 or so times a week, I update our website. Add an event, a newsletter, a new feature, link to another website, etc. I try to keep it fresh and full of information. I want it to be as useful as possible to those who visit.

That being said, I personally could never develop, design, or say the magic spell that gets webpages up and running on the internet. And we certainly don't have an internet magician in our staff of 1 and 1/2.

But that's okay.

Because, as is the norm with the LHS, things were done well before I got here.

A committee convened and worked with 2 consultants to develop a website that works for us. A website that I(with my lack of internet-y type knowledge) can update and play with. That can be adjusted to fit our needs. Basically, a website that is magical.

The consultants, Lisa Bernard at LHB Consulting and Donna Safko at Mudpuddle Creations, are great. They work well with people who have little technical knowledge but have big ideas (people in this case means me). So we have an ongoing relationship with both of them.

Lunar Pages, the company that hosts our website is a company I rarely have to work with. Usually our website is up and running and doing magically well. But right now, it's not and we're all working with Lunar Pages to fix the problem.

When Lunar Pages realized someone hacked our website, they closed. It can only be re-instated when we've resolved the problem. So our email and website are both down. But not to worry, we will be back up soon. Hopefully. If I can find the magic spell, repeat it 5 times, and run around the Mill Worker's home 25 times in 2 minutes.

Or I stay on hold, listen to corny 80s music, and work with Lunar Pages to resolve the problem.

Friday, October 2, 2009

How do you measure success?

Yesterday we hosted our Second Annual Laurel Historical Society Educator's Open House.

Last year for our Educator's Open House we had about 25 people visit the Museum. This year we had 15.

The decrease in attendees made me think: How do we measure success?

Is our goal to have 60 local educators visit the Laurel Museum?
If so, then we certainly are moving in the wrong directions. But here at the Laurel Museum we tend to value quality over quantity, so perhaps raising the number to 60 is not our goal.

Is our goal to have the administrators of local schools visit the Museum?
Perhaps. We had the principal of St. Mary's and the new vice principal of Laurel Elementary School visit. So I was quite excited to meet both of them.

Is our goal to have several different schools represented?
We had a more diverse representation of schools this year and that made me happy. I'd rather see a total of 10 teachers from 4 different schools than 25 teachers from 2 schools. Each school has different needs and different visiting capabilities, so the more I hear from the better.

Is our goal to have schools, home school groups, and scout groups represented equally?
I believe so. I would like to see all the groups well represented. Whether that works out to a teacher for every scout leader or 4 teachers for every scout leader, I am not sure. But I will say I would love to meet as many educators from each group as possible.

But mainly our goal for the Educator's Open House (and for all of the activities we do for educators) is to remind them of one thing: We're here for you.

We want them to remember that we fulfill our mission by serving them. So did our Educator's Open House fulfill that goal? Yes. I think it did.

Now is the time to evaluate what we did, why we did it, and how we can do it better next year. Suggestions and comments are VERY welcome.

Friday, September 18, 2009

One Maryland, One Book and the Laurel Historical Society Book Club

This summer I began thinking a about ways to get an in-depth conversation about history and culture (2 important things at the LHS) going with our members and visitors.

One idea I began to play with was to create a book club. Enlisting the help of a friend, I played with the idea for a couple of months and thought about how feasible it really was.

One thing my friend made clear was that we couldn't just read boring history books. (Now I know what she thinks of my personal reading choices.)

We had to make it interesting.

Of course, I made it clear that our readings and discussions had to tie into our mission. (By the way, The mission of the Laurel Historical Society, Incorporated is to encourage the understanding and preservation of the history and cultural heritage of Laurel.) I'm big on doing things that follow our mission and strategic plan--what else is an Executive Director here for if not that??

So she and I worked on thinking of some books that were both interesting and fit out mission.

The first book we read was a series of essays collected by the NPR Series "This I Believe". This series of essays features essays from the 1950s and today in which famous and ordinary people alike discuss what makes them tick--what they really believe. It was a great book and an even better discussion. In the context of our current exhibit (Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s) it was quite exciting to be thinking of the differences and similarities between our beliefs then and now.

The book we read this month was "America’s Women:400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines" by Gail Collins. This book was an interesting overview of the ebb and flow of our rights throughout America's history. The discussion we had allowed us to put into context our own lives and where we fall within that ebb and flow. One participant asked an excellent question: "If we had to pick a hero of our time, someone who would make it into this book, who would it be?" That had us all thinking...

