WEEPING WATER – Erin Cejka arrived in Weeping Water this summer knowing that every object shares a story of someone’s history.
She has helped many of those tales come alive with her work for the Weeping Water Historical Society.
Cejka is interning for the organization as part of her studies at Northwest Missouri State University. She has already caused many smiles in the community by completing several restoration and preservation projects. These have included removing mold from a World War I uniform, repainting parts of a museum building and repairing a ventilation system for historical artifacts.
Cejka said she has enjoyed her job in Weeping Water because of the important role history plays in society.
“I’ve always had an interest in history because there’s a story behind every object,” Cejka said. “When you look at a bowl, it’s not just a bowl that’s sitting there behind a glass wall. Somebody used that bowl either for cooking or eating or holding something in it. There’s a real value that comes with that item because it was important to somebody.
“I love that part about history. When you look beyond the physical object you discover a lot about people, and it’s really fun and interesting.”
Cejka said she has been fascinated with history for her entire life. Her relatives were one of the first groups of settlers in Sarpy County, and an exhibit at the Sarpy County Museum includes objects they used when they first came to the future territory of Nebraska. She has also visited many museums and historical exhibits across the Midwest.
Cejka earned multiple academic honors at Gretna High School and was involved in many extracurricular activities. These included show choir, concert choir, marching band, symphonic band and speech. She then went to Northwest Missouri State, where she is currently majoring in history with a minor in public history and museum studies.
The university program required Cejka to fulfill a minimum of 136 hours for her Weeping Water internship. One of her first assignments was completing restoration work at the Weeping Water Memory Lane Museum and Soda Fountain. She installed new film on windows to protect objects from ultraviolet light, chipped away old paint from the front of the building and began repairing deteriorating wood panels.
“It’s not the first thing you think of when you’re talking about history, but it’s important for the building and the items inside the building,” Cejka said. “Doing this kind of restoration work has been fun. It’s been nice to see the type of transformation that can happen.”
Cejka has also spent more than 20 hours removing mold from various objects at the Heritage House Museum. She first takes objects outside in the sunshine and keeps them there for at least 15 minutes. She then applies rubbing alcohol to the affected spots and uses soft Q-tips to brush away the mildew.
Those techniques have helped Cejka restore a large bison bone, an old coat made of horsehair and a German helmet from World War I. She also poured her time into rehabilitating a vintage World War I uniform. The exhibit includes coats, pants, a gas mask, boot-like leg coverings and a knapsack. She was able to remove multiple white mildew blemishes from all of the items.
Cejka also teamed up with local residents to create a new ventilation system for the World War I uniform exhibit. The new vents will help prevent similar mold problems from returning in the future.
“It won’t be a super-noticeable thing because the vents are at the top of the display, but it’s something that’s really key to have,” Cejka said. “It will help preserve this uniform and these items for future generations to look at and learn from. I’m very excited about that.”
Cejka said one of her favorite experiences from her internship happened during Limestone Days in late June. She helped serve ice cream in the soda fountain section of the Memory Lane Museum and watched more than 200 people stream into the building. Conversations soon began taking place between different generations of residents about all of the historical objects.
“It was really neat to see,” Cejka said. “There were people in here who were telling their grandchildren about different things that happened in their lives, and it was so great to see them pass down those stories. I loved watching that.”
Cejka said her time in Weeping Water has also affirmed her belief in the significance of museums in today’s culture. One of the objects in the Heritage House Museum is a Peabody military rifle with an attached bayonet from the Civil War. Cejka was working with the item and realized how difficult it was for soldiers to march with it. That gave her a deeper appreciation for the people involved in the conflict and helped her draw a straight line from 1864 to 2018.
“When you see these things firsthand in a museum, you start to really make a connection with the people who used them,” Cejka said. “When you look at that rifle you begin to think about how heavy it was and what it must have been like to carry that in all sorts of weather and battles.
“You can’t get that from a textbook or a lecture or looking at something on a computer. You can only get that experience from viewing it firsthand and making that connection with the past. That’s why it’s so exciting to be in this field. I’m grateful that I have an opportunity to help keep this history alive so people can enjoy it in the future.”