CORONAVIRUS

History Center sees uptick in donation inquiries during pandemic

Here's why the Cedar Rapids museum cannot accept everything that is offered

This performance dress, worn by singer Helen Kacena Stark of Cedar Rapids in the early 1900s, was donated to The History
This performance dress, worn by singer Helen Kacena Stark of Cedar Rapids in the early 1900s, was donated to The History Center in Cedar Rapids in March. Curator Tara Templeman said it’s a perfect fit for the upcoming exhibit “HERstory: Women at Work,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. The exhibit will explore the changing role of women in the workplace, from educators and telephone operators to business owners and entertainers. (The History Center)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Facebook is full of tales of people diving more deeply into spring cleaning this year, as they shelter at home. But what do you do when you no longer wish to shelter in place family treasures too nice to toss?

The History Center, 800 Second Ave. SE, has been fielding more donation inquiries during the pandemic. Some of the offered items fit the center’s mission, but others do not.

Guidelines are spelled out under the Library & Collections tab on The History Center’s website, or go directly to Historycenter.org/how-to-donate

Curator Tara Templeman has received a wide variety of offers, including a great-grandmother’s wedding dress, a baptismal gown used by several generations, furniture, rocking chairs and wheelchairs.

She’s happy to discuss the possibilities, and the most efficient way to begin the process is to email curator@historycenter.org with photos and descriptions of your pieces and their local connections.

“We are always on the lookout for different items, and really, anything that helps tell a significant story about the history of Linn County falls within the scope of our mission,” Templeman said. “Those things tend to be (about) long-running businesses, things related to parks and recreation, transportation.

“Things that affect a wide group of people within the Linn County population are of the greatest interest,” she said. “We do have things like family Bibles, but because the research interest of that is so narrow, we try to collect those things with a broader interest that would make an interesting exhibit or tell an interesting story.”

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But nothing that may be dangerous, so if you find a skeleton in your closet or World War II ammo in your attic, those things can’t join the other 60,000 pieces in the center’s collection.

“Sometimes people have face masks from wars, and we can’t accept anything like, even though we might accept some other military equipment,” she said. “Anything that’s hazardous to our health — grenades, live ammunition, things like that.

“We can’t accept anything that’s not directly related to Linn County,” she added.

Large isn’t always the better part of the largesse, however.

“We can’t accept anything that’s too large to enter our facilities or be stored, and we can’t accept anything in poor condition,” she said.

Anything with legal implications or protections also is off-limits, including human remains; Native American artifacts that fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; items with feathers that might be restricted by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and objects made of ivory.

The museum also cannot appraise items for tax purposes, so donors wishing that kind of information will need to seek out a third-party appraiser, Templeman noted.

Recent acquisitions

Among the latest “finds” are:

• Photos and a performance dress worn by singer Helen Kacena Stark of Cedar Rapids, dating to the early 20th century. Templeman said the items fit in perfectly with the upcoming exhibit “HERstory: Women at Work.” Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, the exhibit will highlight the various jobs women held at that time.

• The Shiloh Methodist Church Ladies Aid quilt, featuring quilt blocks made by 30 families over 10 years in the early 1900s.

• A dollhouse replica of a Cedar Rapids home that has been demolished.

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• Photographs of Presidents Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman meeting in front of the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids in 1962. “We didn’t have any photographs of that in our collection,” Templeman said.

Wish list

The History Center isn’t just about artifacts and antiquities. Templeman is hoping to capture history in the making, with donations relating to the current COVID-19 pandemic — when the items no longer are needed.

On her wish list are face masks handmade by Linn County residents, locally made hand sanitizer, home-school lesson plans from teachers to parents, signs supporting the essential workers, programs, photographs and videos from alternate graduations, takeout menus from restaurants that don’t usually offer takeout, and pandemic-closed signs from business windows and doors.

“In 10 to 15 years, this is an interesting story about what happened to Linn County residents and how we handled the situation,” she said, “but we need to balance that with also not removing anything from the market that people need right now.”

Treasures, not trash

And if spring cleaning yields items of historical significance that aren’t tied to Linn County, Templeman encourages donors to contact a museum or historical society at the point of origin.

“I want things, if they are really neat and of historical value, to be held in the public trust,” she said, “so I would love to see these items go to the museum where they make the most sense.”

If you don’t know where they came from, you still have options other than the landfill.

“You don’t have to throw away a really cool historical item if you don’t have space for it in your home. There are people who are interested in having those items, regardless of what their context is,” she said.

“So if you can’t remember who the original owner is, if that’s been lost to history, you can sell things at consignment stores or thrift stores, or you can or buy and sell antiques on Facebook Marketplace to make sure that somebody who appreciates the value of those items ends up with them.”

To donate

- What: Donating items for The History Center’s collection

- Location: 800 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

- Guidelines: historycenter.org/how-to-donate

- Inquiries: Email curator@historycenter.org and attach photos of the items

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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