Ypsilanti Coronavirus Digital Archive project aims to document everyday life during a pandemic

Dozens of users have contributed photos of life during the COVID-19 pandemic to a new Facebook group called the Ypsilanti Coronavirus Digital Archive, which aims to collect material for the Ypsilanti Historical Society's archives.


Kim Clarke, who has lived in Ypsi for 25 years, created the project. She says she has a "strong interest in history." Her day job is managing the Heritage Project, a website about the University of Michigan's history, and she has served on the Ypsilanti Historical Society's archives advisory board for several years.


The idea came to Clarke when the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order took effect and non-essential businesses were shutting down. Clarke went for a walk around Depot Town, just a few blocks from her Ypsi home, snapping pictures with her phone.


"I was passing every storefront and it was heartbreaking seeing all these different signs in the windows with messages about why they were closed," she says.


She went home and emailed Bill Nickels, president of the historical society, requesting his blessing for her idea of starting a Facebook group where Ypsi-area residents could share photos of what life is like during a pandemic. The idea was that the entries would be cataloged and eventually turned over to the historical society.


"Ideally, 100 years from now, people could look back and see what we were doing in Ypsilanti in 2020 during the coronavirus," she says. "I do a lot of historical research and I'm interested in what life was like for the everyday person."


She says history is "good at capturing what elected officials and leaders do" but that it is often hard to tell from the historical record what was going on in the world of "Joe and Jane Sixpack." Members are sharing those records of everyday life in the Facebook group, which has attracted 227 members and dozens of posts since it was created on March 23.


"We've got pictures of sidewalk chalk art, messages people have left in their windows, people showing off their masks, and showing what empty areas of town look like," Clarke says.


Nickels says he appreciates Clarke's idea and would like to expand on it.


"I would like to get a written history as well," he says. "Pictures tell a lot, but there are details in people's lives that are not completely described in pictures."


Nickels says he'd like to solicit written accounts of residents' experiences as well, either through social media, or in the historical society's quarterly publication, Gleanings. All Ypsi-area residents are invited to join the Facebook group and share their photos documenting life during the pandemic. Clarke says the group is private only to keep out spammers, and joining is an easy process.


The Ypsilanti Historical Society's museum and archives are located at 220 N. Huron St. in Ypsi. Once in-person visits are allowed again, the museum and archive will be free and open to the public as usual from 2-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Car photo courtesy of Jeremy Allen. All other photos courtesy of Kim Clarke.