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Oregon Historical Society: Pandemic Stories Wanted

We’re living through a tumultuous period as the world responds to the coronavirus pandemic — and historians want your stories.

The Oregon Historical Society is asking people to send in their stories via the Internet or the mail. They’ll be collected for others to read in the near and distant future.

“Some of the most priceless treasures in the Oregon Historical Society collections are the handwritten diaries and journals of individuals who made their way across the Oregon Trail. As we persevere through this new uncharted trail, we invite Oregonians to document their thoughts and experiences and to share them with OHS, so we, in turn, can share them with future generations,” said Oregon Historical Society Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk.

While human history is full of stories about pandemics, from the Plague to the 1918 influenza epidemic, historians noted most people alive today haven’t experienced the types of social disruptions and strain on nations’ health care systems that we’re seeing today.

“That is why the Oregon Historical Society is asking you to share your stories — your personal reflections on living through this pandemic. In this period of isolation from friends and family, what stories of Oregonians from the past or present are giving you courage? How are you spending your days in this strange new ‘normal?’ What have you learned about yourself, your friends, or your family that is giving you strength amidst chaos?” historians asked.

Like many museums, attractions and businesses that have closed to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Oregon Historical Society operations have moved largely online.

The society is sharing Oregon history virtually through social media, blogging and digital platforms such as the Oregon Encyclopedia, OHS digital collections and online curriculum.

“At the same time, as the repository of Oregon’s history, OHS has a responsibility to record this moment for future generations — a moment that practically no one on earth has experienced in their lifetime,” historians said.

In the coming weeks, OHS staff members will send letters to OHS members for whom there is no email address on file, asking them to mail back their stories. Those staff whose regular job duties have been disrupted by the public closure said they are eager to support this outreach and ready to mail letters from home.

“We all recognize the need to check in on our family, friends, and neighbors, and our staff asked how they could reach out to our members and others who might be feeling isolated. We hope this is a project that will bring a bit of connection, reflection and hope,” Tymchuk said.

The historical society encourages families to participate in this project as well, as a way to add to the historical record during this time of school closures.

The society will add a selection of the stories and reflections submitted by mail and online to the OHS Research Library collections, where future generations will go to understand what this unprecedented moment in Oregon history was really like.

For more than a century, OHS has collected and preserved a vast collection of artifacts, photographs, maps, manuscript materials, books, films and oral histories.

It is those letters, journals, scrapbooks and photographs that the OHS Research Library has collected for decades that students, educators, researchers, authors, filmmakers and many more use as they discover stories from our past, historians said.

Residents who want to share their thoughts and experiences of today’s history-in-the-making can mail letters to OHS Research Library, 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland OR 97205.

All written and electronic submissions must include the author’s full name, the date and the person’s city or Native American reservation.

Letters can be submitted online by visiting ohs.org and clicking on the notice to share your personal reflections on the pandemic.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

National Archives An open-air barber shop during the 1918 influenza epidemic, at University of California, Berkeley.