What are some things that immediately come to mind when you think about your childhood years at your grandmother’s house? Perhaps warm hugs, a stomach full of food, and a few extra bucks in your wallet. Or maybe you think about loud yelling, ten cats, and the smell of cigarettes. Whatever it might be that brings back memories of those days, most of us have some some sort of trigger that can take us back. That is one of the wonderful things about the “Grandma’s House” exhibit at the Warren County History Museum. As far as I can remember, neither of my grandmothers owned a record player or a primitive tv; but I do remember seeing a washboard and a room for sewing. This exhibit has the power to transport almost anyone back to a nice childhood time; even if they have not encountered those specific objects before.
When I stepped into the exhibit for the first time it felt like I had entered a dollhouse; but it is with those same items, that resemble toys, that people used to live with. To make it even more real, all of these artifacts were donated from people in Warren County; maybe even people who lived close to where you live now. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit is the kitchen, although it is a wonder how these people ever survived without a microwave.
In “Grandma’s House”, you can also see old posters of brand names that are easy to recognize like Kellogg’s, Kraft, and Tide; and see how their marketing has changed over the decades. However, what I like the most about the exhibit is that it stays true to the propaganda of that time period, even though I don’t agree with it. For example, in the kitchen there is an ad for the Ironized Yeast Company that reads, “6 weeks ago he said ‘She’s too skinny!’ But now ‘Just think darling, in a few days we’ll be married!’” To be honest, the first time I entered the exhibit, I actually thought that this poster was funny, and even laughed a little. I thought to myself, “Well thank God we aren’t so bad off today with those kinds of things.” The second time I went into the exhibit, I actually took the time to read the entire ad and I was surprised at the similarity to today that I did not notice before.
The ad was trying to sell yeast to girls who needed to gain weight. In only a few weeks, these girls could gain 10 to 25 pounds. Does that sound familiar? Our societal perceptions of beauty might have changed, but not the ideals. The poster described sounds exactly like the sorts of things some companies try to sell girls in order to lose weight, and for men to gain weight. The worst part is that a lot of these remedies to control weight can be very harmful to the human body, and those details are sometimes hidden from the public. In a similar way, I found an article on the website for the U.S. Library of Medicine that says that the Ironized Yeast Company was sued because it “would not increase weight, overcome nervousness, produce vigor, improve the appetite, produce charm and popularity, or otherwise accomplish the results promised, implied, and represented.” The article does not say if the product was harmful to its consumers, so hopefully not working was the only problem with it.
On a lighter note, there are also a lot of other posters in the exhibit that make you proud because you can see how we have progressed. The posters show women cooking and cleaning and the men either hitting on them or making subtle misogynistic comments. I think and hope that we have been able to move past the whole “the woman’s place is in the kitchen” type deal, at least for the most part; and women definitely have more opportunities for education and careers nowadays. However, it is also quite unsettling to see zero representation for people of color in the posters. While I am also glad not to see any stereotypical people of color portrayed as “the help”, I do wish there was at least some representation. But thinking about it, if those decades were not so inclusive with their white women, much less with their people of color. This comes as no surprise though, especially in a small town like Monmouth; which makes me happy to think that now Monmouth is much more diverse and hopefully the diversity continues to grow.
I guess the more I visit Grandma’s house, the more little details I notice, and that is one more thing I love about it. Even though the time frame that is represented in Grandma’s House might not have been one of the best ones socially, no time frame ever has been. It is just nice to see and experience what life was like during that time and see the similarities and differences of our life now and life then.
Summer Intern 2017
“Were you alive when life in color was invented?” This was a genuine naive question that I dared to ask my dad when I was a child. It stemmed from my curiosity and deep interest in looking at black and white photos of family members, and watching old Mexican movies with my parents. I actually believed that color didn’t exist in the world and that somehow color was invented. Now that I think back to it, it’s a silly idea that it would actually be true, but it made sense; and I know for a fact that I am not the only one who thought that as a child.
During the end of my sophomore year at Monmouth College (MC), I received an email about what seemed like a fun photo restoration project at the local history museum. I was very flattered to even be considered for such a great opportunity in the first place, but honestly it didn’t end up being what I imagined it would be. Sometime during the following fall semester, I met Kellen Hinrichsen, the museum director, and my future photography professor, Jessica Ott. The meeting went very well, although I did feel a tad bit overwhelmed with the notion that I had never done this process before and the life of an entire exhibit, for the most part, rested in my hands.
Over the course of the semester, Kellen and I met in the college library so I could learn the very slow process of digitizing the old prints, although he would be the only one to go through the painful process. After that, we met a couple more times to choose the photos that would end up being a part of the exhibit. A memorable moment at one of those meetings was when we encountered a very strange photo of a man, with a weird hat, behind a small child posing for a photo. As freakish as the photo was, I fell in love with it; until Kellen told me that the child might have been dead. Apparently, people used to photograph children when they passed away, and that might explain why the man is behind the child holding him up. I was really surprised to hear this, but still thought it was interesting; and yes, the photo did make the cut, and Jessica colorized it.
