When the COVID-19 pandemic began, workers at the Chippewa Valley Museum wanted to look back and see how the 1918 Spanish flu impacted the region. To their surprise, they couldn’t find a lot of details.
“We don’t have many accounts of what happened,” said Rachel Meyer, the museum’s development manager.
The museum wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again, Meyer said. The museum has started a campaign to collect “quarantine diaries” written over the past several months that give detailed experiences about how area residents are handling the changes in their lives caused by the pandemic. The diaries will be stored at the museum as part of the Chippewa Valley COVID-19 Archive Project, compiled by the museum and the UW-Eau Claire history department, and will be preserved for future generations to read.
“We want it known, of how kids had to learn digitally, or adults were stuck in their homes,” Meyer said. “It’s extremely important for us to have these personal accounts, so we can understand what the day-to-day life is like.”
Ideally, the diaries would cover the time frame that the safer-at-home order was in effect from March 25 to May 20.
“We hope people wrote in their diaries every day,” she said. “We’re not restricting the size at all.”
The museum created three separate categories for youths, teens and adults, and they will be awarding prizes. Meyer hopes people turn in their works by July 4.
Since they announced the diary campaign, they have already received a handful of submissions.
“It was nice to read some of the student diaries, and seeing one day, they were frustrated with school but the next day was an up day,” Meyer said.
One of the adult journals is a notebook from a person who loves attending plays, and had numerous tickets for upcoming events that were all canceled. The person described the loss of not being able to attend those shows and the impact.
Meyer said they are accepting both digital and paper copies of journals. If someone has a paper journal but wants to keep it, the museum will make copies of the pages.
Numerous area businesses have donated gift cards to the museum, which will be distributed to winners of the diary contest.