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La Grange

La Grange Area Historical Society documenting life during COVID-19 pandemic

LA GRANGE - Take a stroll through a suburban neighborhood these days, and it's hard to miss the colorful inspirational messages in sidewalk chalk.

It's an enduring symbol of an unprecedented time.

Like birthday and teacher recognition parades. And e-learning through Zoom calls. And, of course, masks.

While people surely long for a return to normalcy, the memories of life during the COVID-19 pandemic won't soon be forgotten. To that end, the La Grange Area Historical Society is asking residents of La Grange and La Grange Park to help document what life has been like for individuals and families during the age of social distancing.

"A couple weeks into the whole situation it occurred to us that as a historical society it was our responsibility to make sure that we document this for our archives," said Sarah Parkes, executive director of the society. "And then we had to brainstorm how to do it."

One way to do so is by tracking newspaper articles, and recording how business functions during the pandemic. Parkes, though, said the society wanted to reach out the community to get more personal anecdotes.

"There are unique things that have never happened before," Parkes said. "Zoom happy hours, birthday parades, all kinds of new things. People have adapted and it's amazing to me. They've figured out new ways to connect and keep positive.

"I think the best way for us to understand and document for a historical perspective is to reach out and get those stories, how families and loved ones adapt. History is being made around us and we want to make sure that's preserved."

The society has reached out to school districts and the village to help in the effort. The society has received a few responses so far, mostly from children talking about e-learning and what it's like to not see their friends. Outreach to the schools and village is just launching, with the village putting it on its website and electronic communications.

The society has a Google response form on its website and Facebook page where residents can share stories and experiences. Residents can email digital images and videos of what life is like in their neighborhood and home to lagrangehistory@sbcglobal.net. Notably, the society has always had a file for every address in the community, with newspaper articles, written memories, oral histories and artifacts pertaining to that address.

Physical items such as photos, drawings or journal entries can be placed in the secure drop box at the back door of the society building at 444 S. La Grange Road. Residents are asked to save physical artifacts to be collected in the future.

"We're asking that people hang on to artifacts – birthday parade signs, posters, masks – hang on to those things now and submit them later," Parkes said. "They are notable for what life is like for people."

The current pandemic has fueled much discussion of the 1918 flu pandemic. Parkes discovered in her research that many of the similar rules and restrictions locally between 1918 and 2020. But the society has little information on life in La Grange during the 1918 pandemic other than a few newspaper articles.

"We don't have a lot of information about that, which is partially what motivated us," Parkes said. "Someday we want a body of information that people can go back and review."

With the building currently closed, the society has had to adjust its summer speaking series and exhibit schedule. The exhibit "Remarkable Women of the La Grange area," a recognition of 24 local ladies inspired by the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, was supposed to open in April but has been postponed. The society is in the process of making a virtual exhibit accessible through YouTube.

Parkes recognizes that people want to put much of the pandemic experience behind them and return to a sense of normalcy – but said it's important to have these memories documented for future generations.

"It's been a big adjustment for everyone," Parkes said. "It's important to understand the significance and to have these memories."

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