The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, May 20, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County Historical Museum will take you on a date, 20th century style

date night contrib.jpeg

An Orange County exhibit opening virtually on Thursday will look at the ways that dating has changed since the beginning of the 20th century. Photo courtesy of Courtney Smith.

Ever wondered what dating was like in the 1900s? Jealous of the social scene in the '70s? Fashion in the ‘80s? 

The Orange County Historical Museum is hosting a walk down memory lane with its upcoming “Date Night” exhibit, which will take attendees through an entire century of dating in Orange County. 

Also called “Date Night! Orange County Fashion, Food, Music & Fun,” the exhibit will open virtually on Thursday at 7 p.m. The museum will open its doors to in-person visitors on a reservation basis through the following Friday to Sunday. 

And forget the awkwardness of splitting checks or arguing over who’s paying, because this is one date night that will be completely free. Time slots must be booked through the website or over the phone with a group of up to six people, and tickets are at no cost. 

Museum Site Manager Tanya Day said the museum wanted to host an exhibit that reflected the unity and sentimentality of the past.

“We wanted something that was fun, we wanted something that would really get people reminiscing and talking with each other,” Day said. “Something that was colorful, that was different. We've all been through a really tough year, and so we wanted something that would make people smile.”

Museum Curator Courtney Smith came up with the idea for the “Date Night” exhibit last year and said it was entirely dependent on the museum's success in crowdsourcing historical artifacts from the local community.

“Generally dates involve food, there’s usually a soundtrack for your date and then you do something fun, something special, something out of the ordinary,” Smith said. “We’re looking at all of those things, and then we just asked people, ‘What have you got?’”

Day said it was important to portray artifacts that come directly from the people of Orange County.

“Over 80 percent of what we are showcasing comes directly from Orange County residents,” Day said. “This is a reflection of who they are. We are only here to be that reflection – to show them what they have, what they’ve experienced. This is their museum, it’s not up to us to make the narrative.”

Smith also said the exhibit will reflect Orange County’s rich musical tradition throughout the decades.

“Because music is so important, we have a 1920s record player, a 1930s radio, a 1950s transistor radio, an eight-track stereo from the '70s, a boombox from the '80s that John Cusack would’ve been holding up from ‘Say Anything,’ and then a '90s CD player,” Smith said.

Reflecting on her inspiration for this exhibit, Smith said although it may seem silly, she was actually inspired by one of America’s biggest reality TV shows.

“This past year was such a difficult year in terms of COVID and politics,” Smith said. “We wanted to do something that was universally fun in terms of uniting people, and something I noticed last year that everyone seemed to get behind was 'The Bachelor.' It didn't matter how far to the right, how far to the left you were – that was like the one happy moment.”

First-year Ainsley Cogburn is looking forward to attending the exhibit because of the emphasis on romance throughout the decades.

“I think the most exciting part is seeing the way love is portrayed in different decades because now I feel like love is portrayed in a solid, social media sense, and you see this idealized version of love and you forget what it was like before Instagram and Tinder and Bumble and all those dating apps,” Cogburn said. “The natural progression of love throughout the decades is really interesting to see.”

Day said she is most excited for attendees to be able to connect with each other, even through generational divides.

“I think they’re going to love all of it, but more so they’re going to love the opportunity to talk with the groups that they come in with, because some of it goes back to the early 1900s, but the rest of it is within living memory,” Day said. “So if we have a multi-generational group come in, the grandma can say ‘Oh my gosh, I had a pair just like this,’ and the grandkid can go, ‘Well I don’t even know what that is.’”

Attendees might think they have a lot of dating history — but the museum will give them a whole century’s worth.

“We’ll look at each decade of the 20th century, so you can see continuity and change throughout the century,” Smith said. “For each decade we’re also going to have a feature date – a popular activity that you could have done in Orange County. In the 1900s, it’s country dance, banjo, music and the neighbors getting together. In the 1910s it was going to a baseball game, so we have an old baseball glove, a baseball bat, some of the old tobacco cards and a Cheerwine bottle.”

From history buffs to 2000s kids, Smith said the beauty of this exhibit is in the name.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“The exhibit’s going to be a great place to go on a date night,” Smith said. “Need something to do on a date night? Come here.”