No one said living through history was easy. Few things have the power to change the course of human history as disease. Pandemics over the centuries have toppled empires, conquered whole societies, and changed the outcomes of wars. The COVID 19 pandemic is a unique moment in history unlike any other. Never has the entire global population tried to band together to defeat a disease through the simple coordinated act of self-quarantine. It is quite remarkable.
Thanks to the internet, humans are connected as never before, still allowing us to see each other’s faces, be creative, sing and dance, laugh and weep together. We can binge hours and hours of television and still get new movies direct from the studios. We can virtually tour museums. We can download schoolwork and attend work meetings. We can download book after book from the library. Internet memes keep us laughing and our smartphones can download meditation apps to help our anxiety in the face of the haunting disease that lurks at us from the nightly news.
However, the COVID 19 experience is vastly different across our community, one household to the next. Some of us will not escape the disease and fall ill. Not everyone has the technology for all the things above. Some of us will experience unemployment, food insecurity, childcare issues, or fear of homelessness. Business owners are afraid of losing everything. Essential employees are denied the stay-at-home experience; they instead fear bringing the disease home. High school and college seniors leave school adrift, facing an uncertain future without the traditions and ceremonies their accomplishments earned them, nor the guidance provided by these simple acts of acknowledgement and celebration lost.
The Deschutes Historical Museum has spent a lot of time the past few weeks fielding questions about pandemics of the past. These are the moments when our connection to history provides relief, knowing we’ve been here before and come through the other side stronger. We can do it again. It is also highlights the importance of our collections and why we work so hard to preserve and document these major events. In another 100 years, future generations will want to understand what happened in 2020 when COVID 19 shut down the world. That is why historical societies and museums across the country are asking our communities to submit their experiences to us for the record. It is fitting, then, that May is National Historic Preservation Month, a time we would normally offer programs and heritage walks. This year, everything is cancelled, postponed, or offered as a Zoom presentation online. Part of our own struggles to do our work in the face of COVID. Instead, we will work to document the impacts and community stories from our current pandemic. What will future historians want to know about we, the survivors of 2020?
We are hard at work capturing this history–we have a bottle of locally made Oregon Spirits Distillery hand sanitizer, homemade masks, copies of blogs and flyers encouraging support of small businesses. The map of downtown curbside pick up locations. Our first piece of shared COVID inspired artwork comes from Bend High School’s Lily Alexander. Videographer Brent Barnett shared drone images of an empty downtown Bend on a Friday night. Photographer Gary Calicott is chasing images of store lines, closures, roped off playgrounds, offers of free food, and empty streets. We need your experiences, too.
Here are some prompt questions for you:
Teachers and educators: COVID presents an unprecedented challenge–how has your school risen to the challenge? What has been the greatest frustration? What has inspired you? How have your students responded?
Doctors, nurses, and medical staff: You are our front lines–your stories will shape how the world responds next time. What changes did you see as it happened? What gave you strength? What needs to change in the future? What do you want historians to understand?
Students: Did COVID change your view of the future? Did it change how you feel about school and your teachers? What was the most challenging? How did you stay focused?
Essential employees: what line of work are you in? How have your customers responded to you? What gave you inspiration? What frustrated you?
Stay at home warriors: Who was home with you? How did you combat quarantine blues? How did you prepare to go out when you needed to? Were you able to work from home or did you lose your job? Have you struggled to keep a business you own going?
In 1953, Dr. J.D. Donovan sat down for a recorded interview with Kessler Cannon to talk about his memories of the 1918 Flu Pandemic in Bend. He recounts working in the emergency hospital in the athletic club gymnasium where the disease struck down healthy 20 year olds in front of their eyes. The word he uses that strikes a chord is that he remembered the time as ‘heartfelt.’ People sacrificed in order to care for each other in the face of the terrifying disease. What his voice from all those years ago shows us is that what hasn’t changed in 100 years is our sense of community, our depth of heart, and how we care for one another.
You can share your stories by emailing the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing us materials to 129 NW Idaho Ave, Bend, 97703. The museum will be collecting data, stories, and eventually, oral histories like Dr. Donovan’s, on COVID 19 for years, as the impacts will continue well beyond the reopen measures.
Thank you to the essential employees, thank you to those staying at home, and, to the front line hospital staff, thank you for your dedication and strength.