This weekend the Whaley Historic House Museum participated in the “Be a Tourist in Your Home Town” event,
sponsored by the Flint and Genesee Convention and Visitors Bureau. The goal of this event was to get Flint residents (and tourists) to get out and see everything the city has to offer. Since the Whaley House was one stop along the bus route, participants could check out the Lumber City Base Ball Club and receive a complimentary, self-guided tour of the House. The event was an incredible success and, from looking at the sign-in log, we had many Flint residents show up who had never been to the Whaley House before.
This is not uncommon. I know that my hometown has a museum, which I never knew existed. There was nothing extraordinary about the small town from which I haled, so why should I take time out of my day to visit a museum about it. I wanted to spend time learning about other towns, other people, other, more interesting, things.
Check the museum out if you’re ever in West Michigan!
I’m not proud of having this attitude, but it’s the truth. And now I’m fighting to change perceptions, just like the one I had for so long. One of my missions as a public historian, is to use history to instill a sense of community in a location. So, what does that mean? Well, it means that many people can live in Flint, but they may feel attached to one another. I got the same feeling when I went to New York City for a conference. I was in a sea of people on the sidewalk, but I felt more alone there, than sitting alone in my local coffee shop. Nothing connected me to the others rushing to work. So, I want to use history, use the Whaley House, to grow the connections between these individuals who live in Flint. By learning that Robert and Mary Whaley were philanthropic members of Flint and created helped to create institutions, like the McFarlan Home and the Whaley Children’s Home, people with experiences at each can see how they are actually connected! It’s all about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary (that which we see every day). And as an historian invested in using history to foster community pride and affinity, that’s pretty cool.