Those of us in the local history museum business sometimes struggle to connect with the large segment of the general population that doesn’t see the relevance of history. They are busy with their everyday lives; schedules of work, family and leisure time. Trying to get their attention and then bring them to a history based event can be challenging.
A few years ago at a Fenton History Center Board of Trustee meeting (Fenton History Center is in Jamestown, Chautauqua County, NY) we were brainstorming about how to collect and disseminate more local Italian genealogy and the stories that go with the families involved. One of the Fenton History Center Trustees suggested we hold a pizza judging event. We tabled the idea until last year when we started the “Slice of History Pizza Challenge”.
The first year, having no idea how many community members would attend, we held it in the Fenton Mansion, the 1863 Italianate Villa home of NY State’s 25th Governor, Reuben E. Fenton. Thirteen pizza vendors gave away sample sized slices to over 100 community members while our volunteer and staff genealogists/researchers were chatting with the attendees that had Italian heritage. We also scanned their family images on the spot, gathered the information and then returned the images. It was a busy, crowded, but fruitful event.
This year we were only able to gather seven vendors together, but it was enough to fill a new, larger venue with the smell of pizza. Ticket holders had to walk through two areas before they got to the pizza. They experienced some of the Italian Heritage Dancers performance and looked at the dozen eight-foot tables covered with family trees and associated images and then got to the pizza. At the end of the event we raffled off some prizes, awarded the favorite pizza awards and enjoyed some dancing.
We gathered lots more information, opened many non-history loving folk’s eyes to the amount of history in the Italian community and made new friends that want to share their family stories. All because pizza was the hook. Next year we will have Italian music all afternoon, expand the dancers program to help teach us non-Italians more about their heritage and hopefully expand the pizza offerings.
What food can you use to hook your community?
Photos: This year’s Slice of History Pizza Challenge event.
This post is part of The New York History Blog’s Share Your Story series. To contribute a story about what your organization is up to, see our submission guidelines.