Preserving COVID-19 in local history

COVID-19 has in many ways played a defining role in the year 2020.
Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 5:41 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2020 at 7:32 AM EDT
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ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) - The coronavirus has, in many ways, played a defining role in the year 2020. The Vermont Historical Society has dedicated a large part of the year to collecting pieces of COVID history like journal entries.

The group has established a statewide database dedicated to locking COVID-19 in history, and although they have accumulated a lot of material already, historians say they aren’t done yet.

“Definitely encouraging people to continue to contribute material and that can be videos, photos, writings," said Steve Perkins, the executive director of the Vermont Historical Society.

Perkins says they are now able to accept tangible items into their collection. Items they say will help paint a better picture of Vermont’s unique place in the pandemic through the stories of those who lived it.

“We need to tell those stories and we need to think about it, and as diverse stories as we can get and it comes down to individuals telling us what those stories are," said Perkins.

But locking COVID-19 in history isn’t only a state-level task, local historians and residents play a role, too. The Saint Albans Historical Museum is also keeping a snapshot of 2020 through quilts sewn out of mask scraps.

“To be able to take the leftover fabrics make quilts and have this be a part of the history of St. Albans and Franklin County is so heartwarming," said Pam Cross, the creator of the St. Albans mask group.

Since the first quilt the St. Albans Face Mask group created, Cross says they have sewn another 5,000 masks and donated them all. That totals 26,000.

But to the museum, the quilt can mean so much more.

“They’re not our stories or our things, they belong to everyone here, so that’s important to remember. Museums are about storytelling and community, and I think during these times, we can also be a place for hope and healing. So to look at this amazing project that brought together over 100 volunteers, thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to create free masks for anyone who needed them, is a story well worth documenting and celebrating," said Alex Lehning, the executive director and librarian for the St. Albans Historical Museum.

With more masks came more scraps, leaving a residual opportunity for the museum to solidify a story from their community.

“We’re stewards, right, we hold and trust the stories, the images, the artifacts," said Lehning.

He knows that contributions like the Face Mask Quilt will be something time can never touch because of the story it captures.

“When we were facing some of our hardest times in St. Albans, Franklin County and Northwestern Vermont, we came together as neighbors and that’s a story that will continue to resonate across the years," said Lehning.

On a state level, Perkins says that there are still holes in the state historical society’s collection, such as firsthand accounts of essential workers, those who contracted COVID-19 and have survived, and parents and students making the transition back to school, so they are still looking for submissions.

But as historians, both Perkins and Lehning say it’s important to be proactive about preserving history as it happens.

The third and final quilt made out of mask scraps will be heading out to Michigan State University to be a part of a selective collection of more than 1,000 quilts.

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