Kemmeter column: Historical Society wants journals of COVID-19 life
By Gene Kemmeter
The Wisconsin Historical Society wants state residents to help write history by recording their thoughts and observations in this time of uncertainty with the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The goal is to get residents of all ages and walks of life, including health care workers, to record their daily life during the next 30, 60 or 90 days, said Christian Overland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director and CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The Society’s founder, Lyman Draper, asked soldiers stationed at Camp Randall in Madison in 1861, to help document the Civil War by keeping a diary. After the war, those diaries were returned to the Society, and today they are regarded as one of the most valuable collections in the Society’s archives, recording what happened in battle, the soldiers’ thoughts and their experiences.
Two brothers with ties to Portage County left a valuable record of the Civil War through diaries and letters kept during the years of the 1861 to 1865.
Julian Wisner Hinkley of Company E, Third Wisconsin Infantry, and Lucius Dwight Hinkley of Company K, 10th Wisconsin Infantry, lived in the community of Lone Pine in the town of Almond before returning to Waupun, where they spent much of their boyhood years, to enlist in those units.
Julian, the younger of the two, wrote a book about his service that was originally published by the Wisconsin History Commission in 1912 and was reprinted a few years ago by the Portage County Historical Society as part of its “Portage County Stories” series.
Lucius, the oldest son of Lucius Hinkley and Laura Waterman, gave his diary, letters and papers about his service to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Those papers are available online at digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.HinkleyL01.
The Hinkleys were born in Connecticut and moved to Wisconsin about 1848, settling first in Waupun, then moving to the Lone Pine area in the late 1850s. Lone Pine was a small community located near the intersection of present-day County Trunks W and BB. The community reportedly received its name from a big pine in an open field west of a cemetery.
A post office was located there in 1856, but discontinued in 1865, only to be re-established in 1866. The post office was permanently discontinued in 1904, a year after one of the worst cyclones in Portage County history hit the community, damaging the school and numerous houses and barns, as well as the store that housed the post office.
The Society is now actively documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Wisconsin and the world. Its tradition of balancing the collection of artifacts and material with personal experiences is a critical part of this process.
Just like the soldiers in 1861, documentation of individual experiences living during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine will allow the Society to share history with people living 100 years from now.
Every story is important, and the Society wants individuals and organizations from all walks of life, different backgrounds and cultures to participate. Perspectives from a retired couple or school-aged child are just as important as those from front-line health care workers. Teachers or supervisors could also make this a group project.
The Society is asking that the journal be submitted in a format that works best for the individuals, be it written, recorded on audio or video, photographed or expressed through artwork. Journal entries should provide a summary of your day, and over time document how the pandemic has impacted your life, your family and your perspective of the world.
Further information may be found at the Society’s website at wisconsinhistory.org/journalproject.