Matheson Museum Hosts First In-Person Event In Over A Year

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The Matheson History Museum is this weekend hosting its first hybrid event since the beginning of the pandemic.

It’s titled “Fiction from the Florida Frontier” and is billed as a “cross-medium reading” inspired by the Matheson History Museum’s collection. The event will be held on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Matheson, located on East University Avenue next to the Alachua County Library.

Author James Chapin will read from his debut novel, “Ride South Until the Sawgrass.” Admission is free, but registration to attend is required according to Curator of Collections and Acting Administrator Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney. The registration link is available on the Matheson History Museum’s website. Capacity at the museum will be limited to 50 people and masks will be required.

A virtual option is available through Zoom for those who cannot attend in person. After the event, a recording will be uploaded to the Matheson History Museum’s YouTube channel.

Despite living in Florida since he was 8 years old, Chapin said a lot of the state’s history was unknown to him.

“I grew up in Florida. I realized that there was a large aspect of its past and present that I never really read,” Chapin said.

Chapin graduated from the University of Florida in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in journalism.

“I was living in the Alachua County area and I kept coming across these glimpses into the state that felt like it needed to be dug into a bit more deeply,” Chapin said.

Chapin said that he focused on the time period of the Second Seminole War due to the impact it had on the state. His novel follows a family who moves to Florida during its early statehood and the challenges they experience.

Chapin said he used the Matheson History Museum’s archives to help conduct research for the book. It does not follow a specific family from history, but he said that he wanted to bring attention and stay true to the rich history that Florida has to offer.

Chapin’s book can be purchased online, but he suggests reaching out to local bookstores to purchase it.

“If you don’t have the book in your local bookstore, go up to your bookseller and ask them,” Chapin said. “They will get it in stock for you.”

This is the first in-person event being offered at the museum. The Matheson History Museum reopened its doors in April after over a year of being closed. The museum has been following strict COVID-19 regulations since its opening.

Masks are required at all times in the museum, a limited number of people are allowed entrance, and groups must maintain social distancing. Hof-Mahoney said that these regulations will extend from regular visiting hours to in-person events.

Currently, the museum has two exhibits. One exhibit, “Trailblazers: 150 Years of Alachua County Women,” focuses on the accomplishments of eleven diverse women from Alachua County in honor of the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.

The second exhibit, “McCarthy Moment: The Johns Committee in Florida,” focuses on the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee created in 1956 by state senator Charley Eugene Johns. The committee attempted to expose people who engaged in subversive activity.

“What that meant specifically in Gainesville was that they were looking for gay professors and students at the University of Florida,” Hof-Mahoney said.

Along with the two exhibits, the museum owns the Matheson House. The Matheson House, built in 1867, is one of the oldest residences in Gainesville. The museum offers tours of the house, but visitors must call ahead to schedule a tour.

During the year of closure, the museum wanted to find ways to keep a connection with the community. This prompted the creation of a COVID-19 community archive. The exhibit is online and features artwork, writings and other submissions from community members that detail their experience throughout the pandemic. Submissions are still being accepted and more details are available on the Matheson History Museum’s website.

All the exhibits, including the two being offered in-person, are available to experience online for those who do not feel comfortable or cannot make it to the museum. The Matheson History Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

About Megan Hartnett

Megan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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