Friday, March 5, 2010
But I confess, there's one aspect of Orlando I never quite learned to love: it's complete lack of history. If you asked any native octogenarian about Orlando's past, chances are the reply would be, "This all used to be orange groves, as FAR as the eye could see!" Unlike historical Key West or St. Augustine, Orlando didn't have much of anything until Uncle Walt showed up in the early 1960's and made it the world's favorite tourist destination.
So imagine what it was like to move from the orange grove history of Orlando to that of the city of York, in Pennsylvania, one of America's original thirteen colonies. Talk about HISTORY!! York is the city to which the signers of the Declaration of Independence fled once the British overtook Philadelphia. It was here that the Continental Congress met and established the articles of the Confederation. You can still walk through the historical courthouse today and view the tables, chairs, quill pens and state flags set up exactly as it appeared during those historic days. It's really quite something.
So, with my new "History Geek" status firmly in place, I responded to an ad in the paper requesting volunteers for the York Heritage Trust Library. The ad stated the Trust was in need of "data entry" type help, and I jumped at the chance to go "behind the scenes," immersed in shelf after shelf of hundred year old books, documents, maps, and letters. I learned the Trust is also a place where people come to research families and trace genealogies. They have a record of the epitaph of every grave marker in every cemetery and church yard in the entire Southern/Central PA area. It's really quite staggering! If you were born here, even if you lived for only a few hours, the Trust has a documented history of you. You count. I like that!!
March 26, 1782 -- November 16, 1782.
Aged: 8 months.
Cause of Death: Diphtheria.
But the next day, my boss came to me hugging a folder. "Ready for some fun?" she asked. Then she revealed her treasure: letters. Written by James Smith, Irish Immigrant, Lawyer, Pennsylvania Representative, Signer of the Declaration of Independence!!! IN MY HANDS!!! She needed me to transpose the letters into the data base in the library's computer.
"I have got a touch of rheumatism in my shoulder by sleeping with my windows open. Mr. Adams [this is JOHN ADAMS he's referring to, people!!] says I very well deserve it, for being so careless. I told him as Mr. Duchee prays for us every day, I thought there was no need to take care of ourselves. He told me God helps them who help themselves. Mr. Hancock [John FREAKING Hancock! You know, "big signature guy!!"] is a better doctor, as he has something of ye gout himself and has promised me some pine buds to make tea."
There are so many things that go through my head as I work this amazing gig. One is how proud I am of the York Heritage Trust and the amazing people who have devoted their entire careers to preserving not just the history of York's rock stars like James Smith, but EVERY citizen therein. It also forces me to realize once again how intensely tenacious our forefathers were in their determination to establish and preserve this country of ours.
My hours spent with James Smith make me want to be a better person. He makes me want to be someone who stands up for what she believes and strives to make things better, no matter what the odds. I guess that's the beauty of history. It warns us of the mistakes it's made, and inspires us to mimic their success.
Thanks for Reading!!
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- Welcome to my blog! I'm Joan, a former actress attempting to reconnect with my first love of writing. Join me as I ponder my Irish dad, sweet grandma, GPS dependency, hatred of the Hallmark channel, and other insightful topics that make you go, "Hmmm..."
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