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New realities of running a historic site in the time of COVID-19

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

All of our loyal "The Keeper's Times" subscribers have been reading regular updates about an ever-evolving series of postponements and cancellations of regularly scheduled operations, programs, and special events. We wanted to check in with an in-depth look at the challenges COVID-19 has presented in operating a museum and historic site along with insights about what the Old Baldy Foundation has been doing to fulfill its mission of historic preservation and educational outreach in these times.

When we first realized COVID-19 would bear a significant impact on our lives and business in early March, staff immediately began preparing how to weather a few weeks of closures and canceled programs. Little did we realize this global health crisis would shut the doors of Old Baldy for the entire summer season and require the cancellation of most festivities. Throughout the spring and early summer, Old Baldy Foundation remained hopeful we would have the ability to reopen and host programs and events throughout the season. For this reason, we kept moving forward with plans for many festivities for the summer. Although it could have saved time and effort to immediately cancel all of our events, our optimism kept us hopeful we would be able to celebrate the legacy of Old Baldy with our community throughout the summer!

While we navigated the tricky waters of how and when to cancel programs over the season, one principle rang true to the Old Baldy Foundation throughout COVID-19. That principle was our ability to continue educating on the histories of Smith Island and the Cape Fear region which became the center focus of our summer work. Though traditional in-person learning occasions such as lectures, living history, field trips and more were canceled, virtual learning presented new opportunities to serve our mission.

 During the initial shut down in late March, we immediately transition into a series of virtual education series led by Old Baldy historian Travis Gilbert. These series explored the Old Baldy Foundation archival collections and offered virtual tours of Bald Head Island. This was met with immediate success and the videos averaged around 1,000 viewers each. Many teachers and parents with new roles as home school teachers used these videos as educational resources for their students. When we realized the closure of Old Baldy and the Smith Island Museum of History was going to last longer than anticipated, we expanded our educational offerings. New features included a series of guest speakers from history organizations across the state and a new video series exploring the lives of Lighthouse Keepers on BHI.

In addition to expanding our virtual programming, staff developed on-island socially distant learning opportunities. Our stand out historic tour program was able to resume for the summer. Changes were made to the tour to ensure the safety of all guests and staff, but we have been able to continue educating in this family-friendly way all summer! A new weekly activity was debuted- "History Hunter's on Bald Head Island". This program allowed on island participants to find a puzzle on our website that was published once weekly. The puzzle could only be solved by answering a series of Bald Head Island history questions which then revealed a location. Whoever found the location first collected a red flag and returned it to Old Baldy for an educational prize. We were thrilled to see that many weeks the flag was found within one hour of publishing the puzzle.

With our staff accustomed to providing hands-on learning experiences, it was a unique and compelling new challenge to adjust to a virtual format. Because of this new reality, our staff has created an excellent educational resource that history lovers will be able to utilize long after COVID-19 is behind us. A youtube channel hosts all of our virtual programmings and coming soon a blog will be available that features the research projects of our history staff. While this pandemic has created many challenges for our organization, having this time has allowed us to create a new library of education resources accessible to anyone!

Most importantly, the Old Baldy Foundation would like to thank our community for sticking with us in these trying times! All summer we have seen our loyal supporters enter our gift store or shop online for their annual souvenir even though they couldn't climb to the top. Although the few events we have been able to host have been smaller versions of the normal festivity, our guests have been eager to participate and have come with their Old Baldy spirit! It is the encouragement for our community and generous donors that allowed us to push through the trying times and remain focused on our mission. Although COVID-19 may stay with us for the foreseeable future, the Old Baldy Foundation will be able to weather the hardships and continue being an integral part of the Bald Head Island community!

Staff was thrilled to hear when North Carolina moved into phase 2.5 of the reopening process, which allows museums and historic sites to operate at a reduced capacity. We thank the community for allowing us time to prepare our reopening plans to open with the utmost confidence in the safety precautions for guests and staff.


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