Before Katie Richardson left for the first nursing shift when she would be caring for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, her husband snapped a photo of her cuddling their daughters on the couch at home. It was a typically anxious moment in the COVID-19 era, and the Richardson family was making the best of it.
“It was tough as hell and sometimes it’s still tough as hell,” Brad Richardson said, “but we’re getting through it.”
Richardson, executive director of the Clark County Historical Museum, plans to donate that loving, worried family portrait to the museum’s most topical endeavor: preserving Clark County’s collective COVID-19 story, as lived and documented by its citizens.
“It’s our role to preserve what this means to people,” Richardson said. “Not just what happened and when, but the context and the feelings. We want to know how it felt in the moment.”
The project is called “Capture the Moment,” and it’s open to all local residents who want to upload digital versions of COVID-related photographs, written anecdotes, journal entries, sound recordings and artworks. Remembrances and obituaries of loved ones who didn’t survive this perilous time are crucial too, Richardson said.
Physical objects are also welcome, but thanks to the technological time we’re living in, museum staff is figuring that digital uploads will make up the bulk of this special collection.
“People are so used to snapping photos and sharing and commenting, this won’t be a huge jump,” Richardson said. “Never before, in a moment like this, have we had the capacity to capture so much data, so much history that we can pass on to future generations.”
Since nobody knows how long this episode will last, there’s no set end point to this project yet, Richardson said. Eventually there will be some kind of digital exhibition.
Too many people think of history as that dry timeline of important dates and famous figures we had to memorize in high school, Richardson said. But history is what regular people live through every day, he said. This particular episode in day-by-day history just happens to be uniquely unsettling for every one of us.
“Everybody feels adrift at sea and we’re not sure when we’ll find the shore again,” he said. “We want to capture exactly what people are going through — the feelings, the decisions, the actions. We want to leave the best, completest record of the whole community.”
Think of it as a community mosaic, Richardson said. No anecdote, story or artwork is too small to be a part of it.
“If someone is having a tough day, they can sit down and plunk it out and we’ll take it,” he said. “We’ll take it all. That’s our role.”
When coronavirus took over the world and institutions started shutting down, Richardson went through the same week or so of shock and anxiety about life and the future as everybody else, he said. Then he snapped to attention, realizing the museum had vital work to do.
“History is the instruction manual for our society,” he said. “If we just let this slip, we’re not doing our job of passing it along to the next generation when there’s another crisis, when our resolve is tested and we have to find courage again.”
If you want to make a contribution, go to the Clark County Historical Museum website, click through to “Capture the Moment” and follow the instructions. Don’t forget to fill out the legal “Deed of Gift” form, a version of the same form anybody donating an item or artifact to the museum would have to complete in normal times.
“You don’t just drop stuff off at a museum to put it in our collection,” Richardson said. “There are some legal hoops to jump through. Washington law governs what we can actually own.”
Other than filling out that form, there are no limits on what local folks struggling through the era of coronavirus can contribute to “Capture the Moment,” Richardson said.
“I would love it if we got overwhelmed with mountains of (contributions),” he said. “We’d know we did our job.”