Visit The Lake Wales History Museum Virtually
by James Coulter
The Lake Wales History Museum may be closed to the public, but the public can still visit the museum and peruse its many exhibits—albeit through cyberspace.
The museum recently launched its Virtual Museum, which will allow patrons and guests to explore the museum and engage in various educational experiences including online videos, exhibits, and virtual tours.
As the museum is owned and operated by the City of Lake Wales, it is governed by the city that determines whether or not public facilities such as the museum can re-open; thus far, they have determined the current conditions surrounding the COVID-19 are not yet safe enough to re-open the museum, explained Museum Director Jennifer D’Hollander.
Patrons and guests can tour the museum and its exhibits virtually, either by watching a video tour of the facility, or by perusing the museum exhibits virtually with photographs and descriptions detailing the history of the city and surrounding community.
While the museum itself is closed to the public, locals and visitors alike can learn more about the city simply by taking a walk. By downloading the “virtual walking tour” app to their phone or mobile device, they can tour the city at their leisure and learn more about historic landmarks—all while practicing social distancing!
Aside from permanent exhibits, patrons and guests can also take a virtual look at traveling exhibits. From now until Sept. 26, they can check out the “Florida Before Statehood” exhibit by the Museum of Florida History, which details the history of Florida before it became an official state.
“It is interesting to learn about the history that we may not get to see or hear about very often like pre-colonization and [about] Native Americans,” said D’Hollander. “The exhibit was [created to celebrate] Florida’s 500 anniversary.”
On the fourth Wednesday of every month, the museum hosts itsmonthly book club. Every month, participants read a non-fiction book selection and discuss its contents in-person at the museum.
Currently, the book club is being hosted virtually on-line through the museum website. Not only does it allow current members to continue their meetings, but also allows members out of town or state to continue visiting long-distance, Hollander explained.
“One nice thing about these programs is that we [can] reach people who are homebound for whatever reason…either they are a snowbird that lives up north or they live outside of the city limits,” she said. “It has been a nice way to keep that [group] going, and we [can] keep it going as long as we can.”
The COVID-19 crisis has proven quite a challenge for the museum. One big challenge has been keeping connected with people. The museum relies heavily on donations from patrons who enter its doors, and they host various events throughout the year to engage with residents. The museum remaining closed has cut off that sense of connection, Hollander said.
“The other big challenge is that we have not been hosting any fundraising because donors are not sure about the economy right now,” she said. “These are uncertain times, [and] you do not focus on that thing, so we actually halted our efforts, but we hope things will turn around, and it has not affected us too dramatically, the city has taken good care of us.”
When the museum eventually re-opens in the future, they hope to continue providing the virtual museum experience as well as the real-life experience, thus providing various venues through which to enjoy the museum facility and learn about the surrounding community.
“We really miss the interpersonal connection by having the real in-person programs,” she said. “Our expectation is that we can provide a safe and healthy environment with precautions. Our city leadership and guidelines. We will be keeping people safe and continue to offer activities in a variety of ways.”
Visit the Lake Wales Virtual Museum at: https://www.cityoflakewales.com/833/The-Virtual-Museum