Put Those Pajamas in a Museum
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
President Harding’s pajamas and slippers stand in a glass case in the Smithsonian. Did he imagine his pajamas in a museum? Not just any museum, the granddaddy of all museums.
As president, he may have suspected. But, how do we know when we’re making history? I saw a Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox in an antique store. Just like the one I carried to elementary school every day. Or was that my sister? My memory grows fuzzy.
I’m researching the historic Seneca Falls womens rights convention for a writing project. I’d never heard of Seneca Falls, although it’s now a big deal in American history. The two day event is considered the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the United States.
My daughter could tell me all about it. A National Park at the site draws people from all over the country. But, this national park wasn’t established until 1980. So, it’s not my fault I never heard of the convention. Apparently, I’m older than history.
As I research for a story, I try to imagine myself in a fixed place and time. History books blur decades and even centuries together, as if all the events happened at once and everyone understood the historical significance.
The Seneca Falls Convention was somewhat unremarkable in it’s time. The area was a hotbed of social reform activism. Residents frequently attended rallies and meetings about abolition of slavery, temperance, and women’s rights. The convention was held at the Weslean Chapel, known for holding such meetings.
Local women organized the event at someone’s home and put an advertisement in the paper. Most of the attendees were local. The idea of women’s rights wasn’t particularly popular at the time. The historical significance wasn’t recognized until much later.
No one said, “Stop. We must preserve this building. Something historical just happened.” The Wesleyan Chapel was used as an opera house, movie theater, grocery store, furniture store, telephone office, roller-skating rink, car dealership, laundromat, and an apartment building before the national park service restored it. Each owner ripped out walls and remodeled with no concern for history.
Now, at the national park, you can see the actual table where the Declaration of Sentements was drafted. An ordinary table that people used for meals, school projects, and who knows what else.
Could I do something so significant that my hairbrush and desk organizer will sit under glass in a museum with an engraved plaque?
I once visited a small town museum with my grandmother. She pointed to a picture in a room dedicated to 1930’s wedding clothing. “That girl was my roommate. I didn’t like the fella she married.”
We passed the telephone office display with headsets and plugs. “I worked as a telephone operator.”
“I had a washing machine just like that one.”
“There is our cattle brand.”
Her ordinary life had become a museum.
Perhaps I should listen to my husband when he wants to save all the future museum pieces in our basement
. . . Or not.