By Catherine Hosman
Ann Evans, curator of the Williamson Museum, unlocks the door to the archive room that holds some of the museum’s treasures of the past. Inside the room she rotates a handle on one of the portable walls and a trove of artifacts is revealed. She dons a pair of protective gloves and carefully lifts out a first aid kit, one of the items to be displayed in the “World War II Comes to Williamson County” exhibit this May.
Collecting tangible artifacts requires all items to be processed through the museum’s acquisition committee, she said, but it is the one-on-one interviews she is conducting with World War II veterans that is bringing the exhibit to life.
“It is amazing, indescribable,” she said, as she places the kit back on its shelf. “They (the veterans) are rapidly disappearing and we are able to capture that first-hand account. There is nothing like this and it cannot be reconstructed later.”
Last week, Ms. Evans visited an assisted and independent living facility to speak to residents about the museum and the upcoming World War II exhibit. One of the men she spoke with is a Japanese-American born in Tacoma, Wash., who was placed in an internment camp at the beginning of World War II. Ms. Evans said he later joined the U.S. Army 442nd Japanese-American Regiment, “one of the most decorated regiments,” where he helped to rescue the U.S. Army 36th regiment.
“I also met two women, one was a surgical technician and one conducted link training,” she said, adding that link training was the precursor to modern simulated flight training.
Remembering the past
Different eras of history touch people in different ways and for Ms. Evans it is the history of the Holocaust and World War II that caught her attention. She was an eighth grade student when she went on a school field trip to Washington, D.C. and visited the National Holocaust Memorial Museum where her interest was piqued.
“It is a powerful story to be told and they (the National Holocaust Memorial Museum) were able to tell the story and bring it to life for me that made me want to pursue it further,” Ms. Evans said. “They utilized personal stories so you couldn’t help but make a connection to the past.”
The influence was so strong for her that she took elective history classes her senior year at Georgetown High School and majored in history at the University of Texas at Austin where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She studied Eastern European history, as well as the history of the Mughal (or Mogul) Empire of India, which ruled most of India and Pakistan in the 16th and 17th centuries.
“The (Mughal) rulers intrigued me because they were going through a careful balance of ruling one religion (Muslim), to a populous of many others,” she explained. “They ruled two cultures, Muslim and Hindu, and actually made it work.”
Although she didn’t get to visit India, she has visited the Czech Republic and toured Dachau, a concentration camp in Germany.
“It was interesting,” she said. “My great-great grandfather helped liberate some of the concentration camps during World War II. He wasn’t one to talk about it.”
Ms. Evans blended her love of history with the technology of digital preservation, in which she earned her master’s degree from UT. She said digital preservation deals with “the onslaught of things being digitized (photos, documents).”
She volunteered at the Williamson Museum while studying for her undergraduate and graduate degrees, and in January 2013, she was hired as the museum’s full-time curator. Now she uses her passion for history to coordinate the museum’s exhibits.
“World War II comes to Williamson County” is just one of the many exhibits coming to the Williamson Museum. It is preceded by a traveling photographic exhibit on Quanah Parker, last of the great Comanche chiefs, and his mother, Cynthia Ann, a white captive taken from her family at Fort Parker in the spring of 1836 when she was only nine years old. The exhibit begins March 22 and runs through the end of April.
“It is sponsored by the Texas Lakes Trail Regional Heritage Program,” she said, adding that Dustin Tahmahkera, a descendant of Quanah Parker, will be the guest speaker at the monthly Salon held at the Wildfire Restaurant on April 10.
Visiting the Williamson Museum is just one way to learn about Williamson County. Executive Director Mickie Ross said the museum also offers traveling exhibits to schools and local festivals.
“We have a traveling trunk show that offers nine topics for kindergarten to middle school,” Ms. Ross said. “It is hands-on TEK based activities for students to learn more about the history of our county.”
Schools can plan a field trip to the museum, or the museum will come to special events and bring their trunk show to any of the schools in the county.
“There are a lot of stories in Williamson County that are not being told, and there isn’t time to tell them all,” said Ms. Evans. “But even if we can make them visible, especially to new people who don’t know the rich history, they can know they are coming (to live) in a place that goes back 15,000 years. That is my goal.”
Read about Liberty Hill’s contributions to the Williamson Museum in next week’s edition of The Independent.