Interns at Watkins Community Museum dusting off bits of Lawrence’s past

Papers shed light on work of Mayor A.L. Selig, city growth

Watkins Community Museum of History interns, from left, Ann Benning, a Kansas University graduate student from St. Louis, Kim Schmidt, a Haskell Indian Nations University senior from Burlington, and Brittany Keegan, a KU graduate student from Olathe, catalog correspondence and personal papers belonging to A. L. Selig, a Lawrence mayor from the late 1800s, Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at the museum.

When you think of intern tasks, making coffee or copies might come to mind. But three interns at the Watkins Community Museum of History have been dusting — for about 100 hours each.

A.L. Selig served four terms as mayor to Lawrence in the late 1800s, and now many of his documents have come out of storage to be properly preserved. “He was an important person in the history of Lawrence, so I think it’s important to learn as much as we can about him,” intern Ann Benning said from behind a looming stack of antique texts.

The interns have cleaned each paper with a surprising device.

“I never would have thought of using a Swiffer to clean papers off. I would have expected something more high-tech or fancy, but a Swiffer works great,” intern Kim Schmidt said.

Selig was integral in forming Lawrence’s first sewer system and having Massachusetts Street paved in bricks. Most of the documents, however, do not discuss Selig’s achievements so much as his insurance company.

“I’ve had some where it starts out as a normal business letter, and at the very end it turns into a very personal, ‘Oh, this is going on in my life,'” said Schmidt, noting her surprise at the difference between Selig’s letters and today’s typical business correspondence.

Their work might be tedious, but Exhibits Coordinator Helen Krische said the interns’ experience will be beneficial in the future.

“Most museum studies students begin working in small museums. They have a need to wear many hats, to do many jobs, and this certainly will prepare them for that,” she said.