This fall semester I volunteered as an intern at the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania. This experience provided me with the opportunity to survey over 1500 items in the Museum’s collection and in doing so I created a digital catalog of all the items. Prior to the creation of this digital catalog, the collection was in a chaotic state, but the collection can now be verified and stored to best suit the Museum’s needs. The process of creating this catalog allowed me to explore the life of Jimmy Stewart. The items in the collection range from his early childhood experiences at Mercersburg and the Stewart Hardware store to Jimmy Stewart’s film experiences and military service in the Army Air Corps. Not many people are aware that Jimmy Stewart remained a reservist in the military after his service in World War II and retired a Major General.
There were many interesting and fascinating items in the collection which varied greatly from personal correspondence with President Ronald Reagan to a more public sphere which included citations and awards from his acting career. The collection of the Jimmy Stewart Museum included items donated by the Stewart family and by friends and fans. This variety creates a magnitude and diversity of items within the collection.
Not all of my time was spent surveying and creating this digital catalog. I also spent time assisting the museum with tours. To my surprise, the majority of museum visitors were not locals, but guests who traveled to see to the museum. The experience of assisting with the tours reminds you about the benefits of working in the sphere of public history because you can see the enjoyment and fulfillment that guests have by experiencing such galleries. These galleries are meant to help guests explore the life experiences of Jimmy Stewart and also provide an avenue for them to travel into their own past. When giving tours, I heard “remember when…” and “that was that time that we…” and these moments make these experiences all the more memorable.
Each year the Jimmy Stewart Museum holds a theatrical performance as a fundraiser which also works as a means to bring together the community. I assisted Museum Director Tim Harley in organizing and carrying out several duties that helped bring together the performance of Rich Little’s “Jimmy Stewart and Friends.” The performance took place at the Kovalchuk Center and with the help of many volunteers, including myself, the performance ended up selling out. It was a great experience for me and for the public. It was great being able to experience the fulfillment the public received from the performance and it showed the sense of community they had from reminiscing about the life of a local hero. The internship at the Jimmy Stewart Museum helped and allowed me to gain crucial experience in the field of Public History but more importantly raised my awareness of the crucial importance that history has on the local level.