LAKE CITY -- Zach Blankenship of Florence has toted and fetched his way into a job with the Lynches Lake Historical Society and Museum in Lake City.
After volunteering and then interning with the society and museum for a little more than two years, the Francis Marion University history and geography student began his job as an interpreter with the museum in June.
Blankenship puts a younger face on history. Twice a year, April and October, the society and museum host “back country days,” an opportunity for residents to see blacksmithing, bowl turning, surveying, and more early American crafts on display and explained.
Blankenship and a group of other would-be historians from FMU, led by the efforts of history professor and vice president for student life Chris Kennedy, helped re-enactors and living-history demonstrators by helping set up their exhibits, dressing in period clothing and being gophers for the two-member staff of the society and museum.
In short, Blankenship helped Kent Daniels and Dale Smith bring history to life. After listening and watching and learning during those two years, Blankenship now offers a new face to the generations of storytelling in Lake City.
Daniels, a Lake City native, is well-known for his 40-plus years of teaching history. He is also is a researcher, genealogist, editor of the Lynches Lake Gazette and master presenter of history at monthly symposiums. Smith is a Johnsonville native, a longtime Revolutionary War and Civil War era re-enactor, relic hunter and historical preservationist.
Blankenship has had a passion for history since his elementary school days, he said. That love for history was fostered by teachers like Natalie Knight in his youngest years, Ross Hill in high school at South Florence, and in college by “the entire history department.”
“It’s hard to go to Francis Marion and take a history class and not fall in love with history,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship’s job at the society and museum is to lead tours of the building and its exhibits, assist Daniels and Smith in their research and other undertakings, and to make sure things in the building and on the grounds are safe for the public.
He is also responsible for the social media aspect of the society and museum’s online presence. Once a week, Blankenship posts a trivia question to the society and museum’s FaceBook and Instagram accounts. It’s his job to grow that online audience.
“As an intern, there was a lot of helping out," Blankenship said. "You know, just doing whatever was asked of you. … Now I’m also one of the ones telling the story of the building (a former infirmary built in 1938-39), helping with exhibits, that sort of thing.”
Blankenship said he is “sort of the future” of telling the history of the area to visitors.
“History is not dead. It is living,” Blankenship said. “History tells us and reminds us every day about life. … Stuff happens millions of years ago and it still affects us today.”
From Greek and Roman myths, to World War II to the story of the “great bank robbery” (of 1934) in Lake City, Blankenship loves discussing and bringing history alive.
“Two million dollars were stolen from the Lake City bank during the Depression, and the town still thrived,” he said.
“This work brings history to life. … Through the telling and showing, we can make history applicable to today … History is not dull and just something in the books. It is living and speaking…” Blankenship said. “History is dirty, it’s not Disney (quoting a professor at Francis Marion). … As David McCullough (historian and author) says, ‘History is who we are and why we are the way we are.’
“I really just want to give back. I want to be a part of teaching history to the next generation. Here we have native American history of the Pee Dee area, how the local area was a part of national history (Revolutionary War and more) and some about the history of medicine and textiles.”
To learn more about the lighting of the Whitehead Infirmary during a time when having electricity was expensive, to see a diorama of the First Battle of Camden, to learn who are the best-dressed soldiers on the battlefield or to see artifacts collected from Port’s Ferry along the Pee Dee River, visit Blankenship and crew at the society and museum.
The site’s next “Pee Dee Back Country Day” for the public will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 19 on the grounds behind the building at 238 E. Main St. You’ll be sure to see Blankenship dressed up, telling stories, leading tours and maybe doing a little more of that toting and fetching.