MOUNT DESERT — A ticket for the New England & Acadia Steamship Company’s “Mt. Desert Route between Boston and Nova Scotia” from 1884 and a photo of a 1947 celebration at the Northeast Harbor Swimming Club are part of the bounty gathered so far by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society in its first “history harvest.”
“We invite members of the community to bring in their treasured family artifacts and photographs so we scan them and then return them while they wait,” said Tim Garrity, executive director of the historical society.
“Then we sit down and have the person tell us about the artifact and what it means to them. We transcribe these short oral histories and, along with the scanned images, put them on a website that we are creating.”
He said the website is still being built.
“We’re still working on presentation so that it looks as attractive as it deserves.”
Following a couple of trial runs earlier this summer, Garrity said the historical society held one history harvest session in July and two in August and is planning another one for Sept. 20.
“We’ve also held individual sessions on an appointment basis,” he said.
Each series of history harvest sessions will have a topic or theme. This summer’s theme was “summer childhood on Mount Desert Island.”
“We worked a lot this summer with summer visitors,” he said. “In the winter, we want to focus more on [year-round] people and hold evening hours where people can come and be part of it.”
He said a theme has not yet been chosen for this winter’s history harvest.
On Aug. 3, Lillian Heather Leighton brought in the New England & Acadia Steamship Company ticket from 1884. She said she found it after buying a house on Hancock Point about a month earlier.
“I was cleaning the cupboards so I could (put) my dishes in there and ran into…a steamship company ticket,” she told her history harvest interviewer.
She said she was told the house was built around 1890.
“So, to my mind this probably moved to the house when they built it.”
Leighton said someone told her that there used to be “a bunch of old train memorabilia pictures in the house,” but they had been stolen.
“I do believe this [ticket] was in the house most of its life, probably one of the things that wasn’t stolen from it.”
This summer’s history harvest also yielded three grainy photos from a 1947 event at the Northeast Harbor Swimming Club. Mike Kennedy, who brought the photos in, said the event was a tribute to “Miss Wood,” who was the club’s long-time secretary.
“Parents sent (their children) down there for the day, and she played a very large role in the character formation of young people in the summer community,” Kennedy said.
Rick Wheeler brought in a photo of his daughter Ginny running across a hay field behind the family’s home in Somesville 18 years ago. She is flying the kite she had just gotten for her ninth birthday.
Just beyond the hay field is a narrow cove that at low tide is only mud. A small island is on the other side of the cove.
Wheeler recalled in his history harvest interview that when he and his brother were young, their father had enjoyed hitting old golf balls over the cove to the island. It was the job of the two boys to go to the island and retrieve the balls.
Garrity said the photos and other artifacts that people bring in are themselves interesting, but it is the narratives of the owners that really puts them into context and brings them to life.
“It’s enriching to sit down and listen to these stories,” Garrity said.
“What we’re trying to achieve is to engage the community more fully in helping us understand what the community itself has to tell us. We recognize that it is not enough for us to teach history. Our job is also to learn history and to learn it from the community.”
As the historical society collects more oral histories, Garrity said it will need more volunteers to conduct the interviews and transcribe them for the website.
He said he wants to extend the history harvest concept into the island’s schools, and he has been talking with history teachers about ways to do that.