‘Taft Day’ part of project for Preservation Society of Columbus’ annual pilgrimage
Aly Vernon has an enhanced appreciation for the planning and preparation that go into a big collaboration.
The research Vernon and Mississippi University for Women professor Dr. Erin Kempker conducted into President William Howard Taft’s visit to Columbus and the Industrial Institute and College (II&C) may have taken only a month, but it was part of a larger body of work that included contributions from many others.
The finished product “Taft Day: A US President Visits Columbus” is on display in The W Galleries and is part of a project for the Preservation Society of Columbus’ annual pilgrimage. On Saturday, Dr. Bridget Smith Pieschel, emerita professor of English and Women’s Studies at The W, will give a “Lunch and Learn” presentation about Taft’s visit to Columbus and the II&C.
The W choral director Dr. William Reber also will direct a student chorus that will sing the “Taft Day Song,” which was written by an II&C faculty member in 1909 for the presidential visit, to the tune “Soldiers Chorus.”
“I really loved working on this project and being able to contribute to it,” said Vernon, a sophomore Public History major originally from Kentucky who now lives in Caledonia. “I had never done research like this, and I was very excited when Dr. Kemper asked if I would want to be a part of it. Besides all the information we found on Taft Day, which was very interesting to read about and see, it was also fascinating to read some of the other articles about community events, weddings and trials and to see the advertisements in ‘The Columbus Dispatch.’ ”
Vernon said she and Kempker worked in the archives at The W’s John C. Fant Memorial Library and at the Billups-Garth Archives at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. She said they looked through vertical files, online and physical photographs and yearbooks and that she spent the bulk of her time looking through newspapers, “The Columbus Dispatch” and “The Spectator”, The W student newspaper, mainly from 1909-1910, to find any mention of Taft, Taft Day, planning, Secretary Jacob M. Dickinson, the Secretary of War under Taft, and updates about Taft’s tour.
Vernon said she also looked through vertical files in both archives as well as source material, the minute book and online resources, mainly for photographs. She and Kempker then started writing the narratives, which were split into five core topics, on shared Google Docs so they could review and edit each other. They then passed the information to Dr. Beverly Joyce, the director of The W Galleries, and Sarah McCoy, who works with Joyce in the Galleries. Joyce curated the images and edited text for the exhibition on Taft Day, while McCoy designed the panels.
Pieschel, Dr. Chanley Rainey, Dr. Martha Jo Mims, Stephanie Salvaterra, an archivist and special collections librarian at Fant Memorial Library, and Steve Meek, an assistant professor for Art and Design, were part of a committee that helped complete the project.
Kempker said she didn’t know much about Taft’s visit to Columbus and the II&C. She credited archivist and instructor of Public History Mona Vance Ali and Kathy Novotny, an archivist with the Columbus Preservation Society, for coming up with the idea for The W’s Taft Day.
“You want to work with people who work hard,” Kempker said. “Dr. Joyce is a wonder. No matter how difficult the task, she keeps her focus on completion. I cannot tell you how she finished this exhibit on time, I can only tell you that she did. And she performs that kind of miracle regularly because she does not quit until the work is done. That is the kind of collaborator you really want to have.
“Stephanie Salvaterra in archives is equally committed and always gets the job done. From there, Drs. Pieschel, Rainey and Mims are some of the most clever and creative people I know. When I talked to Aly about the work, she was eager to learn. With a team like that, you really cannot fail.”
Joyce said the collaboration was similar to work she did for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation at The W. She said it helps to work with people who are focused on the shared goal of the project and will do anything to help out wherever needed. Joyce also praised the work of McCoy, who designed the five panels on display in the Galleries.
“I wanted a very patriotic theme to the design — almost overdone because that’s the way Columbus must have looked based on the photographs and descriptions in the newspapers,” Joyce said. “We started with a design element created by Steve Meek in graphic design, and Sarah took it from there. Sarah consulted with me frequently on the project, and even though I was the one who critiqued the progress, Sarah came up with the creative solutions.”
For Vernon, the project was a chance to walk through history and an opportunity to start work she will continue for her Capstone.
“It has been so cool to see how everyone’s work has come together for this exhibition, and I am so excited to see the end result,” Vernon said. “I am grateful to have been included in this work and I hope I am able to be a part of more projects like this in the future.”
Luncheon tickets for the event can be purchased at preservecolumbus.com or bought in person before the event on Friday at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center downtown. The cost is $35 for adults and $25 for students.
All proceeds from the “Lunch and Learn” events fund historic preservation in Columbus. This year’s focus is the historic African-American Penny Savings Bank building downtown on North Market Street, which needs a new roof.