In The News

Smithsonian exhibit in Pontiac tells America’s mobile story

This article originally appeared in The Pantagraph

By Kevin Barlow

PONTIAC — When Mayor Bob Russell peeked inside the renovated 137-year-old Livingston County Courthouse, he couldn’t help but think about the Smithsonian Institution’s ‘Journey Stories’ exhibit.

“This is a perfect spot for it,” he said, recalling that November moment. “A beautiful exhibit. A beautiful venue.”

The free exhibit, located on the second floor of the downtown venue, tells “a fundamental part of the American story.” It opens Saturday and continues through April 6; hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“The exhibit is amazing,” said City Council member Kelly Eckhoff, who was on the exhibit committee. “I am so proud that we have individuals and businesses who appreciate the importance of bringing something this professional to Pontiac. I believe when people see the exhibit, they will ask more questions about our national and local history.”

The exhibit looks at the flow of American history from the viewpoint of mobility, said William Withuhn, curator of transportation for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“It’s about our right to move about as we please, to pull up stakes, and the wide variety of human experiences that go with it,” he said. “Through engaging images, audio, and artifacts, the exhibit explores the stories of people leaving behind everything – voluntarily or involuntarily – to reach a new life in a new place.”

In Illinois, the exhibit is sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council. Several local donors, including the Apollos Camp-Bennet Humiston and Floyd A. and Alta I. Byrne trusts – played a significant role, Eckhoff said.

The exhibit includes five parts researched by Robert Roarty of the Pontiac Tourism Office and designed and built by Diaz Sign Art of Pontiac.

“These local exhibits will examine the arrivals of the early settlers, the importance of the railroad to our region, the coming of Route 66 in Pontiac, the many journeys undertaken by our military veterans and the history of maps,” said Pontiac tourism director Ellie Alexander.

Withuhn said all the stories were researched thoroughly.

“You have to look in the diaries, the entries, interview people, look at old accounts, and get the flavor of what it what it was like to be mobile. We are a nation of immigrants, we are a nation of people who were here already, who were very mobile. Some of us came in chains, some us came dreaming of something better. And focusing on that, rather than just the history of a place, but indeed, how people got there — I think is actually a fundamental part of the American story.”