One important lesson of history is this — the difficult times don’t last. It’s a key concept and one that’s often been in the forefront of minds over the past few months.
That’s certainly the case for Mimi Rogers, curator of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, who says history can prove encouraging during trying times such as a global pandemic.
“During difficult times, people often look back through history for confirmation that challenges can be met and overcome. For our community, it’s worthwhile to consider what the St. Simons Lighthouse, built in 1872, has witnessed and withstood — hurricanes, an earthquake, the threat of war,” Rogers said.
“And yet today, the beacon still guides ships safely into port, reminding us that we as a community can hold fast and overcome the most difficult obstacles.”
Thoughts like these offer strength and help to cultivate fortitude. The historical society’s staff and volunteers have drawn from that as they’ve looked to re-open their museum and redirect their programming. Rogers says charting a new course has been challenging but something they were committed to doing.
“Like many other organizations in our tourism-based economy, the biggest challenge has been financial. The St. Simons Lighthouse Museum and World War II Home Front Museum were closed March 17 to June 1,” she said.
“The closure greatly impacted our organization as museum admissions and retail sales provide 60 percent of the society’s operating budget. Thanks to (Paycheck Protection Program) funds, along with vital membership support and cost-cutting measures, we have stabilized our finances without losing any staff.”
Finding a way to allow patrons to peruse the exhibitions at their museums, which are located in the Pier Village and at Coast Guard beach, was another piece of the puzzle.
“One of the biggest challenges was how to reopen the museums safely. We studied CDC guidelines and the governor’s orders to develop safety protocols and keep them updated. We also consulted with the CVB which encouraged us to put safety first. Masks have been required from day one, and we think this has made it possible to operate safely,” Rogers said.
“We were not sure how the pandemic would impact visitation. As it turns out, families were eager to get out of the house and enjoy an activity together. So handling summer crowds was another factor. Thanks to our great staff, we were able to provide a safe and fun experience.”
They’re will continue doing that through additional programming. In pre-pandemic times, their lectures drew crowds that filled a 200-seat event hall. Of course, Rogers notes, that isn’t possible now so they’ve had to find other ways to generate interest.
“We have transitioned to virtual programming for the time being. This provides a great opportunity for the society to share our lectures more widely,” Rogers said.
One highly successful example was offered by Katherine Landdeck, Ph.D., who shared a ground-breaking lecture on the Women Air-force Service Pilots (WASP).
These formidable females were not authorized to serve in combat, so instead, they helped train male pilots. They also ferried various types of military aircraft from factories to bases throughout the country.
“Our first virtual program was held on Sept. 17, and featured historian Katherine Sharp Landdeck, Ph.D., who discussed her new book, ‘The Women with Silver Wings.’ For almost three decades, Dr. Landdeck has researched the little-known story of the intrepid women aviators who contributed their time, talents and sometimes their lives in the fight for Allied victory during World War II,” Rogers said.
Riding high off that success, the society is planning two more virtual lectures in the coming weeks. The first will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 29 and will feature author Stephen Doster.
He recently released a new book, “Cumberland Island: Footsteps in Time.” Doster partnered with local photographer Ben Galland, who created the images, which will be shared in a slideshow format to accompany the presentation.
During his talk, Doster will take attendees on a chronological journey through the history of Cumberland, outlining key events while discussing influential residents and inhabitants.
“This includes occupants as diverse as French and Spanish explorers, Catharine Greene Miller, the Thomas M. Carnegie family and Cumberland’s famous wild horses,” Rogers said.
Following that lecture, the next event will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 12 and will feature Wayne Clough, Ph.D., the first southerner to serve as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
“While at the Smithsonian, Dr. Clough undertook a search of the Institution’s vast collections to find cultural artifacts from South Georgia, specifically the town of Douglas where he spent most of his childhood. After retiring in 2014, he continued his investigations and wrote a book about the results,” Rogers said.
“In ‘Things New and Strange: A Southerner’s Journey Through the Smithsonian Collections,’ Clough interweaves descriptions of his discoveries with southern history and boyhood memories.”
Both of these programs are being sponsored by Raymond James. They are free and open to the public.
Registration is required by visiting the Society’s website, coastalgeorgiahistory.org. After registering, participants will receive a link to the Zoom lecture.