By Thomas F. Schwartz, Director, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th. It was given new meaning when we received word to close the museum and library to the public until public health officials determined that the coronavirus spread through public transmission had abated. This decision was not taken lightly and anticipated many more closures of public and private institutions and facilities with each passing day. Our small staff will continue to come to work and answer public questions over the phone and through email. Some staff will opt to telework. This decision will obviously disappoint people who had planned trips to see our museum, researchers who wished to use our collections, and those who wished to attend our public programs. Our first goal is to protect the health and safety of our staff and our visitors even if it requires sacrifice. No one likes uncertainty. Nevertheless, that will be our lot for the near future.
Herbert Hoover lived a life through many uncertain events. He and his family survived the flu epidemic of 1918-1920 that killed perhaps up to 100 million people. His eldest son contracted and overcame tuberculosis. Polio was also a constant threat until Jonas Salk developed a vaccine in 1955. Hoover witnessed two world wars, several police actions, numerous economic panics including the Great Depression, and the threat of nuclear destruction. His ninety-year life was one of continuous uncertainty. He realized that persistence prevails when all else fails. He remained persistent in his feeding efforts of Belgium during WWI and with all his humanitarian service when larger forces worked to undermine his efforts. During the darkest days of the Depression, he continued to try different approaches to end it. As private citizen he raised tens of millions of dollars to support organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to mitigate social ills. Our situation today is the same uncertainty every generation faces. We must have the intelligence and persistence to grapple with it.
It should be noted that the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site remains open at the time of this writing. An open-air park is much different from a confined museum and library space. We know that our closure will have an economic impact on us and many of the local business that rely on robust visitation. With patience and persistence, we will all get through this rough patch.