Our next book is actually part of a bigger program within the state. We will be reading James McBride's "Song Yet Sung" which is part of the One Maryland, One Book Campaign. Sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council, this campaign is meant to get everyone in the state reading the same book. Here is what the Maryland Humanities Council Website has to say about it:

Imagine if everyone in Maryland read the same book at the same time...

Reading is often a solitary pursuit. But imagine if everyone in Maryland read the same great book at the same time. What kind of conversations could you have and with whom could you connect or reconnect in your community?

The Maryland Center for the Book, a program of the Maryland Humanities Council, invites you to be a part of Maryland's only statewide community reading program--One Maryland One Book. ( describes James McBride's novel: Escaped slaves, free blacks, slave-catchers and plantation owners weave a tangled web of intrigue and adventure in bestselling memoirist (The Color of Water) McBride's intricately constructed and impressive second novel, set in pre–Civil War Maryland. Liz Spocott, a beautiful young runaway slave, suffers a nasty head wound just before being nabbed by a posse of slave catchers. She falls into a coma, and, when she awakes, she can see the future—from the near-future to Martin Luther King to hip-hop—in her dreams. Liz's visions help her and her fellow slaves escape, but soon there are new dangers on her trail: Patty Cannon and her brutal gang of slave catchers, and a competing slave catcher, nicknamed The Gimp, who has a surprising streak of morality. Liz has some friends, including an older woman who teaches her The Code that guides runaways; a handsome young slave; and a wild inhabitant of the woods and swamps. Kidnappings, gunfights and chases ensue as Liz drifts in and out of her visions, which serve as a thoughtful meditation on the nature of freedom and offer sharp social commentary on contemporary America. McBride hasn't lost his touch: he nails the horrors of slavery as well as he does the power of hope and redemption.(

I am excited about next month's book club meeting (Oct 21) for several reasons:

1) We've had GREAT discussions so far at the other book club meetings.

2) The book looks really interesting. A slave having visions of the future which include hip-hop?

3) We'll be taking part in a larger community reading program. I love thinking that I could be reading the same thing as thousands of other people in the state whom I've never met.

4)And we'll do all of this for about 2 hours while munching on cookies and cider. I can't wait.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How do you hear about our programs?

About once or twice a month we try to do something a little exciting. Sometimes we have lectures, sometimes we have kid's days, sometimes we do something creative like a film series or our Taste of Laurel.

No matter what we do, we have to make sure people know about it.

This can be more challenging than you might think.

We try to use a number of different ways to spread the good word about the LHS. They include flyers, press releases, website updates, facebook events, and sometimes...our blog.

But how does all of this happen? We don't have a magical easy button from Staples. (Sometimes I wish we did, but if we did I bet I'd end up with less brownies in my tummy---read on).

Instead we rely on the efforts of many different volunteers and our very small staff here.

Flyers are usually developed by myself or our wonderful board member, Karen Lubieniecki.

They then have to be copied---in very large numbers with a very testy printer. Most times I try to make some of the copies myself, but usually end up ready to throw a brick at the machine. To save the life of our valued copier and my sanity, Shari Pollard or Monica Sturdivant will usually step in.

Some of these flyers are then placed at locations throughout the city by a dedicate Joan Fitzgerald. We hope that people then find them at the Libraries, Community Centers, etc.

Then they need to find their way to your mailboxes. This magic is coordinated by Margie McCeney who has mastered the complicated bulk mailing system at the post office. She usually enlists Carole Montesi to help fold and stamp. They then grab whichever lucky volunteers are on the schedule the day they are doing their mailing to help. (Here's a little secret---they often bring goodies like orange brownies and blueberry muffins, so it's good to be here when they're working on a mailing.)

Sounds easy, right?

Our press releases are a little bit easier. The always wonderful Elizabeth Leight is generally in charge of making sure press releases are sent all over--from local newspapers to regional ones to web publications and more.

The rest--website updates, facebook events, and blog are even easier. I get to update them all and thankfully they are all VERY easy to update.

So, as you can tell, it is not just enough to have events. You then have to TELL people about them.

So the next time you receive one of those bright blue flyers in the mail from us, thank all of the people who helped us get that information to you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s

Our current exhibit has been up since February. It will come down in January. The exhibit talks about life in Laurel in the 1950s including subjects as varied as fashion, the cold war, segregation, and Elvis. It has a little something for everyone!

