Topeka Public Library: tell your pandemic story


Submitted by Christie Appelhanz

Sunshine and Googly-Eyes: One of Appelhanz’s submissions for A Moment in Time exhibition. A tasteful rendition of life during COVID.

On Friday Oct. 9, the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library unveiled their latest project, “A Moment in Time: Our Local Responses to a Global Crisis”.

“A Moment in Time” is a community-collaborative exhibition that will display photos, written work, 3D art and videos collected or created during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The submitted pieces focus on seven categories: isolated connections, where did you get that mask?, then and now, 1918 vs 2020, until further notice, get off the bench, health matters, and remembering.

Donna Rae Pearson, local history librarian, and Debbie Stanton, public services supervisor, both have stand-out submissions they are excited for the community to see.

One of Pearson’s favorite submissions is a story written by a Topeka gentleman who ordered toilet paper online due to the frenzy of toilet paper buying in the beginning of the pandemic.

“It turns out that the toilet paper was coming from China and it arrived about four months later…with Chinese writing and instructions on it. I think it is absolutely hilarious,” Pearson said.

This story is one of the lighthearted submissions you can expect to see in the exhibition. However, while amusing moments have existed during the pandemic, there have also been difficult ones.

Stanton’s favorite submission is one that will tug at your heart. A Topeka family submitted images from their mother’s funeral that show how they dealt with navigating restrictions of the pandemic.

“There was one image in particular that we all were blown away by,” Stanton said. “They’re all in these little family clusters but distanced apart from each other. It just said so much; it had a really big impact.”

A third submission in the exhibition is from a local woman, Christie Appelhanz. She submitted a few artifacts, including her 4-year-old’s artwork that features sayings about handwashing and germs, her 14-year-old’s sign from a peaceful assembly against racism, a few quotes from her children’s journals and a photo of an 8th grade drive-through promotion.

When submitting these artifacts, Appelhanz thought about her unique experiences.

“I just offer the perspective of an ordinary Topekan who was an essential worker and mom during the pandemic. I don’t want to lose the human impact as we all try to make sense of this shared experience,” Appelhanz said.

The library’s history and gallery departments have been working diligently to display these submissions and bring the exhibition to life. They have had two goals in mind: engage the community in larger conversations to let people know they are not alone and to preserve history as it occurs.

Appelhanz agrees that it is important to preserve history. “We’re all living in an unprecedented moment in history,” Appelhanz said. “We don’t know how COVID will ultimately go down in history, but we can’t wait until the end of the story to start recording our experiences.”

Because history is continuing to be made, submissions will remain open during the exhibition. Artifacts can be submitted here []. The exhibition will be held from Oct. 9 through Nov. 29 in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.

Stanton is optimistic that the exhibition will help the community to heal and to find a sense of togetherness.

“I’m hoping it’s an exhibit people will walk into and will remember…early stuff that happened in the pandemic,” Stanton said. “I think people [will] look and be like ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot about that; I forgot it was such a big deal at the time.’ And some remembering of what they’ve gone through themselves, so some reflection, and what we’ve gone through as a community.”

Edited by Shelby Spradling, Jason M., Matthew Self