This article originally appeared in the Pontiac Daily Leader
By Cynthia Grau
Pontiac, Ill. — Every traveler has a story — whether it’s a difficult journey of a migrant worker or a carefree trip along Route 66 — and these and others are being told in pictures at the new exhibit opening in Pontiac Saturday.
Pontiac, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and the Illinois Humanities Council, presents the traveling exhibit, Journey Stories, which will be on display at the Livingston County Courthouse for six weeks.
The Smithsonian exhibit is also joined by a local exhibit, which Ellie Alexander, director of Pontiac Tourism, explained.
“The Smithsonian exhibit is done on a national level. It talks about the travelers coming over to our country, the building of the railroads, the military, the stories of forced migration and difficult journeys and stories of personal travel. I think there are six different stations to the exhibit and each one has a different title,” she explained. “Our exhibit is more on a local, regional front. It’s about Route 66 and our local military travels. We actually spoke with a lot of our locals to compile those stories and then tell those stories through those storyboards. In one of the storyboards, we’ve installed a recording device, about a 12-minute recording, and we spoke with some of the veterans at the War Museum, talking about their travel when they left here to go into the service. That is a really interesting way of being able to tell our local story from the voices of our locals.”
Enhancing the exhibit will be historical presentations each month. The next presentation will be Rob Doyle, Ph.D., who will present a program centered on the history of railroads on Thursday, Feb. 28. Doyle is a former educator at Eastern Illinois University, a board member of the Wabash Valley Railroaders Museum in Terre Haute Ind., and a board member of the Monticello Railroad Museum. Doyle’s presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers.
John Weiss, a noted Mother Road historian, will explore the history of Route 66. His program will be given March 28.
To be chosen as the temporary home of the Smithsonian exhibit, an application process was completed, and only six locations were chosen.
“We had to submit an application to the Illinois Humanities Council. I don’t know how many people submitted for this exhibit. It’s a traveling exhibit and it was awarded to six communities. We were one of those six. It’s been on display in all five other communities and we are the final destination. When it leaves here, it will go back to the Smithsonian,” stated Alexander.
She said that the exhibit isn’t only a group of storyboards, but also allows interaction so all ages can enjoy the experience.
“It’s nice that both our local exhibit and the Smithsonian exhibit does have some hands-on, ‘push the button and hear a story,’ open a book, flip the pages, so it does get to the younger readers who don’t have the ability to read all the storyboards. There’s still some interaction that they can be involved in,” Alexander said.
A docent training workshop took place Thursday afternoon, and Alexander said she was delighted with the turnout.
“We had about 28 people show up for training, which was great,” she said. “There is a lot of information there. It is a very well done exhibit.”
According to Kelly Eckhoff, a member of the city council and part of the committee overseeing the Journey Stories exhibit’s time in Pontiac, the city has received financial support from a group of generous sources. The Illinois Humanities Council provided a small grant to help fund the exhibit. Locally leading the way are two very important Pontiac trusts, the Apollos Camp-Bennet Humiston Trust and the Floyd A. and Alta I. Byrne Trust combined to provide the largest contribution in support of the event. Other businesses contributing to the cause include Caterpillar, Inc., Bank of Pontiac, First Financial Bank, Advanced Technology Recycling, Kelly-Sauder-Rupiper Equipment, Stoller International, Pontiac RV, the State Bank of Graymont, Streator Onized Credit Union, OSF St. James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center, Opperman Construction, Lisa Kelley-State Farm Insurance and Kelley Home Inspections.
Livingston County government, the city of Pontiac, McCoy Studios and Diaz Sign Art have made contributions-in-kind to support the Journey Stories project.
Eckhoff noted, “The Smithsonian’s exhibit is amazing! I am so proud that here in Pontiac we have individuals and businesses who appreciate the importance of bringing something this professional to Pontiac. Seeing the exhibit will lead to asking questions about our national and local history. I know the importance of travel to the American experience when I contemplate the text and images found in the displays.”
The exhibit will run from Saturday through April 6, seven days a week, on the second floor of the Historic Livingston County Courthouse. Attendance is free and the exhibit will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, except Easter Sunday, March 31.