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Sifting through the pages of history

Student preserves the past at Michigan’s Historic Ford Estates

Contact: Ari Harris

​​​​Carefully thumbing through the pages of a book, Central Michigan University student Becca Folsom catalogs a discovery — a note presumably from Edsel Ford to his wife, Eleanor, that Folsom and the staff of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House never knew existed. Preserving history and uncovering new information is just part of Folsom's internship at the Historic Ford Estates in Dearborn and Grosse Pointe Shores.​

Folsom — a senior from Livonia with a major in geography and minors in history and museum studies — joined the house's staff as the only curatorial intern this summer. More than 90 people bring history to life at the sprawling former home of the Fords, built in 1926, and educate the public on this prominent family.  

"My classes in museum studies are fun, and you learn so much about the industry. Now, I have been able to apply those lessons and really use what I've learned," Folsom said. "I knew some of the Ford history before, but being so close to our history is neat."

The unique internship has given Folsom knowledge of the Ford family and every facet of working in a historic home. Throughout the summer, she has rotated through nearly every part of the estate's operations — from working with the grounds crew to helping clean artifacts spanning more than six generations to supporting the ticket sales team. She has even assisted at special events, including a recent performance of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Combined with classroom work, it is the type of valuable hands-on experience Folsom will need when she begins looking for a job.

"We look for someone who is willing to take on new opportunities and comes to us with an open mind. That was one of the first things I noticed about Becca," said Ann Loshaw, vice president of education and visitor experiences at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House. "She has a sense of curiosity, willingness to try new things and connect with staff across the operation."

In addition to the Ford House, Folsom also has collaborated with other interns and staff at the sister property, Fair Lane. This estate, which was once the home of Clara and Henry Ford — Edsel's parents — is currently closed as staff renovate the space to return it to its original splendor. The work Folsom and others have engaged in is painstaking as the team begins to recreate furniture, mouldings and fixtures from the time of Clara and Henry Ford.

Folsom says there is extensive detail in museum work that most people don't consider when they visit a home or museum. Recently, Folsom and others counted the holes in a wicker radiator cover to determine the style local artisans would use to accurately re-create the cover. At the Fair Lane and Ford House, even the landscaping is part of reconstructing history.

"I don't think the public realizes that the things outside — the flowers, the gardens and even the grass — are an important part of the collection at a historic home," Folsom said.

She says the chance to delve deep into not only part of Michigan's history, but also the history of our nation and world, has been the opportunity of a lifetime.

"The internship has been so incredible. It has been more than I ever expected or hoped for," Folsom said.​​

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