If you think of some of the most famous historical spots in the world, what comes to mind? The Colosseum? The Pyramids at Giza? Stonehenge? Every year, millions of tourists travel to see these places because they are the physical embodiment of history. One can stand in these places and say, “this is the spot where….” It is as if you can open a history book, step right inside of it, take a picture, and then have documentation that you, too, were once there. Alive and breathing in a significant place. A place that matters because of its history.
Now, think of your own personal history. We all have places that hold as much personal significance to us as the aforementioned spots hold to our world’s story. The only difference is that no one else (or very few) have shared in the experiences that make our own personal historic sites significant to us.
As you may have guessed, I have a personal historic site of my very own in mind. It’s not just mine, it belongs to my family, and I guess, technically to the people who own the property on which it exists, but still. You know what I mean. Here is a picture of it:
This historic site of mine is the spot where my grandfather’s photography studio stood for over 30 years. The building itself is still there, as is the sign, but his business closed up shop about 5 years before he died in 2008 at the age of 91. I believe the building is now a private residence, which makes me pretty grateful that no one questioned me as a creepily snuck up and snapped the photo above. This sign, which is in the form of a Viking ship, was created by my grandfather, his friend, my mother, and my uncle. The actual creation of the sign was documented in pictures, however, they are in the intangible land of “somewhere around here…,” which basically means I’ll probably never see them. If they ever do happen to make an appearance, I will update this post with them.
As I said, this sign marked the location of my grandfather’s photography business, “Little Norway Studio,” from 1972- about 2004. Yes, he was about 88 when he finally closed up shop and moved out of the studio. Pretty awesome, eh? The sign is a familiar picture from my childhood and on into my early adulthood, and over the years, the sign became known to many in my hometown as well. It is definitely a historical spot in my own life story; a piece of me. Have you ever seen those pictures made up of thousands of other tiny pictures? Well, this Viking ship sign would absolutely be one of the tiny pictures that made up the big picture of who I am.
As I mulled this thought over throughout this past week, I took a turn toward the technical and started to wonder what, specifically, constitutes a “historical site.” In other words, If I got the notion to get something “made official” by the people who do such things, what exactly would it take? Here is what I discovered: According to the U.S. National Park Service’s website, who oversees such things, in order for a site to be approved as “historic,” it must meet the “National Register Criteria for Evaluation.” This involves examining the property’s age, integrity, and significance. The criteria for age and integrity basically means that the property has to be old enough (generally at least 50 years old), and it must look basically the way it did in the past. Significance is the tricky issue. The website states that the property needs to be associated with events, activities, or developments that were important in the past. With people who were important in the past. If one concludes that their property meets the criteria set forth, they can proceed with nominating their property, with many more steps along the way.
I’m not under any delusions that because the sign marking my grandpa’s photography studio is important to me and my family that it would be “important” enough or associated closely enough with any sort of significant historical event for it to be listed as a national historic site. But, I do think I can come up with some criteria for my own award for Little Norway Studio’s Viking ship sign.
It turns out I only had one question to satisfy my requirements:
Does the location in question represent something historical beyond just your childhood memories?
Well! As a matter of fact, I believe it does. My Grandpa was an immigrant to this country, a bona fide came-over-on-a-boat-from-Norway-and-was-processed-through Ellis-Island immigrant. He learned the language, fought in the US Army (10th mountain division) in WWII, and in his later years opened his own successful business, which he operated until just years before his death. Talk about a life that displays the American dream. A real person in history that immigrated to America, made it his country, and took the opportunities he was presented with to create a life for himself. My grandpa’s Viking ship sign is the physical representation of his own history. It represents hard work, the freedom that allowed him to take the risk of opening a business, and the perseverance and grit required to see it succeed. It also acknowledges an appreciation for the rich cultural past that played such a powerful role in the person he became. The Vikings were to my grandpa similar to what any superhero might be to a little boy today. They were an important part of the pride he found in having a Norwegian heritage. They represented the world from which he and his ancestors came, and his identity was tied so tightly with these ancestors, that he chose the Viking ship to represent him as he forged his own life in America.
As I reviewed my answer to my criteria, I decided that my personal historic site is very deserving, and should, indeed, be awarded the title of an official “Yesterday’s Girl Historic Site.”
And so, I now list my grandpa’s Viking ship sign as the first on my own personal register of historic sites. There may be more added to this register in the future. Places and things that are significant in our own personal histories, things that shape our stories deserve a spot on our own historical registers. What are yours?