But, we only have about 4-5 months left to Shake, Rattle, and Roll. I thought now might be a good time to share some of my favorite pieces of the exhibit.

This is a fox stole located in the "In Vogue" section of the exhibit. This portion of the exhibit discusses Laurel fashion in the 1950s. The fox stole was popular in Laurel.

I specifically like this object because it draws SO much attention from visitors.

From women who remember wearing a stole themselves, to men who remember sitting behind them in church as little boys, people who were alive in the 1950s remember them fondly.

But it is the reactions of younger people that I find the most interesting. For people in younger generations, the fox stole is a point of intense interest and sometimes shrieks from the school children. Children today are much less accustomed to people wearing fur and it definitely shows!

This picture is located in a section of the exhibit where we discuss the expanding lives of teens in the 1950s. I really like this picture because of the nicknames we found on the back of the image. In the center is "Butch". Butch is actually Maryland Massey, the sister of one of our founders, Betty Compton.

This panel is in our "Living Together, Worlds Apart" section. This section discusses segregation in Laurel in the 1950s.

I really like this panel because it uses quotes from interviews with people who lived in Laurel in the 1950s to compare life on both sides of the color line.

By taking the same events and locations and using quotes from different signs of the line, a really striking image of life in the 1950s is drawn. Black and white residents remember the same places in completely different ways--an important point in helping to tell the story of life in Laurel in the 1950s.

For example, one white interviewee remembered the Fireman's Carnival held every year as the place to be, "everyone came." One black interviewee remembered having to sit on the other side of the fence and watch the action--because blacks were barred from participating.

This panel is an image of a young family in the 1950s, their home being built, and their mortgage payment booklet. It is located in the "Feds Need Beds" section which discusses the influx of Federal workers into Laurel in the 1950s. I particularly love this panel because I know the people in it, the Wilsons.

I know how they came to Laurel in the 1950s as the family of a Federal worker. I know the impact the family has had on Laurel since then. For those of us who know the Wilson family, it is hard to believe that they've only been here for 50 years. In that short time, they've become a Laurel institution. So for me, this panel shows just how much of an impact Federal workers had on Laurel--they were here to stay!

I hope you enjoyed my little sojourn into our current exhibit. Of course, if you have your own favorite part of the exhibit, feel free to leave it as a comment.

If you haven't visited--learn more about the exhibit here:

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Beauty of Interns

I believe having interns is one of the best ways one can contribute to the field. I know I learned a lot through internships, all of which helped prepare me for my role at the LHS today.

Since I began working here last June, we've had a number of really great interns. These interns have helped us in a number of ways--creating public programs, organizing collections, and creating interpretive materials. This summer was no exception and in the past 2 weeks or so, we've had a couple of intern projects wrap up quite nicely.

This spring and summer we had a really great intern named Eli Pousson. Eli is a recent MA graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park. He worked with us to put together a shortened version of our walking tour and an accompanying online version. He knows a lot more about computers and fancy programs like In-Design than I do, so it was really great getting to work with him.

With the help of our 2006 Walking Tour, Eli created a shortened tour based on 5 themes. This tour is available both at the Museum and online.

Next, he placed an extensive number of the sites on the 2006 Walking Tour on a map online along with images.

Although we still have a few kinks to work out for the Online Walking Tour, we are now proud to present both of these new products to the public. You can access them online by clicking here. As I mentioned, the Online Walking tour has a few kinks--we're trying to see if we can embed it in the website. But if the link doesn't work for you the first time, try, try again!

Another of our interns this summer was Lauren Hanna. Lauren is an undergrad at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who wanted to get her feet wet in the Museum field.

She began her work by reading a little about collections work in the Museum field. She learned how to navigate our collections database, Past Perfect, by scanning some images and attaching them to their corresponding catalogue record.

Once she was comfortable with PP, we settled on a project for her that involved inventorying our Historic Kitchen, locating accessioned objects in PP and collecting descriptions of un-accessioned objects from our Education Collection. She took a picture of every single object in the kitchen and matched it with a corresponding description. She then put all of this useful information in a binder.

The binder is now located in the Kitchen as a very extensive gallery guide. It will definitely prove to be useful reading for our volunteers who are interested in learning all about the Kitchen.

So there you have it--2 very important projects completed solely through the efforts of interns.

