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March 31, 2020

Our living and breathing museum

Ever heard of a “Shaman”? We had those over at the Soledad Mission and Native American culture is full of them. Ever thought about the Los Coches Adobe, when it was the site of a living, breathing stage coach stop? You can peruse the stagecoach log books and see how many people passed through with records of their passing. Ever wondered how and why all the Swiss names in our valley came to be? I’m not giving you the answer to that question.

These are local history questions that might baffle you if you have never visited the Soledad Historical Society on Soledad Street in Soledad. It is the site of our museum and a superb nod to our past. I paid them a visit recently; I always like to stop in when they have a new exhibit and I am never disappointed. Though I was not born and raised here, over the past 16 years of living here I have crossed many a local’s path and I love to hear about who is here and how they came to be here.

Graig Stephens is the proud curator of the museum, which is open every Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m., during the Farmer’s Market in downtown Soledad.

“How do you tell people about this place?” he asks me. “Some people still don’t know we are here!”

I find that hard to believe, but it did make me stop in my tracks and endeavor to rectify that a little where I could and invite people to stop in and peruse their exhibits. An old fire truck, photos of the class of 1925, an original phone switchboard, agricultural equipment used to work our fields, clothing and china from an era long gone. The artifacts inside this museum are results of a diligent quest to gather the history of this valley into one place and preserve it for future generations to come. We grew sugar beet in these parts? Who knew. The Native Americans played a large part in restoring our local Missions with love and caring? I did not know that.

“We have had a lot of fourth-graders come by to view our Missions exhibit,” Graig went on to explain. “It has been lovely to see the young people in our exhibit.” And so the young people should go by the museum. Though the days of extravagant school outings are surely over; it cannot be out of the question that our local students be tasked to visit our local museum and report on their findings? Every fourth-grade student in our county studies the California Missions — and, yes, we have one right in our very backyard that is well displayed in our own Soledad Historical Society Museum.

I was so glad I went by that day, clutching my bags of fresh vegetables from the market for my chicken soup. It reminded me of a lot of things. It prompted me on the importance of preserving the history of our area, of all areas; of accumulating as much history as we can in one place and holding it dear, because the records will not be repeated. Thanks to so many of the local families who gave of their private collections to the benefit of all. That counts for a lot.

The collections reminded me that photographs matter. As a photographer of sorts, I sometimes wonder what will happen to my work when I am long gone. Looking at our museum, I am reminded that history is in the eye of the beholder and we all need to report where and when we can for the generations to come. I love to look into the eyes of those innocent school children way back when in those static black and white images and imagine their lives as they were back then. Many of the names are familiar, some of the faces more so. Many are portraits and memories of lives well lived in a simpler, yet also harsher time. Some dust-bowl depictions reminded me to count my blessings and plant where I can.

Take a trip over to the Soledad Historical Society Museum on a Farmer’s Market Thursday and soak in the local stories. The members on site are a wealth of information and so glad to share their knowledge. I guarantee that you will come away a lot more educated than when you entered. A shaman is a … No, I’m not going to tell you; but know that I do believe in them. You will just have to go by the museum yourself. My visit made me want to learn more about the shaman and where their legacy led. In fact, I think I will do just that.

We must never stop learning, lest we fade to dust. I am always happy to go places to learn new things. If you go to our local museum, you will be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of history within those walls and the excellent presentation to go along with it.

Lucy Jensen is a local Realtor, Notary Public and president of South County Animal Rescue. Contact her at [email protected]

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