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Greenbelt Museum and the Pandemic

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Time to check in with the Greenbelt Museum to find out how they’re weathering the pandemic shutdown. They’re keeping surprisingly busy.

#MuseumfromHome

Director Megan Searing Young writes about the new #Museumfromhome blog posts:

We had to temporarily close the doors of the Museum as of March 15 in order to conform to social distancing criteria, but we wanted a way to stay in touch with our members, visitors, and the community. I came across the hashtag movement, #museumfromhome on Twitter and thought that was definitely something we could do. Some of the zoos and big history museums and sites had such fun things to offer and even though we don’t have cute penguins touring their own zoo or lots of behind-the-scenes spaces, I thought we could still write about some elements of Greenbelt history that would hopefully be educational and entertaining, sort of bite-sized snacks of information.

 

With each post, I think it’s important to offer different layers of information and something a bit interactive, whether it’s a film short, a recording, or links to other articles, etc. That way people can learn more if they want to.

 

So far we’ve covered a lot of territory, from FDR’s first fireside chats to the unbuilt Green Town in New Jersey, to the Drop Inn, to canning during WWII. We’re averaging about 55 page views for each of the blog (some as high as 80/90) and they get lots of shares on Facebook, too, so I think as a way to stay in touch with people it’s working.

Asked about the choice of topics, Megan says that “Some are chosen for their relevance, some are just topics Sheila [Education and Volunteer Coordinator Sheila Maffay-Tuthill] and I want to do more research on. We welcome suggestions from readers, too, but so far haven’t received any.” So hey, readers, speak up!

And Sheila writes:

I’m really excited to have the time to research these topics that I know quite a bit about, but need facts and details that flesh the story out. My next piece is on the dogs/no dogs issue. Such passionate arguments there were! I’m also developing a kid’s activity based on that issue as well.
One thing I’ve always known from my Greenbelt pioneer heritage is that passionate discourse and civic engagement are in our DNA!😀

Here are some of my favorite bits of Greenbelt history that I learned from the #Museumfromhome posts:

(L) Drop Inn and (R) Greenbrook home design.

Bored teens are nothing new in Greenbelt, we learn from reading about their “hijinks” and the Drop Inn teen center created for them. “Other teen hijinks in the earliest days included vandalism of the Mother and Child statue in the (Roosevelt) Center. At its worst, some youths attempted to tear down the statue! Another concern in the Center was at the soda fountain located in the Co-op Drugstore. In 1944 the shop was losing money. A new manager was brought in and he soon discovered that the teen workers were giving their friends free ice cream, treats, and sodas. This manager put a stop to the free giveaways and was the victim of severe backlash from Greenbelt teens, some of it anti-Semitic. He resigned after only seven weeks.” (No white-washing of history here!)

Greenbelt’s popular Easter Egg Hunt has had challenges before the pandemic. “Back in 1943, in very early Greenbelt days, colored eggs for the popular Easter Egg Hunt just weren’t possible to make. Food shortages were the reality during the war, and colored eggs for the 425 children who participated in the hunt were impossible. The City staff created an ‘ersatz egg hunt’ also called the ‘eggless Easter egg hunt.’ The ‘eggs’ were brightly painted wood chips, and the consensus was that the children had just as much fun!”

And the post about Greenbrook, the Green Town that was planned but stopped by lawsuits, is a fascinating addition to the history not just of Green Towns but planned communities everywhere.

There’s More

From Megan:
Museum staff have been teleworking this whole time, so in addition to the #museumfromhomes, we’ve got lots of other stuff going on too. We’re brainstorming ways we might reopen safely (so far, walking tours might be the best way because the guide could be mic’d and people can stay 6-10 ft apart).
We’re also working hard, still, on the Education and Visitor Center at 10A Crescent Road. We have draft plans that have been shared with City Council and have a virtual work session coming up where we’ll hopefully be able to share what we’ve accomplished so far. We still have many steps to go before the plans are final, including meetings with GHI and their approvals, but it’s progress! Sheila has been working on developing some new programs for kids and families that we hope to roll out in the future and I’m answering various research questions that come in, so we’re definitely busy!

Chronicling Greenbelt during the Pandemic

From the Museum’s newsletter:

We join many local history museums in starting to collect stories, photographs, art, and more from people in our communities who are being affected by the coronavirus and COVID-19. If you would like to share your experience, or have photos of signs in and around Greenbelt, or examples of people helping one another, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll work on sharing these submissions on our website and they will become part of our permanent Museum collection. Email: director@greenbeltmuseum.org.

The Museum has also offered to be a repository for COVID-19 stories, photos, artwork, etc. collected by Greenbelt Online! We’re grateful and honored to be partnering with the Museum, an institution that makes all Greenbelters and lovers of New Deal history so proud.

Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct the nonprofit Good Gardening Videos.org.”

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