These are just the two most recent of many interns that the LHS has had help us over the past year.

I am very grateful to all of our interns for their efforts.

Thank you Eli Pousson, Lauren Hanna, Christine Powers, Jessica Bulger, Kevin Alvarez, and Joe Heinen!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The End of the Summer

Today it is 90 degrees out, but I know the summer is winding down at the Laurel Historical Society.

How do I know?

Because things have become much quieter in the past couple of weeks.

Our high school community service volunteers have completed their last day. Our college community service volunteer complete his last day. Our intern finished her project and completed her last day. Our Junior Docents put some final touches on their video projects before our filming day. Even our campers from the City of Laurel Parks and Recreation Camp have finished their visits to the Museum.

During the height of the summer, things were a little crazy. Space (and especially computer time) was limited and young volunteers, interns, junior docents, and our regular volunteers vied for time and space in the Museum. Some days it was hectic.

But almost everyday the Museum was filled with energy--people moving around getting things done.

So what do we have to show for it?

We have an even more organized photograph collection. We have bags of goodies filled for visitors. We have a children's activity booklet available for our younger visitors. We have a new guide to our historic kitchen to let our volunteers know exactly what is down stairs. We have the outline for a video project to be completed in the fall.

More importantly, we have some more dedicated volunteers.

Our intern is returning this fall to continue working on collections project. Our college community service volunteer has asked whether he can return over winter break to help out. Our high school community service volunteer has already called her "slot" for next summer. Our Junior Docents will continue to work on their project in a short couple of weeks.

So even though things are a little quieter here now, I know it won't last for long.

And that's good thing!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Piecing Together History

Sometimes history can be really fun.

Here at the LHS we're preparing for our upcoming exhibit comparing life in Laurel in 1910 and in 2010.

The inspiration for this exhibit is a series of photographs taken by Bert Sadler. The images he produced depict life in Laurel in the early 1900s and are really wonderful. One of those pictures is here on the right. This image of the Emancipation Day parade in the early 1900s shows a vibrant community event.

Other than this picture and some articles from the Laurel leader within the last 20 years, I didn't know much about the Emancipation Day parade tradition in Laurel.

Then I went and spoke to Miss Katie Hopkins. Boy, did I learn a lot!

As I related in a previous post, Miss Katie told me all about life in Laurel growing up 100 years ago. She told me of Emancipation celebrations that lasted for long weekends where out-of-towners were able to visit and stay with members of the St. Mark's church.

What a great story! I was so excited to hear about how much of a community event the Emancipation Celebration was. Miss Katie, as sharp as she is at a ripe 102, was able to tell me details of the celebration--baseball games, parades, barbeques.

I was excited to hear her recount her stories, but I really wanted to know even more--what exactly happened during those early fall celebrations?

Imagine my excitement when Frieda, a member of our exhibits committee brought to my attention newspaper articles from the 1910 Laurel Leader. Listed in them were a number of various events taking place in the Grove--all during the same weekend in early September. The same weekend that was always reserved for the Emancipation Celebration.

Here, in black and white, was the vibrant celebration that Miss Katie had told me about and that was depicted in Bert Sadler's image.

I was very excited to see all these clues fall into place!

Now for the fun part--piecing this story into the larger story of Laurel in 1910 and in 2010!

Monday, August 3, 2009

An Interview with Miss Katie Hopkins

Last week I had the opportunity to interview a long time member of the Laurel Community. Born in Laurel in 1906, Miss Katie Hopkins has seen Laurel go through many changes.

As we prepare for our next exhibit comparing Laurel in 1910 to Laurel in 2010, we are busy interviewing people in the community who can help us tell the story of Laurel today. Sandy Johnson, the historian of St. Mark's Church delightfully informed me that there is someone whom she knows who can speak about Laurel in 1910! So, with the help of Sandy and Jackie from St. Mark's church, it was arranged for me to meet with Miss Katie to discuss life in 1910 in preparation for our upcoming exhibit. (In reality, I was so excited to meet her that I would have been willing to talk about anything.)

I met with Miss Katie at the Laurel Rehabilitation Center and she told me some wonderful stories. She told me about her childhood spent jumping rope with friends, taking sleigh rides and traveling to Washington on the trolley for her music lessons. She painted an image of a small town where everyone knew everyone and Teaser's Ice Cream Parlor, where her father worked, had "real" ice cream. She talked about people coming from far away to celebrate Emancipation Day with St. Mark's Church. She spoke of how church members opened their homes to these visitors and of a town filled with hospitality.

