Monday, August 21, 2017

Mike Perkins presented a Collective Narrative.

Mike Perkins, the Orlando Regional History Center director gave a talk at the Albin Polasek Museum's Capen House (633 Osceola Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789) titled "A Collective Narrative" about the museums efforts after the Pulse Nightclub massacre to collect and preserve the memorial items left at sites around Orlando.

The goal at the Orlando Regional History Center is to present History in an interesting way, You are going to have challenges as you work through your career, but you don't expect to have something so incredibly changing, with such a huge impact to the community happen, and all of a sudden, while you are at the job it becomes your task to collect and retain this history that just happened. It was a shock to all of us. Pam Schwartz, who is the museum senior curator carried the bulk of this initiative.

It was of course the middle of summer. We had to collect at Lake Eola first since the city wanted to have July 4th fireworks. Collecting began on June 26th and went on for about 3 months? The question was directed towards two members of the museum staff, Emily Arnold, and Whitney Broadaway in the audience of seven. After Lake Eola was cleared, Dr. Phillips Arts Center (DPAC) became the primary site for a memorial.

Mr. Greg Zanis brought his 49 wooden crosses to Orlando Regional Health Center and that became its own memorial site. When the crosses were eventually collected, items left around the crosses were also collected. The crosses were stored in specially designed archival boxes and the items left at each individuals cross were put in an accompanying box in the museum archives. Photos are on the museum's online digital archive that show the crosses when they were first put in place and then several photos document the memorial items as they were left at each cross. Mike gave credit to Emily Arnold for all the photos in his presentation but from the audience, she had to let him know that all the photos were by a photographer named Phelan Ebenhack.

All the candles couldn't be collected. Only particularly beautifully decorated candles were collected the rest went into land fill (most have been kept for potential use). American flags that had touched the ground could not be collected. Those couldn't go into the museum collection. After much of the memorial had been cleared at DPAC, Boy Scouts collected the flags and gave them to the military or fire department to be properly disposed of. There were huge banners that were often covered with other items and flowers. The banners were folded up or rolled up. Flowers could not be collected and they were turned into mulch. Keep in mind it was hot out. The sun and fading of items became a problem.

Candles would get kicked over and drip wax onto other memorial items. Items that were most at risk were collected first. The collecting was only the beginning of the work. Gathering was in some ways the easy part of the process. Once items were safely back in the museum archives, they were cleaned, and processed to be made stable for the collection.

Then of course Pulse became a memorial site and items are still being dropped off precipitously. So obviously a tremendous effort went into this. A tent would be set up and the History Center van would be close by. There were archival boxes, blotter paper, and a press, all to stabilize items so they cold get to the History Center with low humidity and temperature control. The collection now is called the One Orlando Collection and it has over 6100 items. The exhibit that we opened on June 12th was visited by about 700 family members. It was seem by about 2,400 people that week.

A question from the audience: "Were people upset when you took memorial items away?"
Mike: "When we told them what we were doing, generally they thanked us."
Question: "Did you call the City or did the City call you?"
Mike: "We are a County institution."
Question: "How did that happen? Did someone say, 'Hey you need to do this?'"
Mike: "It was an organic thing. If anyone deserves credit, it would be Pam Schwartz."

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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