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North Shore Historical Museum stays in touch through virtual ‘pop-up visits’

Highlighting importance of history amid pandemic

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After the North Shore Historical Museum closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, museum board members searched for a way to help residents continue to learn about area history. They created an alternative to in-person experiences with “pop-up visits.”

“People can’t come to the museum, so we’re bringing the museum to them,” said Amy Driscoll, the museum’s director. “We’ve been highlighting some board members that have been longstanding members of the community, some exhibit items, rooms in the museums, things that people may not have seen before or haven’t seen in a while.”

The pop-up visits began airing on May 29 on the museum’s Facebook page, with museum board member and Glen Cove City Councilman Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews introducing a tour of the building led by Driscoll.

“It might look a little small and old-fashioned when you see it, but it was a big deal,” Driscoll said of the building as the camera panned around a room in the first episode. “This building was built in 1907, and it was built as a courthouse for the Town of Oyster Bay.”

Driscoll went on to say that when Glen Cove became a city in 1917, the town gave it ownership of the building. For a year, Driscoll said, it was the City Hall. It served as police headquarters until the 1960s, and then as the courthouse until the early 1990s.

As of press time, there were six episodes of the pop-up visit series, and in the latest one, Driscoll interviewed Dr. Richard Harris, a longtime museum board member and the curator of the exhibit “Harlem Hellfighters,” which is housed in what used to be the courthouse’s jury room.

“Harlem Hellfighters,” which debuted in the fall of 2018 and has since become a permanent exhibit, tells the story of the 369th Infantry Regiment in World War I, an African-American Army unit that saw more combat than any other American unit. Thirty-one of its members were from the Glen Cove area. “What we’re hoping to do with this permanent exhibit in this room,” Harris said, “is to call attention to these men and what they did during the war so that more people will know about their story.”

“We’re still here now, and we will still be here in the future when we’re able to open our doors,” Stevenson-Mathews said of the museum. “In the midst of history with this pandemic, if anything, it highlights the importance of history as it relates to our forward march.”

He noted the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. “We go back and look at history and how the Spanish flu shaped things,” he said. “People are now going to look back and see how this horrible current pandemic has shaped things.”

And, Driscoll added, the museum building was actually used as an infirmary during the 1918 pandemic. In fact, local pregnant women were quarantined in the jail cell, and one gave birth there.

Georgie Connett, the museum board president, wraps up each virtual episode by explaining the museum’s mission to preserve the history of the North Shore, and the challenges it faces during this pandemic.

As Long Island begins Phase 4 of the state’s reopening protocols, which will allow facilities like museums to reopen, Driscoll said she was still evaluating how to do so safely for visitors and volunteers. “We’re working on it,” she said. “We hope to be open by the end of July at the latest. We want to proceed with caution and make sure we’re doing everything in compliance.”

Visitors can look forward to a new exhibit called “The Art of the Tiffany Foundation.”

“Until we can fund-raise again, we are facing a shortfall of our operating expenses,” Connett said. “The board has pledged donations to help with these expenses, and we can surely use the public’s help.”

To make a tax-deductible donation or learn more about the museum, go to https://www.northshorehistoricalmuseum.org/.