I wasn't surprised at all to hear such a depiction of life in Laurel. These stories seem to come through whether you talk to people about Laurel in the 1950s or Laurel in the early 1900s.

Instead of surprising me, what the stories do is make me wonder what we'll find in our upcoming exhibit.

Will we find stories of Laurel in 2010 where the hospitality is just as great as in 1910?
Will members of our Exhibit Advisory Committee tell of us a community bound to itself, where people take care of one another?

I'm not sure what they will tell us. I don't want to push community members to tell us any story, but I know what I think. Laurel is a community that cares.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Changing of the Guard

Things have been quite busy here at the LHS. One thing you often don't hear about is the work of Board Members. These men and women donate their time to do a lot of the work that occurs behind the scenes. They work very hard and often go unrecognized for their efforts.

This month, we are undergoing a changing of the guard of sorts. Our Presidency has changed hands.

Karen Lubieniecki, a dedicated board member who has served as President of the Laurel Historical Society several times, resigned as of July 1. She remained in her role as President for an extra year to ensure that I would be well acclimated before she stepped down.

In the past three years as President, she has overseen many amazing changes at the LHS. Due in no small part to her own efforts, she has witnessed the completion of a strategic plan, the mounting of several exhibits, a new website, a new children's program and more. In the time that I've been here, (a little over a year), I've seen Karen work tirelessly to maintain high standards of excellence at the LHS. Karen's input into projects challenges staff members and volunteers alike to consider all sides of an issue. Her HATJATs (you'll have to ask her for an explanation) keep us thinking outside the box.

Of course, this is not a goodbye. We know Karen will still maintain a high level of involvement in the LHS. But we would like to thank and recognize her for her work as President of the LHS.
Thank you Karen!

Our incoming President is Jhanna Levin. Jhanna is a longtime Laurel Resident who has been involved with the LHS for several years. For the past couple of years, Jhanna has chaired the Gala Committee--a committee charged with organizing our annual Gala fundraiser. In her role as the Gala chair she has worked directly with volunteers, donors, and attendees to create 2 very successful events. As a member of our Public Programming Committee, she has brought a unique perspective regarding the needs of school teachers.

In her role as President, we hope that Jhanna translates these successful efforts to the larger organization. We are very much looking forward to her heightened involvement.

In conclusion, I have two tasks for you all:

If you see Jhanna, please give her a warm welcome in her new role as President of the Laurel Historical Society.

If you see Karen, please thank her for all that she has done (and will continue to do) to make the LHS a better organization.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Community Exhibit

In planning our current exhibit, "Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s", we learned something very important.

We like to have community input when planning our exhibits. Interesting, right? A local museum that wants to hear from the community? Who would have thought it possible?

In our current exhibit we could have told the story of Laurel in the 1950s based on newspapers, city minutes and other documents.

But it is a lot more fun to actually talk to people
. So that is what we did. In interviews with Laurelites who lived here in the 1950s we learned a lot about Laurel during that time period.

People gave us stories that we would otherwise never have known. People directed us to the important things about their lives that the papers neglected or didn't focus on. People helped us tell more of the story. And people gave history a personal touch.

So we're a little hooked. We're convinced that Laurel, as a community, has a lot to say about itself. In planning our next exhibit, we're going to do our best to listen to those stories.

What is our next exhibit? Well, we're very much in the planning stages but here is the big idea: we will pair a collection of photographs from the early 1900s with photographs from the early 2000s to begin a discussion about life in Laurel.

What defines community in Laurel? What has changed? What has stayed the same?

My hope is that we'll find amazing parallels between life in Laurel in 1910 and in 2010 that show how strong of a community we really are. We'll be able to have a conversation about an evolving population that has remained strong in its support of one another. Maybe we'll find this. Maybe we won't. That's the fun part of developing an exhibit--you never know!

It might be hard for us to talk to people who lived here in 1910, but we're doing our best to get a conversation going with people who are in Laurel now.

Our first step was to look for people to talk to. We could have walked down the street with a sign that said"The Laurel Museum wants to hear about your life in Laurel!", but we didn't. Instead we went to local community groups/religious organizations. We asked these groups to suggest someone who might be interested in helping us tell the story of Laurel in 2010.

