NASCAR trophy

A NASCAR trophy was loaned to the Orange County Historical Museum for it's Date Night exhibit.

Do you remember your first date? Do you remember what you did, where you went? Did you go to a movie or to dinner? Maybe you went to a concert, or a race. An upcoming exhibit at the Orange County Historical Museum might help jar your memory.

“Date Night: Orange County Fashion, Food, Music, and Fun” will begin its run at the museum April 22, and open to the public April 23. The museum has been collecting artifacts from its own collection and calling on members of the Orange County community to contribute memorabilia and items from their own dating experiences. The light-hearted exhibit may be just what the area needs to boost morale in the midst of pandemic restrictions.

“I just wanted to do something that was fun, something that everybody gets excited about,” said Courtney Smith, exhibits and program coordinator. 

Smith said she noticed during Covid that people were finding an escape through watching TV shows, like “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and how dating during the pandemic has put a whole new spin on distance relationships.

The Date Night exhibit will also take a look at the methods with which people met, whether at church, high school football games, concerts at Central High School, newspaper personal ads, and online dating sites.

“Use of the personal ad as a dating tool began in the 1800s,” said Tanya Day, site manager at the museum. “Their popularity has surged and waned throughout the years. They were especially popular in the 1970s and 1980s.”

The response has been impressive. Smith and Day have received clothing from different decades, records, jewelry, love letters, and photos. “A lot of people have shared their stories as well,” Smith said. “Even if they didn’t have any artifacts to bring just hearing about what that time was like, what their experiences were like, just sort of guided the direction we took. We’re still getting things. All we’re doing is collecting it and showcasing it in a coherent manner. But it’s really the community that is doing the bulk of the work of deciding what the exhibit is.”

What may surprise some is the amount of auto racing memorabilia. There are photos from the Occoneechee Speedway and even a trophy.

“I think one of my favorite images has been thinking about the Speedway and how dirty and dusty it was to be in the stands,” Day said. “And they still wore pearls and rolled their hair.”

While it’s not uncommon for community members to loan personal items to the museum for use in exhibits, this marks the first time an exhibit has been chiefly driven by contributions from the public. “We’re supposed to be telling the history of the county,” Smith said. “Everybody has treasures at home, and that’s great.”

Smith and Day plan to have Orange County areas and towns represent a specific year. “But we want to stress that there was no way we can tell everything that happened over 100 years. The good thing about the exhibit is that even as we go on, if people say, ‘oh you’re missing this,’ we can add more to it. We’re trying to tell you as much of an inclusive story as possible. We did feature a date, which doesn’t mean that was the only thing to do or even that everybody did that. Just that this would have been a fun thing to do in that decade.”

The exhibit will open to the public April 23. For now, the Orange County Historical Museum is open by reservation on weekends, although hours and methods of operation could be affected based on changes in Covid restrictions.