A co-worker recently asked me a thought-provoking question: “Why should we care about history?” Why should anyone care about history? Why should the Roots Revealed Blog that we so carefully research be important to read? Why should Clevelanders care about the history of Cleveland Metroparks? Allow us to explain!
The Roman orator Cicero (106 to 43 BC) said, “History is truly the witness of times past, the light of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity.” In modern terms we might say, “history is a letter from the past.” Who wouldn’t want to receive a letter from the past? My family was excited to find letters written by my father-in-law from Germany during World War II. They were a window into the past, stories of a 24 year old soldier who until then had been known to us only as “Dad” and “Grandpa.”
Letter from Germany, 1945
History is not just a compilation of dates and facts. Good history is the accounting of exciting stories by the people that lived through good times and bad. Did these people react to difficulties with resourcefulness, and innovation? Or did they display dishonesty and cruelty? What would we do in similar situations? Would we emulate the good traits and reject the bad ones? What we do with these stories of history is up to us. We can be entertained and educated, or changed and moved to action. We are hardwired with a need to connect to our roots, to our own personal history. Many people find this connection in places: visiting the town where we grew up, or seeing an old house “just like the one that Grandma lived in.” There is security in knowing these historical pieces of our past.
Prechtel House, Frostville Museum
We see Cleveland Metroparks with new eyes when we know who walked here before us. As we view the lovely Rocky River Valley we know that William Stinchcomb took in the same sight and looked 100 years into the future to envision the park as it is today.
Visit Brecksville Nature Center and grasp the handle on the old walnut door just as hundreds of people did in 1939 to enter the brand new Trailside Museum.
Brecksville Nature Center door
Stop by the old sugarhouse chimney in the woods of Mill Stream Run Reservation where the sound of sap bubbling and boiling can easily be imagined. When we have these encounters we feel connected to the past. Retired Naturalist Don Altemus once said, “How do we know where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been?” When we care about history and understand its letter from the past, we can appreciate the present and be better stewards of land for the future.