We have now formed an Exhibit Advisory Committee. The group met last week and seemed VERY excited about telling the story of Laurel.

But this is not a surprise to me. I've known for a while now that community is important in Laurel. So I'm not surprised that these people took time out of their busy nights to come spend an evening at the Laurel Museum and munch on some cookies donated from the Ideal Bakery.

To them, helping to tell the story of their community is very important. A community without a story, without a history, without an identity is no community at all. These people know that. I only hope that we can help them tell their story and the story of our community in the best way possible.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fourth of July Parade and the LHS!

My puppy is famous. He's on the cover of this week's Gazette. Check it out!

I bring this up for 2 reasons:

1) I am the proud mother of a 140lb baby.

2) His being on the Gazette made me think a little more about how things seem to work out here at the LHS.

Zinn (my puppy) is in the Gazette this week because some photographers caught his goofy smile along the parade route for the 4th of July parade. We were walking the parade route along with the Laurel Historical Society's float "The Rootbeer Float". You may not have known this information from the cover of the Gazette, because there is no mention of the LHS with his picture.

There is no mention in the newspaper that the LHS won once again the award for "Best Appearing Float". There is no mention of our diligent volunteers who worked to put together the float, pull it, and walk in the heat beside it.

The Lilienthal family worked hard to put together a fantastic float. Months ago they came to me with a work plan and sketch of what they would like to do with the float. Then they worked on the details as a family, leaving me with no work to do!

I am very happy to say that in the end, it was done perfectly! From the rootbeer floats that the girls pretended to drink to the 1950s music to the duck tape and cardboard juke box, everything was fantastic.

Of course, all of this was made possible by John and Jennie Lee Kalie who donated the use of their float bed and truck for us to use. These long term volunteers have always been ready to help out the LHS and other community organizations. We very much appreciate their help!

So what does all this have to do with Zinn? Zinn reminded me of how things normally take place at the LHS.

Whether we're putting together a wonderful exhibit, a 1950s fair, or just a short lecture, there is usually one "face" of the organization that gets all of the credit. Usually it's me. Zinn's drooly face on the front of the Gazette reminded me of how rarely volunteer work is properly recoginized. It reminded me of how little most people see or know of what goes on behind the scenes.

So thank you to all of the volunteers that helped make the 4th of July parade a success! We truly appreciate your hard work!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Invasion of the Junior Docents

Earlier this week I mentioned that we have Junior Docents working in the Museum this summer.

Yesterday was our second day of the Invasion of the Junior Docents and we survived. I have to say, I am learning a LOT from these bright kids!

1) It feels good to really talk history.
Usually when I talk to visitors, I try to gauge how interested they are in the history and base how deeply I discuss Laurel history based on that. Most of the time, I keep it general and broad and delve a little deeper when they seem interested. But usually we don't get down into the nitty gritty stuff.
But with the Junior Docents, I have a captive audience. And I don't have to sit there and lecture to them.
I get to ask them questions. So, why was the River important 350 years ago? Were there many roads? How do you think people got around? It's really fun. I get to watch their minds turn and see them put things together--it's really great.

2) Most kids are more creative than me!
The Junior Docents and I are using a set of materials that the Museum uses to train most of the docents. To make it more interactive and fun, we took the facts in the sheets and illustrated them on a white board.

Here's an example of how they are more creative than me:

We needed to talk about the importance of the Dam in producing water power for the Mill. I drew a block and wrote in the middle of the block "I am a dam". It gets the point across, right?
Well the girls who were working on the drawing with me thought this was hilarious.

After seeing their creations, I can see why. From an abstract drawing of the trip from Wales to the Colonies of Richard Snowden (the original), to the detailed drawing of a burning house, they were MUCH more creative. I can't wait to see what they are going to produce for the videos!

3) With the right people, anything is possible.
Like most things that take place under the auspices of the Laurel Historical Society, we have fairly lofty goals. Earlier this year Monica, our part time assistant, mentioned to me that it would be nice to have the Junior Docents star in a number of short clips about Laurel history. Not only would this allow special needs groups with mobility concerns to see more of the Museum and the surrounding area, but it would be great to put on youtube and on our website. What a GREAT idea!

So off we go trying to organize this. We spoke to Erica Smith of the Laurel Mill Playhouse to discuss script writing. Holly Lilienthal found us a a professional Videographer, Todd Broadwater, who is willing to record and edit our final videos. Maureen Rogers, also from Laurel Mill Playhouse will talk to the JD's about stage presence.

