When Young Meets Old
Jarod Atkins brings youth to history and high tech to grandma’s relics. The spikey-haired 26 year old offices next to museum collections and antiques, where artifacts are draped in white sheets. Behind his desk hangs WWII uniforms and letterman jackets his great-grandpa could have worn.
Atkins works to preserve Edmond’s history as the Curator of Collections for the Edmond Historical Society and Museum. “It’s a blast when I explain to my friends what I do.” Simply put, he’s a youth who is responsible for the physical care of some very old stuff.
Graduating from UCO three years ago, Atkins now dons white gloves while handling over 3,500 artifacts contained in the building. The storage vaults hold tales of the past from the 1889 land run up through the present. Objects range from aged photographs to an 1860 spinning wheel, a 1913 Broncho yearbook, and a ‘50’s poodle skirt.
“These objects have seen more than I’ve seen,” said Atkins. “Some are in great condition—built better than today.” Atkins especially loves to see old medals and military uniforms. “A lot of Edmond people served in WWII and the Korean War,” he said.
Atkins often enjoys listening to their stories, such as Quinby Eaterline, a veteran who has volunteered at the museum since it opened 26 years ago. His 35-year association with the Boy Scouts gives him great insight into Edmond’s rich history, as he shares stories of the past with young Atkins.
“I think of it as carrying the past into the future,” said Atkins. “It’s fascinating to look back 100 years and see how people lived then – kind of traveling
back in time.”
Partnering with the genealogy society, the museum keeps a non-circulating library for research and has information on cemeteries, churches and Edmond businesses. Much information is kept on computers and microfilm. “I found the blueprints for the Clegern home when it was being restored,” Atkins says proudly.
Many artifacts are unveiled when people clean their garage or pass away, making their way to the historical society by donation. “When people die, their history dies with them,” said Museum Director Jena Mottola. “People come here and try to find information and research. Our records are only as good as the information donated to us. If you throw away items from grandmas attic, or files that could be helpful to a civic group or church, then you are throwing away history.”
As Exhibit Director, Atkins arranges gallery exhibits which might include a Native American or farming tool display. Anything to get people talking, like “I remember when….” But interestingly enough, growing up, Atkins didn’t like history. “My dad is a museum nut and took me to places like Boston and New York. I was bored and didn’t appreciate it. Now I wish I’d paid more attention,” he said.
“In college, I found I enjoyed history. Now, any vacation I take, I look for museums,” Atkins says. He’s glad he started this career while young. “I have a great opportunity.” When people comment about his age, Atkins says, “I’m not young, I’m bringing in the new.”
He graduated with a Masters in Museum Studies from OU in Dec 2008, so even at his age, he’s clearly qualified for the job. “Graduate school got into the details of collecting, preserving, managing, and what systems to use. We learned about accession and deaccession or what to keep and what to toss.”
Knowing the newest techniques, he tries to find the best way possible to preserve history. “A museum preserves the past for the future. I want to put artifacts and technology together,” he said. “Eventually, we hope to have kiosks with touch screens. Sort of, bring tech into the museum.”
The Edmond Historical Society and Museum building has a history of its own. Built in 1936 as an armory for the 179th Infantry of the Oklahoma National Guard, an empty gun range is still in the basement. Later, the building housed a concert hall (where a man was shot), a skating rink, and it was even used as a city storage area.
The museum is located at 431 S. Boulevard. For details on hours or current museum exhibits, please call 405-340-0078.