Grayslake Historical Society shares stories

The Grayslake Historical Society is working to bring the stories of the present to the future.

Henry Rowe , Feature Editor

The courtyard of the Grayslake Historical Society, where the exhibit can be found Photo by: Henry Rowe

 It’s no secret that COVID-19 has affected Grayslake.  While this may seem obvious to us right now, however, 2020 may be a little hard for those in the future to understand. One way we can help those in the future better understand the struggles of the current day is to preserve current day citizens’ thoughts and opinions.  This is what Michelle Poe, director of the Grayslake Heritage Society and Museum, strives to do with the Museum’s newest exhibit about the coronavirus and Grayslake.

“We have been collecting information from people. We have a survey for grown-ups, and we have come for students because we know those are two different experiences right now, so we want to make sure we get both of those. We’ve been talking to business[es] and collecting the signs they have, alongside their giant bottles of hand sanitizer once they’re empty. These are the kinds of things people are going to want to see in the future. We’ve also collected a few masks alongside a few other items, and I’m sure more will become available as time goes on,” Poe said.

If you are interested in the exhibit but worry about coming into contact with COVID-19, the exhibit is also able to be viewed in our socially distanced world. 

 “When we had to close our doors, we started trying to think of ways we could still reach people,” Poe said. “We amped up our social media presence and then we started the pop-up exhibit in our courtyard windows, so when people take walks through town they can still engage with the museum when they’re outside.” 

Poe knew that there was interest in the Historical Society from those nearby, specifically, interest in the courtyard.

“Something I’ve noticed since I started here, is that people wander into our courtyard and wander around, particularly while eating ice cream from The Freeze,” Poe said. “That is definitely our top courtyard visitor… We wanted to find a way to connect with them and when we closed that was one of the first things that came to mind. Other museums are doing similar things, but we have a spot that’s perfect for it. We were going to stop at the end of the summer, but now we’ll probably continue on into the year until it gets too cold to be out there.” 

No matter how interesting the presentation is, the exhibit is not complete without some items to display. The Grayslake Historical Society’s items on display have a blend of physical artifacts and oral or written stories or thoughts that needed to be shared. Even something we don’t consider significant, such as memes, are used to portray our culture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The bulk of our content is our survey results and funny images and memes and other things that people have sent us because that’s how people are going to remember this… It’s kind of like the political cartoon of today in many ways. That’s what is in our windows from individual residents. To collect history from businesses, we are keeping the avenues they used to get information to their customers, like updated store hours, signs that shows the policy for entering, signs showing if they were doing carry out or pickup, all of that would have gone into a newspaper, but because newspapers are not as prevalent right now, we went through and took screenshots of different businesses’ Facebooks and other social medias and recorded that because we want to keep that information for the future,” Poe went on to state.

Businesses helped more than just their customers during this pandemic. Poe explained that businesses were also helping each other.

“All of our businesses are helping each other out. For instance if one business needs hamburgers they can put a call out and someone will do their best to help them out,” Poe said. “There’s just been so much community support, which is so helpful and that kind of spilled over into the chalk messages people had written on their sidewalks and putting hearts and messages in their windows. I’ve seen a lot of ways the community tries to show each other that they care,” she continued. 

Much like local businesses, the Grayslake Historical Society has also had to change how they operate to keep themselves and community members safe. Poe shares what she has had to do differently for this exhibit in particular.

“Our instinct has always been to go out and talk to people; we wanted to get face to face and ask them questions,[while we hope to do  that in the future, because that’s how some of the best oral histories have been collected]. For now I’m worried that we might not hear from some of our older community members, because they might not have a computer or social media, so making sure we are reaching everybody can be a challenge,” Poe continued.

The exhibit is not only for future Grayslake residents. Poe believes that Grayslake’s current citizens can learn something from the display.

“[The pandemic is] something that everyone connects to. Sometimes when you go into a museum, you see an exhibit about something you might not know about or understand. But, everyone has heard of this and it’s happening around us… We’ve been able to hear what the hardest part of all of this is for them. For some it’s their finances, for others it’s the amount of space in their home and for others it’s their health, because they or someone they know has gotten sick, so it’s really important to collect everyone’s stories.” 

  The COVID-19 epidemic will not last forever; however with the help of the Grayslake Historical Society, we can ensure the lessons learned throughout this epidemic will never be forgotten.