SIDNEY — Local historian Rich Wallace, board secretary of the Shelby County Historical Society, presented to the Sidney Rotary Club this year’s historical society program during a recent meeting.
Wallace noted that although the Shelby County Historical Society has existed for many years, it was just a quarter century ago that the society was reborn.
“Many of the members had died, and the society had not met in some time. When we reorganized in 1993, we decided that we didn’t want to be known for simply having a museum, but wanted to be known for our educational programming,” Wallace said.
“We wanted to tie history education to the community to address curriculum issues in an historical context,” Wallace added. He explained how the programming that the society developed was based on the curriculum being taught in the local schools, adding that local teachers were involved in the work.
“As a result, the programming that we have offered surpasses state standards. There is not a student who attends the schools in Sidney and Shelby County who has not been touched by our programs,” Wallace said.
“The theme of our programming this year will be ‘Democracy on Trial in Shelby County.’ We are going to look at the first quarter of the 20th century and specifically, the outbreak of the Spanish flu, the impact of World War I in Shelby County and the burning of German books on the courtsquare and the campaign for women’s right to vote,” Wallace said. “In addition, we will have our regular offerings. Those include the ghost tour, the cemetery tour and the biennial Civil War Living History Weekend.
“We are also going to examine the life of Alvin York and how you can respect your religious beliefs while fighting for your country. This program will be a bit different than most we have undertaken, as York did not live in Shelby County nor ever visit here. We know, however, that there have been soldiers who have fought in military units in which conscientious objectors have been assigned and thought it was a topic that deserved our attention.”
Wallace then spoke about the mood of the country from 1900 through 1925 and how some believed strongly that the world might be coming to an end. He read from the front page of The Shelby County Democrat that explained why women should not be given the right to vote, as their brains were smaller than men’s and they lacked the intellectual capacity to vote.
Wallace also explained that during the book burning, there was a man who did not remove his hat quite quickly enough when the National Anthem was played. The crowd, believing that he was not patriotic, chased him up Ohio Avenue, eventually caught him and killed him.
Wallace also noted that the Spanish flu killed far more Shelby Countians than did serving in World War I.
“There was no Center for Disease Control, there was no understanding as to why so many were dying – one man dropped dead at the kitchen table, another died in the chair in the waiting room at the doctor’s office – 34 died in all, and there were all kinds of ugly theories as to why,” Wallace stated. “The Historical Society, through our programming, attempts to look at what is happening today, and then look back and find ways to make history relevant today.”