What's our history worth? Priceless

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There is a Trident submarine hidden in the Nevada State Museum, but you wouldn't know unless you were a serious student of one of Carson City's best kept secrets.

With the retirement of Doug Southerland March 1 from the museum after 26 years, we were reminded our memories would only last as long as we do without people like Southerland, Bob Nylen, Guy Rocha, Ron James and their counterparts in other Nevada locales.

Without them, and their love of Nevada history, our memories might be lost. I spent many a bus ride from Virginia City bound for the museum in Carson City as a kid. My first museum memory is of a Native American exhibit. I'll never forget the leathered face of the Indian. I don't know who it was or how it came to be in an exhibit, but the scraggy black hair and the smooth, brown skin stretched tight across the facial bones fascinated me.

I must have just traipsed through the rest of the halls paying just enough attention to answer questions when we got back. Mostly I probably just messed around.

Like many, it took me a while to appreciate the deeps of history in which I continually swam. Today, I wander the halls of the museum as if I'm in church. So much of who we were and who we are is tucked away there that it is impossible to take it all in at once. You have to nibble at the history; take it in by gulps and you'll miss too much.

We tend to take these memories for granted. Tearing down the old and the dilapidated: the Arlington Hotel, the V&T Roundhouse, the Mapes. Over time if we're careless we could lose these foundations of our past.

Who would we be as a people without a past? As Americans our past is a short one. With the exception of Native Americans, our stay on this continent is less than a blink in time. In another blink all would be lost except for those who make up the hearts and souls of the institutions we rely on to serve as scrapbooks for our memories.

Southerland reminded us the state spends less than one-half of one percent of its general fund on protecting Nevada's past. It's not enough.

"Without our living trust we'd be dead in the water," he said.

Tucked under the umbrella of the Department of Cultural Affairs are the Nevada Arts Council, the Historic Preservation Office, the Department of Museums and History and the State Library and Archives.

At the newspaper we rely on these hearts and souls as gatherers of facts and information. They help us in our daily attempts to record history -- to us they are priceless. And it was with disbelief we learned the state spends $15 million on their efforts.

We as a rule use these resources daily. At the Archives, you can find out what kind of house sat on your land 117 years ago? You can see samples of Mark Twain's handwriting before he became Mark Twain.

The first records of the Carson Valley are kept here. As are county commission minutes, census data, the journals of the senate and assembly, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management maps of the state and much more.

Hunters pop in at the beginning of hunting season to plan their hunts. Others hang out by the periodicals to catch up on the Las Vegas News with a copy of the Las Vegas Review Journal and there is usually a steady hum at the microfilm machines as people zip through many of the 7,307 rolls of film housed there.

Upstairs, where you can't use a pen, and must wear white cotton gloves as you look through 100-year-old documents, they have 12,114 cubic feet of holdings.

They're there to help even when you're home with the Internet at http: dmla.clan.lib.nv.us.

But without the institutional memories of those who daily roam the halls the little details like the Trident submarine could be lost.

The state's Department of Cultural Affairs is just one of many efforts out there to help us understand our past and preserve the present. Other privately operated endeavors add to the rich mix we call our culture.

Those who volunteer for: the Brewery Arts Center, the Women's and Oral history projects, the Fourth Ward School, at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center and the Carson City Preservation Society keep the pages of our past full. People like Grace Dangberg who see their way of life disappear during their lifetime and leave us a legacy to help us remember are also priceless.

Without the individuals who push the projects forward, who give of their time and their hearts, our past would be gone like the snows of winter in July.

Unlike the snow though, we too can make a difference. Remind your legislator of the importance of the department's mission. After all, his or her words will be preserved here. Write down the stories of your childhood, those tales your grandparents told you. Label your photos.

Even if the collection is never seen outside your family it will be a legacy worth sharing.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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