Movies with historic settings or a college play set in an earlier time period are just about the only way we get to see the clothing of the past. Sometimes an old chest in the attic may hold a military uniform or grandma’s wedding dress, but getting to see what a Civil War laundress wore or a 19th-century firefighter’s uniform looked like is a pretty scarce opportunity. Well, folks at the State Historical Society of North Dakota in Bismarck understand. We all are curious how things have changed and part of the society’s role is preservation and interpretation for the general public.
Despite shipment delays and all the COVID-19 testing and distancing, the Heritage Center is open for business, and this wonderful array of our history is on display. With an emphasis on young people and the history of North Dakotans past, fashions worn by ordinary people as well as legislators and soldiers now grace the museum.
Mannequins by the multiples were featured on the cover of Plains Talk, a SHSND membership report from the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation. Inside, an update on “A Year Like No Other” addressed the difficulties the society has encountered during the pandemic shutdown.
Stories from sites managers, State Historical Society President Bill Peterson and staffers who went beyond the office and weekly schedules to access and stage the clothing opened eyes to the struggles experienced in order to bring an educational package to the public. With so many schools vacillating between masked, unmasked, in-person and virtual, it was and is still quite the challenge just to get programs together in a way that kids and their families could benefit. Every teacher understands yet everyone at the Heritage Center was not an educator; but during this 18-month period, they became researchers beyond their college degrees and put together a creative and downright enjoyable display of costumes.
Inside the SHSND’s report, Jamestown’s own 138-year-old 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse was featured showing the civics display inside. Thanks in part to a $24K grant from Jamestown Tourism, the entire main floor of the historic courthouse was transformed to an interactive museum showing how law and rules are recorded, enforced and decided upon. The tools that were once used for the everyday office work are on the desks, on the counters and even wooden toys for the little ones are out and available for youngsters to experience. School kids are allowed access to devices typical of 19th-century courthouses throughout the country. With so few facilities open for school kids, the civics museum is a boon for educators.
During the period, more than 270,000 users have accessed the SHSND’s North Dakota Studies websites. What this means is teachers and students are optimizing the SHSND’s assets. Even if families were unable to physically get their children to vital educational sites, they could log onto a virtual site and get the information in order to be able to include it post-pandemic in their “we’ve gotta go see this” schedule. The SHSND is not alone in providing important educational opportunities for youngsters during our country’s “time out” for the virus.
States and commonwealths across the good ole USA include historical societies geared toward preserving the past and providing treasured relics for each generation. Without them, we’d be reinventing the wheel every couple decades or so. It's why we have civics, history and sociology classes in school.
Families can take advantage of this pleasant fall weather and tour the Heritage Center in Bismarck. Pick up some brochures while you’re there and make a few stops in North Dakota to visit the many historical sites. It will give you and the family a fun outing as well as give a spark of inspiration for more research. Learning is fun if you can enliven curiosity.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send it to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.