From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

People often think of history as events in the distant past, so it’s perhaps natural that visitors to our PHMC sites look for objects from Pennsylvania’s earliest historic periods.

Our collections do not disappoint. If you wander through The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, you’ll find fluted projectile points from the Shoop archaeological site in Dauphin County that date to the last ice age, or 12,150 to 13,100 years ago. Each March, the Pennsylvania State Archives displays from its collection the now 338-year-old Charter, which marks the beginnings of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our historic sites preserve some of the oldest structures and artifacts of Keystone State history, from the vast collections of rural and agricultural heritage at the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum to the medieval-style buildings and hand-decorated fraktur of the austere religious community that lived at Ephrata Cloister to original Revolutionary War cannonballs that were manufactured at Cornwall Iron Furnace. These are all important artifacts in understanding our place in the world.

But history is also as recent as yesterday, a fact that is represented in some of our more recent acquisitions with strong ties to significant events and current statewide trends. One of the most haunting examples is the collection of notes from Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Paul J. Evanko from 18 years ago. This sheaf of papers, which Evanko donated to the Pennsylvania State Archives in 2016, captures the unfolding events related to Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, a moment that irrevocably altered the nation’s view of security. The documents illustrate the shifting outlook of the police and emergency management teams as information was received and reflect their understanding of the nature of the event as it evolved.

Another acquisition that speaks to the recent past is 5535-2017, a 20-foot hanging sculpture by Maria Maneos of North Wales, Montgomery County. This piece, the Purchase Award from last year’s Art of the State, the annual juried art show at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, references and graphically represents the number of opioid and heroin deaths across the commonwealth in 2017. This dramatic work captures the scale of the epidemic that has ravaged Pennsylvania communities, placing the state near the center of the national opioid crisis.

These powerful pieces represent important aspects of the commonwealth’s recent history that PHMC collects and preserves for all Pennsylvanians. Someday, they will become another generation’s more distant past, providing context for tomorrow’s citizens as they navigate their present and plan for their future.

Andrea W. Lowery
Executive Director, PHMC