In all honesty, Monica and I know pretty much nothing about putting together short videos. We're doing our best with resources in the community. I hope that with the help of all of these great resources we'll produce a project that is worth the LHS name.

Thankfully we've been blessed with a group of WONDERFUL Junior Docents. Based on what we've done so far--I know they'll help us work through this.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Fever

When I arrived last June, I was told that the volunteers and
membership at LHS expect a break over the summer.

I like that idea!

But apparently, it is harder to take a break around here than I thought.

This summer we're slowing down our programming. In June we only had 1 program--a very successful 1950s style fair. July is free of programs. In August we're doing 2 low key programs, none of which take the planning effort on our part that other programs like the Taste of Laurel require.

But some how we're still very busy!

Every Wednesday we will have Junior Docents at the Museum. Our Junior Docents are a group of several girls and now one boy who have helped us with programming in the past. Whether helping show visitors how to complete a paint by number or explaining 19th century games, these JD's are enthusiastic and engaged. This summer they will be working on a video project. They will learn more about Laurel History and write script for a series of short videos that they will then star in. Last Wednesday was their first day learning, but it won't be too long before we're shooting video.

But that's not it for our Wednesdays at the Museum. We now will have Laurel Parks and Recreation Camps coming to the Museum every Wednesday at 1 pm. For an hour the campers will enjoy learning about Laurel history. We're going to have to steer away from the 1950s (since many of them already saw that exhibit with Laurel Elementary School). But I'm pretty sure they'll have a lot of fun learning about Laurel History and what life would have been like in the nineteenth century.

We also have an intern, a high school volunteer, docents, and volunteers completing specific projects (like photographing the collection). And that is just on our average week.

So in the end, we don't seem to have taken the summer off. Oops!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Important Part of the Community

Since the beginning of the Laurel Horizon Society (the precursor to the Laurel Historical Society) in the 1970s, community members in Laurel have come together to save Laurel's history.

This dedicated group became quite close as they overcame the obstacles to saving their local history. They worked hard to build a quality Historical Society. Our supporters knew of all the great things we were doing for the community preserving and presenting the history and culture of Laurel.

But there was more work to be done!

When I began here last June 2008, I was told that one of the goals of the Laurel Historical Society was to extend our reach further into the community. We needed to let everyone know what great things we had to offer here. And we also needed to know what else we could do for the community.

So for a little over a year now, I've talked to as many people as I can in the community to find out what people know about us and what we can do for them.

In these conversations, I've learned many interesting things.

1) We're often confused with the Historic District Commission.

We are not the Historic District Commission. From what I understand, they work hard to preserve the integrity of the City. From what I understand, they might be the people to contact when you want to put a 20 foot neon sign outside your business.

But I actually don't know all too much about them--because I work for the Laurel Historical Society, not the Historic District Commission. For more information about what the Historic District Commission, visit Karen Lubieniecki's blog. For more information about what the Historical Society does, visit this blog.

2) Many Laurelites don't know there is a Museum.

When I meet people in Laurel--at the dog park, at the grocery store, around town, etc I often hear the same thing: "There's a museum in Laurel?!?"

Yes, there is a Museum in Laurel. And we're here for you! For those of us who know about us, we've become a city treasure.

For those of us who don't know about us, we're a complete surprise. As one little girl told me last week: "I thought I would really hate this place, but I had so much fun!!"

Some of you might be hesitant to come into the Museum--saving it for a raining day when there isn't much else to do. For those people I say--come in! visit! You'll be even more surprised when you see all the fun you've missed out on.

3) Those who know about the Museum have placed our role in a little box. We give tours, we're a good place to drop off the stuff from Grandma's attic and sometimes you can attend a lecture at our Museum.

We're trying to break out of that box. Yes, we have an exhibit. And yes, we do have lectures. We also offer creative children, adult, and family programs. Ever been to a film series at your local Museum? How about entered into a pie-eating contest? Or sampled local businesses food? Our special events have become creative and diverse in their offerings--we'd love to see you try your hand at our next egg toss contest or sit back with some popcorn and enjoy "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

As fun, educational, and lively as our events have become, we are trying to go beyond even the walls of our Museum. We're looking into the community to see what else we can offer to our constituency. We've built partnerships with a diverse group of community organizations. From local libraries to local schools to local businesses, we're working to provide the community with what they need. Whether it is putting together an exhibit for the Library's walls or holding a paper raiser for the local elementary school, we're working to break out of the expectations of what a local Museum should be.

