Preservation Awareness Stories

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Coal Mining Heritage Project

Ruth Shasteen, Librarian at the Central Assumption and Moweaqua High School (A&MHS), created an extraordinary partnership to mine Moweaqua’s cultural memory. A&MHS, Gregory Elementary School, Moweaqua Public Library, Moweaqua Historical Society, and the Moweaqua Coal Mine Museum collaborated to preserve community and family history and to make them available to a worldwide audience.

The 1932 Moweaqua Mining Corporation tragedy was a defining moment in the social, economic, and emotional stability of this community. The generational memory of the event and the supporting physical evidence were at risk of disappearing forever with those who experienced it. Using oral history and videotaped interviews, along with locally owned historic documents, photographs, and artifacts uncovered by the project, Mining More in Moweaqua explored how this single explosion represents a microcosm of coal mining history, in Illinois and elsewhere.

Mining More in Moweaqua used funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services State Program Grant to Illinois State Library, along with local funds and other resources, to enable 21 students in A&MHS’s honors English class to interview 10 Moweaqua elders about the explosion, which killed 54 miners on Christmas Eve, 1932. The project created a Web site (http://www.miningmoreinmoweaqua.com/), a permanent exhibit at the public library, and a 4-DVD set including photos, interviews, and a moving 30-minute video of the culminating project celebration with the interviewed, their interviewers, and their families. Purchasers in and outside the state have generated enough demand to produce another run of DVDs. Fifth graders now use a local history curriculum volunteers produced for the project, and visit the coal mine museum (created by survivors’ families).

The tangible records, themselves to be preserved by the museum and historical society, may be the smallest project results. Students and interviewees realized the power of hearing and sharing memory. Young people connected to their community’s history, and built bridges between adolescence and age. One interviewer discovered a song about the disaster published by her aunt. The library, historical society, and museum now have the capacity to digitize collections, which are accessible and on their way to strengthened care. Cooperating organizations built trust for other partnerships. The public library, historical society, and museum of this town of fewer than 2,000 residents are on the map—the Springfield PBS affiliate and other media provided coverage of the project, increasing visitors.

Tips and Ideas

Find a project coordinator who is highly organized

Choose (and use) a regular time to update your team, whether by conference calls, e-mail, or meetings.

Consider other important events or changes as your focus. Discover, preserve, and share memories of an evolving Main Street or other neighborhood, a school and its staff and graduates, the lives of community residents from special times or eras (including now), a special or long-running community event, or other phenomena that might bring partners together.

Contact

Ruth Shasteen, Librarian, Central Assumption and Moweaqua High School, Moweaqua, Illinois; (217) 768-2137; rshasteen@gmail.com