The French word “souvenir” means “to remember.” Much like its Latin root “subvenire,” which has the idea of “occur to the mind.” That is, to remind you of something. Of course, the most familiar usage of the word is when someone is on a trip, or during a special time in one’s life, and he or she purchases or obtains a souvenir, a small memento, in order to bring to mind that special time in the years to come.
Do you have special sites, souvenirs, even scents that bring special times to memory? I have a number of items that bring to my memory special people, places or times in my life. Isn’t it amazing that God created us in such a way that even a passing aroma can stir ones thoughts? Lily of the Valley will, to the day I die, remind me of my maternal grandmother. It was her favorite scent, so she often had a little hint of it on her.
But does a particular building bring to mind any special memories? It can. Even if you grew up in a different town, state, or even country, if you have the opportunity to go home, the structures that “witnessed” history can be great reminders of what has taken place in the past. Perhaps, it is something in your past, or a story about the distant past.
As I walk around the places of my childhood, my mind is drawn to memories of playing ball on the Heywood school grounds or little league baseball on the school diamonds around Troy. I often also bring to mind stories from our county’s history. Buildings, objects, scents, etc. have a way of reminding us that we are not the first; rather others, family, or historic figures went before us, and in their lifetimes, built or added to the foundation that we now stand upon.
Every time I visit the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency, north of Piqua, my mind takes me back to Heywood Elementary school days. Principal Charles Hormell arranged for a class trip to the historic site. In my imagination, I envisioned the Native Americans camped around the site, or arriving to visit Colonel Johnston.
I also recall the wonderful experience of the canal boat ride. Years later, I learned about the Randolph Freed People, who made their way north on the canal, and how they would have travelled that portion of the waterway next to the Johnston property.
My personal memories of the beeswax candles and the springhouse intermingled with those things I was taught, or learned later, still excite my imagination. All the while I was learning about how people lived in the past.
As I visit the old Miami County courthouse, I am always awed by the beauty of the architecture, as well as the detailed artwork throughout. Personally, I think of my great-grandfather, who was the Clerk of Clerks for a number of years, and imagine him working in his office to make sure the cases were efficiently ordered and prepared, as needed. But, what about the broader history? The court cases and famous trials which have taken place in that grand old courtroom are so plentiful it would keep John Fulker in the book writing business for a while, if he so chose to do so.
As one steps back and takes in the Piqua Library, Fort Piqua Plaza, as it was named, the history of the one-time hotel and the events and personalities she hosted are fascinating. Both Teddy Roosevelt and President Taft spoke from the hotel balcony during their 1912 presidential campaign stops. Harry Houdini, the world famous illusionist, spent a night in the hotel while in town.
Sometimes we get so busy or caught up in our world that we forget to reflect on the past. Recalling George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is appropriate. This could be good, in the case of great things; of course, it could also be bad, if we do not learn from our past.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to email@example.com