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Historic preservation: Putting it down on paper

A tad askew

June 9, 2012
JACKIE?STARK - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

Lately, I've found myself on a bit of a history kick.

It started with a guided tour of local veterans' graves hosted by the Marquette Regional History Center and has continued since then in the form of a wonderful book recommended to me about a woman named Frances Perkins. If you've never heard her name before, you should look her up. She's an interesting lady and a champion of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

I've also begun to watch biographical documentaries about a few United States presidents.

In watching those films, I've learned a lot of new things, many of which I probably should already have known.

But it wasn't the names and dates that I found most appealing - it was what these men and women wrote in their letters and their journals.

It got me thinking of how people will look back at our leaders in 100 years, and what they'll see.

It seems to me that letters and journals won't be the basis of their research. They appear to be a thing of the past.

Thomas Jefferson's work in writing some of the founding documents of our country has immortalized him forever as an American hero, but it's difficult to discern much about the man from the historical documents he left behind.

It's his letters that show us in 2012, what Jefferson was like.

I fear that in the age of blogs and emails, letters and journals will be forgotten. What resources will people have to learn about the personal thoughts of such important U.S. presidents as George W. Bush and Barack Obama?

Politics aside, these two men will go down in history as two of the most important presidents of our time. At the very least, Bush will be remembered for his actions following Sept. 11, and Obama for becoming the first black man to ever be elected president.

What will be seen in 2113 documentaries about these two men? Certainly there's thousands of hours of television footage of the two, but emails and autobiographies will most likely be the only personal writings left for future generations. The former is lackluster at best and the latter will show future generations the thoughts and feelings the writers wanted people to think they had, not the ones they actually had.

Imagine what Bush would have written in a personal journal the day the Twin Towers were hit, what Obama would have put down on paper after watching a group of Navy Seals break into Osama Bin Laden's hideout.

That's the stuff of history.

All that aside, in this day of digital everything, I don't think you'll find a single a person who doesn't enjoy opening their mailbox to see a handwritten letter waiting for them.

When my husband and I were in college and still dating, I spent a summer working in my hometown while he lived and worked in Washington D.C., interning for a sports website.

We talked almost every day on the phone, but it was his letters that I really looked forward to. We wrote each other all summer long and I saved every letter he sent. I still read them. Somehow, I don't think those written words would be as nostalgia-inducing if they were sitting in my Hotmail inbox.

And certainly the world would never have known of the depth of Harry S. Truman's devotion to his wife, who hated her position as the First Lady and spent most of his presidency in their hometown of Independence, Mo., or of Jefferson's rekindled friendship with John Adams, as the two men had a continuing correspondence up until their deaths.

It's not like I'm sitting at home, writing letters to all my friends. I confess, I'm an email user, but I hope that someday the wonders of the digital world will give way and we can get back to a more basic way of life, without all the bells and whistles.

Because isn't a telephone conversation better than a text message? On our birthdays, don't we prefer a real, live card in the mail as opposed to an e-card in our inboxes? Doesn't a handwritten letter convey something more than a typed-out email?

To me it does. Maybe I'll write about that in my journal tonight.

Editor's Note: Jackie Stark is a Marquette resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.



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