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Telling Local History Through Diaries

Western Illinois Museum

Western Illinois Museum Curator Sue Scott said diaries and letters have a lot in common with social media.

“These (diary entries) are kind of status updates and a lot of them are very short,” said Scott of the new exhibit, In Their Own Words: Diaries and Letters.

The exhibit features writings by eight people from western Illinois. The most famous of them is C.V. Chandler of Macomb, but most of them are not well known.

“I think the women’s diaries are little bit more full of emotion or opinions. The men’s seem to be more factual, especially the soldiers,” said Scott.

The writings cover everything from day-to-day life to world events, such as wars and the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

The oldest diary entries are from the 1850s, while the most recent ones are from the 1960s.

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In order to protect the diaries, entries were transcribed onto cards that are posted on the walls of the museum’s exhibit space. The museum is also displaying artifacts that tie into the stories told in the diaries and letters.

The exhibit will be open February 8 through April 5. An opening reception will be held Saturday, February 8, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

The Western Illinois Museum’s regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free, and Scott said donations are appreciated.

She said the idea for the exhibit grew out of the recent donation of some diaries to the museum.

“We kind of got sucked into them. We started reading them and you get sucked into other people’s lives and their stories.”

She said it also ties into the oral history projects in which the museum records the stories of people today.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.