An Unintended Consequence of Collaboration

By Jim Geyer

Installation of an exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the 1913 flood in Muskingum County.
Installation of an exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the 1913 flood in Zanesville, Ohio.

Local history organizations get excited about anniversaries. Bicentennials are really big, but 100th anniversaries are easy sells as well. Special programming and celebrations are great ways to get attention and, perhaps, attract new members.

In 2013, the Pioneer & Historical Society of Muskingum County decided to offer a program commemorating the 100th anniversary of Zanesville’s worst natural disaster, the 1913 flood. Some others in the community had similar thoughts, so a committee was formed to plan, arrange and promote the occasion. Participants included:

  • a librarian Blair Tom of the Muskingum County Library System
  • a public affairs administrator Darrin Lautenschleger of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District
  • a local TV station executive and producer  Doug Pickrell and Gary Earich of the WHIZ Media Group
  • two local historians and collectors Tom Brown and Gary Allen
  • a museum director yours truly

The programming that resulted in March of 2013 included:

  • An historical marker program that provided plaques and high-water lines for buildings around Zanesville and Muskingum County that survived the flood and are still standing.
  • A series of programs and displays attended by hundreds.
  • Eleven 90-second vignettes produced by WHIZ-TV that aired hundreds of times on local television throughout the month.

The unintended consequence? Donations and a new exhibit.
The vignettes were so popular that people started calling the TV station wanting copies. WHIZ produced DVDs containing all the vignettes and made them available for a donation of $20.00 with one-hundred percent of the proceeds going toward a new permanent 1913 flood exhibit at the Stone Academy Historic Site and Museum. The new exhibit opened in June 2014 to rave reviews.

The collaboration was a clear success, and it worked well because:

  • Everyone understood how much more could be achieved by working together.
  • Each partner felt a sense of shared ownership of the project.
  • The effort resulted in a win-win situation for everyone, including the community we serve.
  • Good communication was maintained throughout the process.
  • Everyone worked to foster an atmosphere of trust.

What are your stories of successful collaborations? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.  

Jim Geyer is a Region 10 representative of the Ohio Local History Alliance and Director for Museums at the Pioneer & Historical Society of Muskingum County in Zanesville, Ohio.