Below is an article by Barbara Headle, head of the annual Cemetery Tour and genius who organizes the student-produced historical reenactments of people interred there. The Gazette covered the event here, and there’s some video there as well of “Mrs. H” in action. Through this event, thousands of dollars have been raised to restore cemetery headstones, purchase security equipment, and generally help the Cemetery association. This year’s event was to honor America’s veterans.
Volunteerism Is Not a Thing of the Past
Public History matters. But, as a friend and colleague reminded me, not everyone knows what Public History is, or is not. Done well, Public History is not about presenting history to the public in a kitschy, chain store “smiley face” fashion that leaves the “readers” feeling happy but unfulfilled. Rather, good Public History makes history “meaningful to the general public.” It engages the public audience and prompts them to negotiate the good, the bad, and uncomfortable parts of history; this may not always be what the public expects or wants, but at least they leave feeling something, they’re thinking; their history, our history, has meaning.
Public History matters. So does volunteerism. Just ask any of the current and graduated students and lecturers who volunteered their time, talents, and passion for history to participate in the Friends of Fountain Fairview Cemetery’s 4th Annual Historic Cemetery tour held on Saturday, September 26, arguably the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching event to date. These committed students and staff stepped outside (literally!) the traditional academic setting to use “their skills as historians to interpret and preserve” the history of a community and its place in regional, national, and international arenas to a large and diverse audience.
This year the FFFC commemorated the anniversaries of the end of three wars: American Civil War (150 years), World War II (70 years), and Vietnam (40 years), and for good reason. Fountain Fairview Cemetery is home to at least 176 veterans; of these, there are 13 Civil War (10 Union, 3 Confederate); 18 WWI (including 2 brothers); 51 WWII (including 3 women); 30 Korea; 35 Vietnam. Nine of these veterans served in both WWII and Korea; 10 served in Korea and Vietnam; and 3 served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
Now ask any of the volunteers listed below about their experience in doing public history, why they volunteer for a small community-oriented event, and why it matters to them as individuals and as historians. Then ask them how many times they have volunteered for this annual event. You might learn something new, you might be inspired, or both!
Students (Current): John Garrett, Kim Sweetwood, Patrick Turner. (Graduated): Amber Bradish, Lindsey Duncan, Megan Ishum, Tawnie Mizer, Maria Tobin, Travis Pollok, and Emilee Shindel.
Lecturers: Amy Haines, Robin Lynch, Nina Frischmann.
Thank you all for reaffirming volunteerism is not a thing of the past, for demonstrating Public History matters, and for earning comments like these:
“Wonderfully done by all – A very humble and respectful feeling …Thank you.” “I’m so honored to have seen this tour. My dad is … looking down at all your marvelous work…. Thanks for all you do.” –Sandra Aragon Kruse, Chicago, Illinois, daughter of Sgt. Jose Rueben “Mark” Aragon, d. May 1965, Vietnam.
“Thank you for a wonderful tour! It was extremely insightful and I think the families of these veterans have been honored.” –A. Shamrock
“What a powerfully moving experience! Well done by all and thank you for all that you are doing to preserve and share this valuable history!” –L. Davis Witherow