Together at the auction, together toward a county museum
The big auction is over. The gavel has fallen on the many treasures of the Griffin family. Artifacts that tell the story of Harrison County are now displayed in new spaces. The auction was an amazing experience.
The Griffin family has been a part of this county for many generations. It always had an awareness of the value of knowing one’s history and, since it was in the dry goods business, the knowledge of how to save artifacts from loss or decay. We all can be grateful for that.
I remember years ago when the Hendricks’ House was turned over to the trust of the Indiana State Museum. Among the things found was a hatbox containing a woman’s bonnet. It wasn’t the bonnet that so captivated me, it was the note that was attached. It read, ‘This is one of the bonnets James Brewster (the first state treasurer) brought back from Paris to all the women in the Corydon Presbyterian Church choir.’ The hat had a story that helped me understand the lives of the people who were involved.
We all owe a big thanks to the Griffin family for so wisely and carefully tending to our communal history. We could always count on Fred Griffin, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 93, to know the who, when, what and why of our own ancestors. And he not only knew our heritage, he recorded and preserved it for us and for our grandchildren. He left behind an inch-thick stack of papers with notes about each item to be sold at the auction.
In the past, we didn’t feel we needed to save much on our own; Fred would take care of it. And, too, we have always had the State of Indiana to keep the memories of our ancestors and their stories alive until we developed an interest in them.
But the auction reminded us that we Harrison County folks have the opportunity and responsibility to save and interpret our own heritage. This includes the newest residents as well as those who ‘have their roots here.’ This place where we make our home did not just happen; it was built into what it is today by real people just like us. They used their talents in response to the environment as they went about their daily lives.
It was of great interest to me that the ‘big item in the auction’ was the corner cabinet handcrafted by Squire Boone. One museum curator told me that ‘the cabinet was nice’ but the fact that its story was documented made it a prize which many institutions would want. Hear again that old term: ‘the story.’ It is the mix of people and the items they used that is of value in understanding ourselves today as well as how we might face the future.
It was a moment worth cheering when it was announced that the corner cabinet built by Squire Boone would stay in Harrison County. This was made possible as the result of a coalition of the Old Goshen Cemetery and Church Memorial Foundation, descendants of the Boone family, the Harrison County Public Library, Friends of the Corydon Capitol, the Indiana State Museum, individuals from the Harrison County Historical Society and local residents who were committed to the establishment of a county museum. It proves that, when we all work together, there is no limit to where we can go and what we can do.
We have talked for years and years about the need for a county museum. Now, within our county, we have a broader awareness of the depth and personal nature of our history. At the Griffin auction, we saw the strength of a united effort to do something we deem important. We have concerned citizens who have made commitments to save, preserve and interpret the artifacts that tell our story. A group led by Violet Eckart, director of the Harrison County Public Library, worked for days to study the artifacts to be auctioned. The group developed a plan for its bidding and then braved the stifling heat to see that the items important to Harrison County stayed in Harrison County. Curators from the Indiana State Museum came to Corydon and helped us understand which artifacts fulfilled the mission of a local museum. They appraised each of the 790 items and lots for sale. We couldn’t have had such wonderful results without them.
At the auction, several people came forward and said, ‘I have a collection at home and, when a county museum is established, I will donate to it.’
We need to accept the opportunity that now presents itself, to at last develop our own unique county museum. Otherwise, at the next auction, the things of our ancestors may wander farther from their rightful home here in Harrison County.
The state of Indiana began in Corydon with the writing of our constitution. At the bicentennial of our state, in the year 2016, we who dwell here now ought to make our mark. Wouldn’t a new county museum be a way of proving that, at this historic time, we didn’t just occupy space? We made a difference in the future.