What’s in Your Attic?
By Kathryn Marchi
Giving money to charitable organizations or seldom-used items to thrift shops seems to have become a part of the American culture. It is our way of giving to those less fortunate. These donations of clothing and household goods seem to be accentuated for many of us who are downsizing our homes. We cling, however, to family heirlooms and historical documents we believe are “priceless.” We hope to pass them down to our heirs. After all, it is important to keep things “in the family.”
Did you ever wonder if any of these items might be better shared with others outside of the family, perhaps in a museum somewhere? You’ve seen citations on museum exhibits that items were donated by an individual or a family. By their very nature, it is also thought that these are highly placed, wealthy individuals and that the items are priceless and documented as historical in nature.
My husband and I discussed some of our treasures and wondered if they might be appreciated by local art galleries or museums. It seems that many children today don’t really want our collections of memorabilia. One wonders if their plan is to have a huge yard sale to dispose of the stuff after we are gone.
Here is an account of one of our items and how it found its way to the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas:
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, my husband purchased a book featuring photos and accounts of heroism during that tragedy. It was a rather ordinary book with not a lot of pages. It sat in our library for a few months.
In the meantime, my niece told us about her college friend who was a first responder on 9/11 — his first day on the job. Most of his family members were firefighters in New York. Immediately our book came to mind and my husband had the idea to meet this young man and ask him to take our book to his firehouse. The idea was to ask these brave men to write in the book, much as one would in a school yearbook, and share their experiences and thoughts on that terrible tragedy. We assumed that some of them would not want to do this and that was OK.
We met this young firefighter in 2003 and he was happy to take the book to his comrades.
Four years later, imagine our surprise when the book arrived in the mail. Unbelievably, there were 25 personal accounts written across the pages of that book. They were well–written, heartfelt, heartbreaking, historical and very personal. Our friend said the men took the book home, sometimes for weeks before they could bring themselves to write. It was hard to believe that we had such a treasure in our house.
The book lay on our coffee table for six years. Friends and family all read the accounts. It was always assumed that we would keep the book in our family. After many discussions, it was decided that we might want to donate it to a museum. It was an historical document and should be shared with others and be secure.
Last Winter we contacted the newly opened George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. After photos of each page were sent to an archivist, she asked if she could meet with us. Since we were taking a cross-country trip to California in February, we made a detour to Dallas and met with both the archivist and the curator of the museum. We presented the book to them and they were very enthusiastic about it, drawing up the papers for the donation. We were overjoyed that our treasure would be shared with the public and kept in a safe environment.
Very possibly you too have something among your treasures, in your attic or stored in a trunk that would be better donated in a museum, library or gallery. Our treasure was a once-in-a-lifetime placement, to be sure, but there are other locations besides a presidential library where your treasure might be better placed and appreciated:
v Libraries: old historical newspapers, photos or magazines to be archived and displayed there or at another appropriate location.
v Local historical societies and museums: pottery, dishware, linens, clothing that may be indigenous to your area.
v Universities and colleges: In a different take, Virginia Tech has a program called the “Hokie Gold Legacy Program” whereby graduates donate their degree rings which are melted down for inclusion in rings for upcoming classes. (www.alumni.vt.edu/classring/hokiegolddetails.html)
Of course, there are ways to leave monetary donations such as real estate, trusts or stock portfolios to these institutions as well.
v Charitable organizations: big ticket items such as automobiles, boats, real estate for which monies brought in revert back to the organizations themselves. (Google “car, boat, real estate donations” for sites and more information).
As you ponder where you might donate an item, I’m sure you’ll come up with a suitable place such as a fellow in England , Mr. Leslie Morgan, who had a hobby of hand crafting historical aircraft from copper and brass. His models were representative of the “seven pillars of aeronautical wisdom” such as the Wright Brothers’s flyer, Louis Bleriot’s monoplane, the Vickers’ Vimy, the Ryan NYC (Lindbergh’s aeroplane) and the Supermarine S6b racing aircraft. Mr. Morgan thought to contact the Royal Aeronautical Society in Farnborough, outside of London, about donating them there. The beautiful and intricate airplanes were displayed in the library for future generations to admire. What a wonderful legacy for that family.
During the holiday season, donations always come to mind, especially for our friends who don’t need another knick-knack to place on their shelves. Instead of a gift, many folks donate money to documented organizations in friends’ names. Now that you’re aware of the possibilities, do you have an heirloom or historical document in your home that could be donated to a museum or gallery in your name?
My husband and I certainly did not think our treasured book would ever be in a presidential library, but it is quite a nice distinction.
Kathryn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org