Wednesday, October 13, 2010

History

Went to a grad school alumni event tonight at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The good part: the director of the museum gave an awesome talk about how the urban immigrant experience defines America. The bad part: the other alumni consistently asked "questions" that took the form of advice: i.e., "Have you ever thought about drawing upon the Ellis Island record search in order to research the history of the people who lived here?" I'm being serious. It was obnoxious and annoying. The director had already told us how they've done extensive research on the 7,000 (!) people who lived in their particular tenement building from the 1860s to the 1930s. So, yes, they've thought about consulting the records at Ellis Island. And they've done a lot more than that.

There was one moment of justice, however. It was when another alumnus volunteered that "As someone on the Board of Directors of a historic home, let me tell you that you should look into whether there are any reports of ghosts in this building. If you talk about those reports, it will greatly increase the number of visitors." The director's response was perfect. He said two things.

(1) We already have so many visitors we're turning away 20 people a day.
(2) We've actually gotten a number of awards recently for our historical rigor. (The unspoken implication being: WE'RE FUCKING HISTORIANS HERE, WHO ARE TRYING TO GET THE FACTS STRAIGHT ABOUT THE ACTUAL HISTORICAL RECORD. GHOSTS DON'T EXIST. SO WE'RE CERTAINLY NOT GOING TO INCLUDE THEM IN OUR HISTORY OF THIS BUILDING.)

I mean, seriously. I lose all respect for historic buildings when they launch into their "ghost story" mode. Encouraging that kind of bullshit undermines the whole point of historic preservation in the first place.

1 comment:

Mkunde said...

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