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Early History of Toledo's Attic

by Dr. Timothy Messer-Kruse, 1997

What do glass bottles, graffiti, and the jazz pianist Art Tatum all have in common? All were products of Twentieth-Century Toledo.* This autumn, the Lucas County-Maumee Valley Historical Society will launch the first phase of its project to document and exhibit the history of Twentieth-Century Toledo. Going by the name of "Toledo's Attic Virtual Museum," this project focuses on the development of industry, technology, labor, and culture in the city of Toledo. Drawing upon an extensive base of historical information and imagery, drawn from the local history collections of the Toledo Lucas County Library, the University of Toledo Carlson Library, as well as other regional museums and archives, the Toledo's Attic Virtual Museum aims to present a detailed historical portrait of Toledo's modern era through the interactive technology of the World Wide Web.

Such "virtual" museums are becoming more common. Most museums now advertise themselves by placing a selection of their exhibits "on line." These virtual museum sites range from the simple display of hours, fees, and holdings information to vast repositories of historical photographs, galleries, and interpretive exhibits (such as the National Museum of History's site at Some museums have gone beyond merely being repositories to creatively simulating the museum experience itself. New York's Lower East Side Tenement Museum begins with a picture of a tenement and upon "clicking" on a window, the viewer is shown a picture and the story of one of the many families that lived in that room. ( The potential of such virtual museums lies in their modularity and their interactivity. They can begin modestly and expand with the collection and historical scope of the exhibits. They also allow for the submission and display of letters, primary historical documents, photographs, oral interviews, and interpretations from the public.

Over the past several months the Toledo's Attic Virtual Museum has received sufficient grants from the Ohio Humanities Council, the C.O. Miniger Foundation, and the University of Toledo to begin initial research and programming this summer. Beginning in June a team of researchers from the University of Toledo's History Department will begin sifting through local archival collections and selecting those images, documents, and artifacts that best represent various landmarks in the city's history. These sources will then be digitized, arranged, and captioned, and loaded onto a computer server that will display them on demand to anyone in the world connected to the internet. Because the internet allows for two-way communication, the Toledo's Attic Virtual Museum will invite its viewers to contribute their suggestions for exhibits, and will incorporate the suggestions and criticisms of the public into its structure over time.

Once its graphical architecture is in place and the initial historical collecting and digitizing has been done, the virtual museum's exhibit and content base will gradually grow with the input and participation of the public. Hopefully, private hobbyists and collectors will be encouraged to share their cherished items electronically in a revolving "exhibit of the month" feature.

Toledo's Attic Virtual Museum will include the following "exhibit halls":

1. A Chronology of Toledo's Industrial Past : An interpretive narrative of Toledo's development as an industrial city and its role in the wider development of specific technologies and productive innovations. This narrative will be illustrated with historical photographs, patent drawings, newspaper clippings, and other primary documents.

2. Today in Toledo's History. Every day a few interesting local events from that day in the past will be recounted. In this way the viewing audience will see something new every time they visit the museum through their computer.

3. Toledo's Attic: An inventory, complete with photographs, of physical artifacts in storage at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, the Maumee Valley Historical Society, and other archives that may someday become the core of an actual "Museum of Industrial Toledo." Interactive means for the submission of proposed additions to this collection will be provided and the public will be appealed to for the donation of artifacts relevant to this future museum collection.

4. Toledo History Roundtable: An interactive and ongoing discussion open to the entire public (though moderated by scholars) that attempts to answer vexing questions and create a fuller picture of various historical episodes in Toledo's past.

5. Toledo History Links: A directory of listings of other electronic internet resources relevant to Toledo's past.

6. Bibliography of Toledo Industrial History: A listing of resources relating to Toledo's industrial history, including many full text documents and manuscripts.

These are just a few of the features planned for Toledo's Attic Virtual Museum. We are kicking around other ideas, such as a "Then and Now" exhibit that will present a photograph of some local landmark in the past that will slowly dissolve into a recent photograph of the same site from the same angle. We hope to involve local schools in the museum by providing a forum for the display of student work on local historical topics, from essays to, perhaps, oral interviews with their elders. Hopefully, the seed planted this summer will continue to grow with public input and become a useful community resource.

After Labor Day, 1997, point your browser to to check out our museum.