Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Creativity During the COVID-19 Crisis

May 15, 2020 Think THF

Matzoh ball soup, slices of challah, and Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda: our recreation of a post-Broadway-show meal at Junior’s in Times Square

My family and I had just returned from a week at Walt Disney World in early March, where the crowds were thick and frequent handwashing was all that was yet advised.  But two days after our return, the first two cases of COVID-19 were reported in Michigan, and things spiraled quickly after that.  On Thursday of that week, March 12, we were sent home from The Henry Ford, as the museum closed its doors to safeguard against further spread of the virus. 

Over the next few weeks, everything turned upside down, as those of us who could worked from home—connecting virtually with colleagues, carving out workspaces, and getting used to our families being around.  Beyond this, the distractions were constant.  We were shocked—sometimes even paralyzed—by the daily news of shutdowns, cancellations, and the rapid spread of the virus.  Southeast Michigan appeared to be especially hard-hit.

As was New York City—the place to which my daughter, Caroline, and I were supposed to be heading in mid-April. 

This would have been our sixth annual trip to New York City.  It started when Caroline (as the Accessibility Specialist at The Henry Ford) wanted to observe the many programs offered at museums there for the different audiences with which she works.  Having been to New York City several times myself, I offered to help her navigate the city—with the added bonuses of checking out some museums we had never been to, visiting my high-school friend in Brooklyn, and sampling the amazing food that the city has to offer—especially, for me personally, returning to my roots and getting some of the best Jewish food around.  Sure, and along the way, visiting such icons as Times Square (maybe taking in a show), Grand Central Station, and Central Park.  This time of year, the city is awash in color—blooming trees and flowers where you least expect them in a city that boasts skyscrapers so high they can completely block the sun onto entire streets.

Grand Central
Watching the crowds ebb and flow in a virtual scene of Grand Central Station

We planned our trip months ago and eagerly looked forward to it.  Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  By late March, it became apparent that our anticipated trip was not going to happen.  First, our hotel informed us that it was closing.  Then Broadway shows shut down.  We finally forced ourselves, sadly and reluctantly, to cancel our plane flight.  That was it.  Trip over.

But, then, something interesting happened.  In early April, inspired by watching a virtual reimagining of Ann Arbor’s FoolMoon event, Caroline posed the question:  Could we turn our New York City trip into a virtual experience?

Our creative juices started flowing.  We took our original itinerary and planned five days of food, video clips, and virtual museum tours to recreate a New York City trip at home.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Watching several high-energy video clips from the Broadway show "Ain't Too Proud," about the Motown group, The Temptations.

YouTube video footage of “Ain’t Too Proud”

  • Taking virtual tours of museums we had planned to visit, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters, and the Tenement Museum.

A virtual walkthrough of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • "Visiting" our favorite Lower East Side shops through videos and virtual tours, including: Economy Candy (accompanied by our own homemade chocolate-covered pretzels), The Pickle Guys (while eating some great Kosher dill pickles), and Russ & Daughters (after cooking up some scrambled eggs with lox, or smoked salmon).

Our homemade chocolate-covered pretzels

  • Recreating the meals we would have enjoyed at different restaurants, including baking three different kinds of bread from scratch: Jewish challah (egg bread), bialys (kind of like bagels), and Italian focaccia bread.

Our bialys just out of the oven

  • Taking a virtual tour of Central Park, through videos, books, snapshots, and a walk outside.
  • Having a virtual dinner and visit, via FaceTime, with my friend from Brooklyn.
  • Pulling out souvenirs and postcards from previous trips to New York City and displaying them on our dining room table, which helped spur happy memories during our five-day home “adventure.” 

Our display of souvenirs and postcards

This idea kept us busy for weeks—from planning each day out to obtaining cooking ingredients, researching online offerings, preparing meals, baking, eating, visiting, and just plain enjoying family togetherness.  We’re already working on our next virtual trip—to San Francisco, another highly anticipated but cancelled trip we had planned for May. 

A recreation of our classic final meal, from Katz’s Delicatessen: a corned beef sandwich on rye with yellow mustard and a pile of Kosher dill pickles

We highly recommend this idea if you were hoping to go on a trip that got cancelled or just want to do some armchair travelling.  Just imagine what you could do if you planned a virtual visit to The Henry Ford:

The possibilities are endless!

Admittedly, these times are surreal.  And discouraging.  And scary.  But it helps to think creatively.  Planning this virtual trip gave us purpose, a modicum of control, and a chance to put on our creative thinking caps.  It also gave us something to look forward to and I’m sure will be something we look back on when this crisis is over. 

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry FordPhotographs by Caroline Braden.

Michigan, 21st century, 2020s, New York, travel, home life, COVID 19 impact, by Donna R. Braden

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