By Dr. Mark Janzen, Director of Museum Studies at UCO
We all have moments in our lives that we want to remember. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and a hundred other special occasions mark the various stages in our lives. How we memorialize those occasions varies widely by personality, culture and the nature of the event being remembered. Since human beings are often defined by the objects they make and use, it should come as no surprise that we use objects associated with the events to remind us in the future.
Weddings particularly often become one of those pivotal events in our lives which define a general changing of status within society. For many centuries, in almost all human cultures, weddings have served to formally bond individuals in partnership and to define them in important cultural categories. The objects that go along with weddings have become some of the most culturally specific and historically studied categories of artifacts. Weddings are of such importance that we tend to not only memorialize the event itself annually, but we also categorize marriage over time and even celebrate it on behalf of others. A marriage that reaches several decades of anniversaries is considered a major achievement in modern society.
Museums remember history by collecting artifacts surrounding specific events and displaying them as part of exhibitions for the educational benefit of the community. For a museum, the story that accompanies an artifact is the most important element in whether or not to accept it into their collections. A good story often trumps aesthetic concerns and even monetary value. An object that can represent a time period, event, person, or concept through the story it tells is of inestimable value to the educational purpose of a museum. A set of related objects is then that much more valuable.
A recent donation to the Stillwater Historical Museum is an excellent case in point. In April, Greg and Steve Mosley donated an entire ensemble from their parent’s wedding in 1948. The materials were kept together and carefully preserved over the decades. One of the amazing things about this set is its completeness. There are lots of wedding dresses, and everyone has pictures of the events. However, the Mosleys’ donation includes not only photos and the wedding dress, but also a going away dress, a night gown, shoes, accessories, and even the bouquet. The set provides a snapshot of the wedding, as well as expectations and cultural norms in post-WWII America.
Lou Ann Claypool, born on August 22, 1920, came to Stillwater after graduating from an all-girls finishing school in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1937. Despite the necessity of taking care of sick relatives and younger siblings, she attended Oklahoma A&M in her spare time. Lou Ann majored in Spanish and graduated with honors in 1942, including Mortar Board, Orange Quill, Fourth Estate, and Orange and Black Quill. She was also a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She worked for the A&M Extension Department after graduation.
Horace Wilson Mosley, born on August 14, 1918 in Pawnee, Oklahoma, started at Oklahoma A&M in 1936. He joined Sigma Phi Epsilon and worked slowly and diligently. When World War II broke out, he joined the Marine Corps and became a Corsair fighter pilot in the Pacific theater. He earned several combat commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. Horace returned to A&M after the war to complete his degree in business administration.
One of Horace’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers, who happened to be dating one of Lou Ann’s friends, set him up on a blind date. Although not specifically interested in settling down, Horace and Lou Ann hit it off. They were married on May 14, 1948 by Reverend Hock at St. Andrew’s church on Knoblock. After the wedding they moved to Sapulpa, and then to Oklahoma City, where Horace took a position with the Caterpillar dealership. They moved to Tulsa in 1951, when a new dealership opened there. Horace and Lou Ann’s two sons, Steve and Greg, were born in 1951 and 1953. Both graduated from OSU in the 1970s. Horace passed away in 1998 at the age of 80, and Lou Ann lived another 16 years, passing in 2014 at the age of 93.
Stories and objects like this are why museums like the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar exist. They allow museum professionals and historians to study the past and to make sure we do not forget the contributions and memories of those who have gone before us. The Mosley collection encapsulates not only the life and history of a Stillwater and Oklahoma family, but also elements of the history of OSU, the WWII era, higher education, and community leadership. The collection will help the museum to share stories and history with future generations in a way that connects the past to the present through our love of objects.
The Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar is open to the public free of charge Tuesdays through Fridays from 11-5 and Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4. Visit www.sheerarmuseum.org to learn more.