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: