Find ways to preserve all of our history

The other day, our publisher walked into the newsroom carrying a box of items discovered in our Weirton building.

When our news operations were moved almost 10 years ago, there was a lot left on Lee Avenue, and every once in a while some remnant of history will be uncovered in some corner. Those items often are considered treasures, especially since, according to newsroom legend, at least, someone many years ago decided to toss out a large collection of old files, photos and other materials.

This box had a lot of old newspaper clippings, but even more photographs. Some were snapshots of unknown people from the community, with nothing the indicate their identities, but there were many from the 1970s and early 1980s — at least judging by the descriptions written on the back — and some of the faces were of people we still know today.

Many of the pictures had a stamp on the back, clearly denoting they had been provided to the newspaper from Weirton Steel. Others were most likely contributed by a couple of particular residents who felt the newspaper would be the best place to keep them as Weirton did not yet have a museum.

In particular, there was a lot of material from the planning and celebration of the United States’ bicentennial. Apparently, Weirton, and I’m sure other communities across the country, held a massive celebration in 1976 for the nation’s 200th birthday.

Others were of people in the local medical community.

There was probably much more to be discovered, but we had to stop ourselves.

It’s not always a good idea for journalists to start looking through these surprise boxes when they’re brought to the newsroom because we have a tendency to get wrapped up in the history and importance, forgetting about the work we are supposed to be doing. It’s the researcher and investigator inside of us, I suppose.

The people of the Upper Ohio Valley are proud of our history. We celebrate our communities’ cultures each year with festivals, dinners and other events, sharing what has made us unique.

We have museums, halls of fame and more to tell our stories to future generations.

Yet, one also has to wonder how much of our history has not been preserved. Prior to the establishment of the Weirton Museum and Cultural Center, for example, much of what would eventually become its initial collection was stored away in basements and garages by city residents who were working toward the goal of eventually being able to put it on display for all to see. Some was hidden away in storage areas by businesses without any realization of what it was, or just because it wasn’t needed anymore.

We’re fortunate to have groups who have dedicated themselves to preserving this history. At the same time, we, as citizens, need to keep in mind the value of what we may have in our own collections. We’ve probably all taken pictures or video of community activities. We definitely have keepsakes from family events.

Much as museums hold on to our collective history, we should also make sure to preserve our personal history. Photos of great-grandparents or other relatives long gone, family information; it all tells an important story and needs to be cherished.

Instead of just throwing everything out when you are working to clear out some old junk, make sure you look closely and see what might be hiding in those corners or stuffed in an old box. It just might end up being one of the best treasures you’ll ever find.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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