Lake County museum, libraries building living history collections of COVID-19 pandemic

  • The Dunn Museum of Lake County is documenting the COVID-19 pandemic through photos, objects and stories of people and events -- including this photo of an empty Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Libertyville.

    The Dunn Museum of Lake County is documenting the COVID-19 pandemic through photos, objects and stories of people and events -- including this photo of an empty Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Libertyville. Courtesy of Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

  • This photo of a cancellation sign at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake is among the Dunn Museum's documentation of the coronavirus pandemic.

    This photo of a cancellation sign at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake is among the Dunn Museum's documentation of the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy of Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

  • Workers at the Gurnee Best Buy wear masks and keep track of customer traffic at the main entrance. This photo is part of a collection the Dunn Museum of Lake County is creating to document the COVID-19 pandemic through photos, objects and stories of people and events.

    Workers at the Gurnee Best Buy wear masks and keep track of customer traffic at the main entrance. This photo is part of a collection the Dunn Museum of Lake County is creating to document the COVID-19 pandemic through photos, objects and stories of people and events. Courtesy of Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

  • This image showing messages of thanks hanging in the window of Libertyville business Touche Salon is part of the Dunn Museum of Lake County effort to document the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This image showing messages of thanks hanging in the window of Libertyville business Touche Salon is part of the Dunn Museum of Lake County effort to document the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

 
 
Updated 5/12/2020 7:00 AM

Documenting the COVID-19 experience was first mentioned in a staff meeting of the Dunn Museum of Lake County in mid-March, before stay-at-home orders upended daily life.

"It seems like a hundred years ago now," says Diana Dretske, a Lake County historian and curator at the museum operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A lot else was happening at the time. But when the idea to capture this window of living history resurfaced, the process to provide an outlet began.

The result is the COVID-19 Documentation Project, which will share stories and digital photos to show how the pandemic is affecting the lives of Lake County residents, businesses and caregivers.

Similar efforts are being undertaken by like-minded organizations such as libraries and historical societies, which are providing a place to share COVID-19 experiences.

"Everyone has to think about this. You have good days and you have bad days," Dretske said. "We have to give people a chance to let them know we're doing this and give them a comfortable space."

Portillo's customers enjoying their takeout food in a different way during the coronavirus pandemic is one of the things captured in photos, objects and stories collected by the Dunn Museum of Lake County.
Portillo's customers enjoying their takeout food in a different way during the coronavirus pandemic is one of the things captured in photos, objects and stories collected by the Dunn Museum of Lake County. - Courtesy of Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County
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The Cook Memorial Public Library District last month began compiling a COVID-19 digital archive and is seeking pictures and stories to document how life has changed. How were days spent? What were the challenges? How did the community unite?

Entries are processed and posted within 24 hours. So far, about 45 have been made, said Jenny Barry, local history librarian. "It's been a slow build," she said.

"While people are living it, I don't know people consider it history or that the library would collecting" this type of information, Barry said.

Submissions have included an eerily empty downtown Libertyville shopping district, empty store shelves and other images symbolic of how things have changed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Dunn's offering is a work in progress. Exhibitions and Collections Manager Steve Furnett is planning a third road trip to various locations in Lake County to capture the moment.

Pizzeria Deville gave away free rolls of toilet paper with orders. The image is part of the Dunn Museum of Lake County's collection of memorabilia of the COVID-19 times.
Pizzeria Deville gave away free rolls of toilet paper with orders. The image is part of the Dunn Museum of Lake County's collection of memorabilia of the COVID-19 times. - Courtesy of Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

The museum's project also will include interviews with business owners and others.

"We have the record, and that's the point," he said. "I kind of feel it's our responsibility as county historians to capture what's going on."

So does the Highland Park Historical Society, which in collaboration with other agencies is soliciting experiences now and in the future.

Websites and other records will be included in an inclusive, permanent record to be to made available to the public in 2030. Input is being sought in any form, and responses can be edited through 2021.

The historical society also says people can consider using the newly created StoryCorps app to record a recollection that will be stored at the Library of Congress.

"Down the road, 10, 20, 50 years, people are going to want these stories and put a perspective on it," Dretske said.

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