History is in the making in Ketchikan.
Since early this spring, the staff at the museum has been seeking tokens and stories from life in Ketchikan that help paint a more complete picture of how the pandemic has been affecting Ketchikan’s residents.
This is being done through two projects; one initiative dedicated to getting COVID-19 “artifacts” into the museum, and one project designed to help Ketchikan residents reflect on their experiences.
The artifacts might be as small as a business flyer or a coloring sheet completed while hunkering down, while the “time capsule” project encourages kids to collect their own “historic” objects from the past six months.
Erika Jayne Christian, the program coordinator at the Tongass Historical Museum, spoke with the Daily News earlier this week about the ideas.
It all began with business cards.
The first documented case of the virus was recorded in Ketchikan in mid-March, and a month later, the staff at the museum began seeking business cards or other small objects representative of the changing business landscape in Ketchikan, a town dependent on tourism and visitors during the summer months.
Christian said that the museum sought cards that represented how Ketchikan’s industries looked in real time, so that it could be remembered later as part of the town’s history. This same concept spurred a similar, more COVID-19 centric, idea.
“The COVID collecting and the time capsules kind of go hand-in-hand with that mentality of ‘collecting now,’” Christian said.
“I think so often, especially with the coronavirus, in our area and even nationally, you get the larger story,” Christian said. “You get the national story, you get the state of Alaska story. And you might even have facts and figures of what things were like here in Ketchikan as far as the number of people who contracted it or the travelers coming through. We’ve got the hard facts, but we really are missing the personal stories, the community story.”
After announcing to the community that they were seeking contributions, museum staff began to receive a variety of submissions.
“We got all sorts of different things, from art projects and coloring sheets that had been done. … And something as simple as that — a project or an art thing that was done during this time of pandemic and this time of quarantine that was just so uncertain for us — sure, it’s just a coloring sheet, or it’s just a business sign, but it really does tell a more personal story,” Christian said. “And so that’s really what we’re going after.”
By collecting different “artifacts” of Ketchikan’s pandemic experience, Christian hopes to enrich voices throughout the community, regardless of how a person has been affected.
According to Christian, the purpose of gathering objects such as storefront closure signs, take-out menu flyers is to share individual stories of the pandemic, such as how it changed certain business models or community gathering places.
Almost anything is accepted as a piece of Ketchikan’s pandemic experience, as long as it helps to answer questions about Ketchikan’s COVID-19 experience.
“What things are really the unique, worthwhile, objects or images that really do tell a story?” Christian questioned.
One example that Christian mentioned were the “first responder bears” that were sighted around Ketchikan this spring. The stuffed toys depicted nurses, doctors or other frontline workers, and often were positioned on the side of the road.
“They got some wear and tear, and one of those was actually donated to the collection,” Christian said of the stuffed animals. “And that’s something where it’s a little weather beaten, but it really does tell that unique story. People showing appreciation for the line service workers during the pandemic.”
By adding to the collection now, the value of the objects increases, Christian said.
“Those are the kind of stories that if you don’t have that object or have that interview or talk with those people, it’s not going to be remembered for future generations,” she said.
“If you don’t do it now, it’s not going to be recorded,” Christian added. “We don’t want to be five years down the line, 10 years down the line, thinking about all the great projects and firsthand memories or even screenshots people have been taking or pictures on their cell phones.”
Outside the walls of the Tongass Historical Museum, kids also can help keep track of local history. With small “time capsules” meant to be filled with mementos and thoughts from the pandemic, museum staff hopes that the program will provide yet another angle of how the virus is affecting Ketchikan.
Christian said that the purpose of distributing time capsules for kids and their families to complete and keep was to discover “what kids were thinking and feeling” during the last six months in Ketchikan.
The capsules include activities and writing prompts for kids and their families to complete.
“It was just providing some guidelines or some prompts to kind of ask those questions,” Christian explained. “It’s asking questions like what has school been like for you? For teachers it’s a very different thing, for students it’s a very different thing. But it’s really just a way to kind of collect that information.”
She noted that the project “falls under the same umbrella” as the COVID-19 object collecting project, but that it is made for families to keep, not return to the museum’s collection.
“These time capsules and things, we really want to just encourage people to collect and remember things,” she said.
Christian estimated that more than 150 time capsules had been distributed to Ketchikan families at locations such as the museum, Totem Heritage Center and the Ketchikan Public Library. She said that there has “been a really great response” so far, a month and a half into the initiative.