Intern Reflection: Logan Janicki
For my internship this summer, I researched and wrote biographies of the historical figures to be featured in this year’s Evergreen Cemetery Walk. Other museum staff had already decided who was to be featured and done preliminary research, finding as much material on each person as possible, as well as information about their family and organizations they belonged to. From there, it was my job to turn a collection of newspaper articles, census and city directory information, online articles, and copies of artifacts from the museum’s collection into a coherent story of the person’s life. Each biography presented unique challenges, as each person I wrote about had left different materials behind for me to work with. Writing the biography for Annie May Christian, for example, required I write a pretty straight chronological history, since, while she was involved with many groups around town, she was so involved with the Amateur Musical Club for so long, everything else had to fit around it in her biography. By contrast, Florence Stevens Kaywood did not have a stand-out organization or job around which to build her biography. Clearly, Christian faith was central to her, but this manifested in her getting involved with several Christian-related organizations, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Rebekkahs (the women’s branch of the International Order of Odd Fellows). As a result, rather than structuring the biography strictly chronologically, I focused on each of the major involvements in her life, such as her job as police matron, her membership in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and how she stayed connected with her children as they moved out. The third biography I’ve worked on this summer, for Charles Kirkpatrick, presented its own problems, despite the wealth of sources to go on. Charles dictated a short autobiography, but was also a known eccentric, most famously writing anonymous letters to sports buffs, local notables, and newspaper sports reporters annually on the anniversary of a football injury he suffered which left him partially paralyzed, to see if anyone knew of it. Because his eccentricity, much of his own word must be verified, not because he was necessarily outright lying, but because time and the man’s own sense of humor may have resulted in some exaggerations or omissions in his retelling.
Despite the inherent challenges though, it has been fun and fascinating to dig into the local history of Bloomington. The tasks of arranging each folder of copies of old documents into a coherent and readable biography and especially tracking down information to fill in a gap in the story have been immensely rewarding and fun. Also, as someone who came here for college, doing this research at the museum has given me a new appreciation for this city and its past accomplishments, as well as one of its current ones: running such an excellent museum, day in and day out.