Delving into the past can reveal treasure

By Carol Walker


About a year or so ago, at a thrift store, I purchased a plain clear drinking glass with a simple pheasant etched on the side. The thought came to me that I could, over time, find other glasses similar in design and use them as a set. Of course, I haven’t seen any glasses like that since, except maybe a few with Fred Flintstone on the side, not exactly what I had in mind.

Why not just go to a store and buy a set of glasses? I suppose for me, the glasses remind me of a set my mother once had, a bit of nostalgia. Perhaps that is one of the reasons other people like old stuff, but it could be they want to decorate their houses in a shabby chic style, or maybe they like the idea of just repurposing things instead of sending them to the landfill. In the case of the serious antique collector, perhaps they are looking for the historical or monetary value of the item, or maybe they are looking for the story behind the old thing.

I suppose you could say that people who delve back into history are looking for the story behind a particular event, such as what you might find at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum in Hill City. Old pictures and artifacts tell the story of what those men experienced back in the 1930s.

A couple weeks ago during the CCC open house, I met a woman who was trying to find out more information about her father. She had a photograph of him in his CCC uniform, standing near a lake somewhere in South Dakota, but she didn’t know exactly where he had spent his stint in the CCC.

Peggy Sanders authored one of the “Images of America” series of books containing about 200 old photographs of life in CCC camps in and around the Black Hills. She has spent hundreds of hours researching their lives and helping others to find out more information about their loved ones. She helped the woman I met at the open house. Anyone interested in additional information on a friend or family member can send in a form, available at the CCC museum or online, to the National Archives in St. Louis requesting personnel records of a CCC participant.

Sanders, Jay Hendrickson, Otto Bochman, Kerry Conner and others are doing a great work at the local CCC Museum, preserving the stories of men who are a part of our local history. Very little is left of the camp buildings – a few buildings behind the Visitor Information Center, one at the Black Hills Playhouse and the Silver Dollar Saloon, an outhouse now used as a garden shed and a building in Custer repurposed for a guest cabin, not many more than that. However, one can’t go far in the Black Hills without seeing the results of the CCC projects; lakes, fire towers, caves and roads are all lasting reminders of the work of the CCC camps.

Collecting old glasses can be much like a treasure hunt, but learning about something like the CCC that influenced what we see around us today is a much bigger treasure hunt. We have a great little museum in Hill City that tells the story, and if you haven’t seen it, take time to visit.