CMC’s COVID-19 Collecting Initiative

By: Christine S. Engels, Archives Manager, Archives and Manuscript Dept.

Early in the pandemic we encouraged people to document how their lives had changed due to COVID-19. I suggested keeping a journal (which I hope is ongoing), taking pictures of how things operate and look different, creating art or writing about how people are dealing with everything. We especially encouraged graduating seniors in the class of 2020 to share their thoughts or feelings about their last year of high school. We weren’t sure what we would get but we all agreed we should put out an invitation to the community to share and record these unusual times.

A few years ago I spent good deal of time pondering why there wasn’t more in our archives about the 1918 flu pandemic. I simply couldn’t understand why it so often received only passing notice in letters and diaries. There are mentions of social restrictions and of the afflicted, those who’ve recovered and those who succumbed, but not to the extent one would expect.

As we crafted a message about our initiative I tried to think about what sort of items I wish we had in the archives from the 1918 flu pandemic. While newspapers and published stories are a fine record of events, most people seek out personal stories and experiences to make a connection. For example, a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings, while definitely showing an area of interest, does not hold the allure of a diary, letter or poem. A scrapbook with notes scribbled alongside the articles makes them much more historically significant and unquestionably more intimate.

As of this writing CMC’s Archives and Manuscripts Department has received eleven submissions from people of all ages in the Greater Cincinnati region. I was pleased to see so many personal submissions of poetry and prose. People wrote about their fears, frustrations and boredom. They wrote about how they have learned to cope with social distancing restrictions, how they keep their sense of humor and described what gave them hope and inspiration in these abnormal times. In other words, the submissions were just what I was seeking.

I was heartened by the creativity, including the names people gave to their writings, including, “Peace in the Pandemic” by Jeniquine Avery, “Humor Trumps Despair during the Covid-19 Pandemic” by Rosemary Barkes, “This I Believe: Getting Schooled on Perspective in a Pandemic” by Mary Hufford, “Extravert… during the Corona Virus” by Barbara Kallmeyer and “The Befores of Over-the-Rhine” by Annette Januzzi Wick. The poems were equally impressive, including “Quaren-teed Off” by Linda Swenski, “Two Weeks from NOW” by Sally E. Drabenstott, “Covid-19 Diary” by Gerald Greene, “Destination” by Rita Coleman, “Pandemic in Early Spring” by Erica Manto Paulson and “A Fractured Reality” by Terry Focht.

Excerpt from “Peace in the Pandemic” by Jeniquine Avery

Everyone is scared, but I am not.
Everyone is on Edge, But I am Calm.
People believe the world is ending.
I know it’s restarting.
Or, I should say I hope it’s restarting.

Posted in Cincinnati History.