I got to hold a piece of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s jail cell.
I volunteer in an iron and steel museum. That may sound strange, but iron and steel have been super important in the South. Anyway, I clean and catalog the museum’s acquisitions. The gentleman who was restoring it for display elsewhere was allowed to keep the extraneous bits, and he donated one to us.
It’s a tiny iron rectangle with some rust on it.
Maybe it’s just a chronological version of celebrity adoration, and I shouldn’t feel touched to hold a random iron rectangle from a jail cell, but I do. I really do.
It’s not just objects associated with famous people… I want to physically touch everything in every museum. It’s like touching the past directly. It’s touching the same thing another person touched, however many years ago. It’s a connection to someone whose life deserves to be remembered, even if they aren’t remembered and never can be. It proves there really were people and things here before us. One of the reasons I’m sure public history is right for me is that touching something old feels like a religious experience.
Don’t go around touching things in museums. They’re fragile and even if you don’t actually break them, the oils on your hands can do lasting damage. I was properly cleaned and gloved. I’m just saying, if a docent ever says “It’s okay to touch this,” do it. It’s remarkable that these items exist at all.