When the spring semester came along, it was time to start working. Jessica had given me a piece of paper that contained the steps for the colorization process, which made me think that the project wasn’t going to be so hard after all; I was completely wrong. When I sat down on the computer, I deliberately chose the simplest photo out of all of them to give me an easy start. That photo took me about a week to fully finish. A WEEK. As I continued on with each photo, I discovered techniques that made it easier for me to work with. The next photo took me three days to finish, and the next took me a couple of days, and then I was down to one day, and close to the end of the project, one photo would take me only a few hours.
Another thing I noticed as I worked on the photos was that I had developed a bit of a style. With the use of earth tones, like greens and browns, all of the photos began to look cohesive and have similar color schemes. However, researching and deciding what colors would go on each image was one of the hardest tasks during the project, because we had very little to no information on the dates that the photos were taken. Funny enough, my slight obsession with the tv show American Horror Story, helped me with guessing the decade that some of the photos were taken in, because of the fashion or models of cars.
Although the entire process was fun, I would definitely have to say that my favorite part was trying to assign meaning to the photos as I was working on them. I mean, how can you be staring into the faces of four guys in what appears to be a jail cell, and wonder why they were posing? Surprisingly, my hunch about one of them being a criminal was correct. Kellen was able to find information on some of the subjects of the images, and it was even more interesting being able to learn about what was actually going on, instead of just making something up. However, I was a little sad to learn that the house in one of the photos had actually burned down.
Disney- Pixar movie “Up” came out; ironically, I have not seen it yet, please don’t judge me. For those same eight years, some of Monmouth’s community members have been spending their time preserving the county’s artifacts; since the birth of the Warren County History Museum (WCHM).
When you think about it, eight years doesn’t really seem like a long time for a history museum to be around, but the amount of work and effort that has been put into the conservation of the museum’s items is astonishing; especially since a lot of the work has been done by local volunteers who had zero experience in the museum industry. Barb Pearson began volunteering in order to help the museum move from Roseville to Monmouth. When she is at the museum, she does a wide range of tasks such as: sorting, moving, and alphabetizing the items in the collections. Pearson shared, “I loved it in the beginning because I had just retired and I was able to work with the collections all by myself; it was my alone time. But now it’s better because we have a team of seven, and I really enjoy working with the others.” In the beginning, Pearson had to get in contact with other museums and Lynn Daw from Monmouth College, in order to get advice on preserving the artifacts.
On the other hand, Jim DeYoung had more experience with history since he was a theater historian and was also on the board of directors for the Prairieland Historical Association (PHA). Eventually, the PHA merged with the museum and the Warren County Historical Society to create the WCHM, and DeYoung became a board member and volunteer in 2012. When he works, he is usually sorting and cataloging both new and old items. While I was speaking with DeYoung, he pointed out that a lot of the objects in the collections were needed to get rid of, either because they were no longer able to be preserved, they were duplicates, or they simply had nothing to do with Warren County. One of these artifacts was a model of a ship that was very well made and taken care of, but was from Lindenhurst, IL. “Even though this is very interesting, we cannot keep it here because it doesn’t relate to Warren County,” he added.
Jan DeYoung, Jim DeYoung’s wife, also started volunteering after Jim DeYoung became a board member of the museum. She usually works with keeping track of inventory, accessioning, computer entries, and green sheets. Jan DeYoung shared that her favorite thing about volunteering is being able to look at the new items that the museum has acquired; “The most interesting objects that I have seen come in were some bloomers-- 19th century underwear, petticoats that were very ornate and intricate, split bloomers, and camisoles. I don’t know why, but I just find them interesting.”
One thing I found interesting during my talk with the volunteers was when Pearson asked me, “Have you ever seen a sunbonnet baby quilt before? Do you know what that is?” I replied no, and she said, “That’s because you’re young.” She then proceeded to pull out a book on “The Sunbonnet Babies” from 1902, and told me that no one should know where it was hiding because they might want to take it. She then told me that they were very popular and their books were read in school; but that they received backlash because the “Sunbonnet Babies” were only for girls, and parents were upset saying that they needed something for the boys too. Today I did a bit of research to see if the boy characters were ever created and they were called “The Overall Boys.”
It is clear to see that all the efforts from the volunteers has helped keep these artifacts safe, but according to Pearson, they are still having trouble preserving them because it is very difficult to control the humidity and temperature in the collections area. Jim DeYoung expressed how thankful he was that the museum was able to hire someone who was professionally trained in museum studies in order to help them properly preserve and organize the museum’s collections. Kellen Hinrichsen, the