No longer will we sit back and wait for you to come to us. We're coming to you. And asking you what you need. So please, let us know--we're listening.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Volunteers at the LHS

When I tell people I am the only full-time staff member at the Laurel Historical Society, I get a pretty predictable reaction.

Eye brows are raised and there is a quick intake of breath. Followed by a sarcastic "That must be a lot of fun."

I reassure these concerned people that I have a part time assistant, a very active board, and a critical mass of dedicated volunteers.

But I know that even though I say these things, people imagine me running around the Museum like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get everything done.

In reality, some days I do look a little like a flailing chicken. But that is because of my own craziness and does not reflect on the work of my wonderful volunteers.

Monica, the part-time assistant to the Director, and I are joined daily by dedicated volunteers.

Some days it is our resident grumpy registrar, Charlie. He comes in and makes fun of me for being loud, but constantly works hard to make sure our collection is in order. Without his hard work and the hard work of his cohort, Marlene, our collection would be a mess.

Other days, the volunteers that join us are the Docents that keep the Museum open for visitors. They sit patiently waiting for visitors chatting about this or that, but as soon as that visitor comes through the door they are ready to impart knowledge on them. It's amazing how quickly they can go from debating the best way to cook eggplant to telling the history of the Mill.

For special events, I call upon our Public Programming Committee. This committee works hard to provide quality program for all of our audiences--young and old alike. We have junior docents on this committee that like to wear period dress for our kids events.

We have 2 mother-daughter teams that are essential to our success. We have teachers (both active and retired), a principal, a human resources specialist, a public relations specialist, and more. This committee is willing to get dirty with the kids or set up a laptop for a lecture. Without them, there would be no programming at the LHS.

We have volunteers who are in charge of the Museum Shop, the Research Library, the Landscaping of the Museum, and more.

We have so many volunteers doing so much that sometimes I wonder what is left for me to do.

I guess it leaves me time to brag about them.

But instead I just spend my time coming up with more work for everyone to do!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Good Day with the LHS

Not everyday with the LHS is a good day. Some are great. Some are fantastic. And some are...less than fantastic.

But some days are good. Today was one of those days.

When our volunteers started arriving at 10 am, it seemed like any other Wednesday. They put the flags out. One of our volunteer coordinators came upstairs and gave me a lunch she'd brought from home for me. Yummy! We chat shortly about the weather and I watch while one of our volunteers sets up a network between my desktop and our laptop.

Then there is a slight panic. A group of special needs adults has arrived. The group did not call ahead for a group tour and we really aren't prepared with hands-on activities. I tell the volunteers to use some scavenger hunts we have available. After the group leaves I find out that the scavenger hunts weren't able to be used--the group was mostly non-responsive. But they seemed happy to be out and about.

We discuss the challenges of adjusting tours for special needs group with varying abilities of interaction. I mosey back upstairs and continue working on some development things.

The next thing I know, the Museum is abuzz. I come downstairs and there are several groups of people in separate parts of the galleries keeping our docents busily occupied. I learn that one group has a son translating from english to spanish for his mother and father. Another person has just moved into the area and wants to learn more about the community. Another visitor has visited before and volunteers at a local museum himself. They are all excitedly talking and pointing to parts of the exhibit that sparked their interest.

I attempt to flex my spanglish and interact with the family whose son is translating to them. In the basement I explain the use of the wash basin with "como se dice bath?" to the son. I then attempt to explain where ice (hielo or "yellow" as he explains to me) was brought from. The son and I both struggle to find the word for river in spanish, but I get the point across with a wave of the hand and a wooshing sound.

Afterwards, the family makes a purchase in the gift shop. Great for our budget, not so great for my own technical abilities in the shop. (Delawareans always forget sales tax!)

But something even more exciting happens! The mother asks for our open hours--she'd like to bring her other sons back to the Museum.

Satisfied, I eat my yummy lunch upstairs with some of the volunteers. We talk about important things like how to brown meat and how great it is to have visitors come by. As we're chatting in the main gallery another family of four walks in. They look fresh and young and eager to learn all about Laurel history.

I leave my docents to do their work without me intruding.

But I'm very happy because I've finally thought of what I should name the new blog I've been planning: A Good Day with the LHS.