Denby Fawcett: The Everyday Items We Should Preserve To Commemorate Getting Through Covid - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Yoga mats, sweatpants, face masks and photos were all part of our survival strategies.

President Joe Biden declared the emergency phase of the coronavirus pandemic officially over on May 11.

Of course, Covid-19 lingers — but not in its dark form of three years ago when governments ordered lockdowns and people were sterilizing everything in sight including groceries and their mail.

So much was unknown then.

“People had a lot to overcome. What is interesting are the everyday items that will show how they found ways to maintain human contact even when they were ordered to stay apart,” says Hawaii State Archivist Adam Jansen.

I think of things like photos of masked hula dancers practicing in Kapiolani Regional Park or images of people banging pans on Friday nights to show support for hospital workers.

Hawaii’s state archives — along with other history and art museums across the country and in Europe — are beginning to amass collections of everyday items to help future generations understand the unique struggles people faced during the pandemic.

The kinds of artifacts considered include everything from homemade face masks to vaccine vials, plastic bottles of hand sanitizer and Zoom recordings of business meetings and birthday parties. 

It is interesting to consider what particular things should be saved to best explain to people living 100 years from now the small ways people found to cope. 

Loretta Woon of San Francisco didn’t let Covid-19 keep her from visiting Waikiki during the pandemic, equipped with hand sanitizer. (Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2020)

What makes Covid different from other life-shifting events such as 9/11 is that it was an emergency that continued for three years and affected every country on the planet.

The objects in any Covid-related museum should reflect not only the sorrow of the period but also what was funny and strange.

My daughter Brett Jones jokes the exhibits must include packages of the junk food people ate, bottles of wine they drank and episodes of “CoComelon ” — the animated series streaming on YouTube parents relied on to divert their toddlers from meltdowns when they were trying to look professional on  Zoom meetings.

For clothing to show future generations, she mentioned sweatpants and  slippers — the uniform of people working from home. Sweatpants on the bottom with a formal looking shirt or blouse on top to look put together while making a sales pitch from a bedroom or a kitchen pantry.

Real estate sales agent Richard Knocton suggests saving examples of the weights and yoga mats people bought to create at-home gyms to keep themselves sane while they were confined — objects he said helped him get healthier and focus.

Most important will be to collect photos and videos that document the numbing sadness of what happened — family photos of the people who died, their masked relatives at socially distanced funerals and the exhausted hospital workers who tried to save them.

Jansen says he put out a call in 2020 for residents to submit such personal objects, photos and videos to the archive but so far nobody has donated anything. 

It’s understandable. He says when he initially requested items “people were preoccupied dealing with the day-by-day uncertainties of the pandemic rather than ruminating about how it would be remembered in the future. “

Now that it’s calmer, Jansen hopes artifacts will start coming in to tell the story of what he considers the most universally impactful event since World War II.  

“The archives has never done anything like this before. In the past, individual families brought us things they thought were important, but we have never reached out to the entire community to ask for help,” Jansen said.

Inmates in the Hawaii Community Correctional Center and Kulani Correctional Facility sewing program made 920 cloth face masks for community using donated materials. (Courtesy: Hawaii Community Correctional Center)

To help the archives get started, Honolulu photographers Brad Goda and Tammy Takimoto volunteered to take hundreds of images of everything from empty shelves in stores to public school teachers teaching on Zoom and long lines at free food distribution centers.    

Goda said documenting the pandemic brought structure to his and Takimoto’s lives at a time when like other workers “we didnʻt have anything to do.”

Bishop Museum says its ethnology team is also interested in receiving Covid-related items but stresses they should be unused. 

Prospective donors can get in touch by emailing

I think the first objects in any Covid archival collection should be homemade cloth masks. 

The hand-sewn mask shows how quickly people adapted at the beginning of the pandemic when major hospitals were scrambling to find enough medical-grade masks for their employees. 

It’s sad to admit the first face covering I had was a pink handmade mask I found on the side of Kahala Avenue. Until I could find something better, I worried I might run into the owner of the mask who would demand that I give it back.

That’s how crazy it was them.

My friend Marjorie Au remembers volunteering to help Joycelyn Bunda and Jessica Asing sew 300 cloth masks for hospital workers to place over their paper masks for additional protection. The workers were worried the paper masks they were issued at the time were not adequate.

There was a shortage of elastic then but Bunda figured out they could rip strips of T-shirts to make straps for the masks.

Their homemade masks with T-shirt straps should be among the items archived to show the ways people got creative in the face of scarcity.

Masked hula dancers in Kapiolani Regional Park during Covid. (Courtesy: Denby Fawcett)

Just thinking about masks evokes memories of Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s funny YouTube videos showing him after he imposed a stay-at-home order, dancing and offering instructions on how to make things like lava lamps and cloth masks.

Kawakami’s videos called “Stay Home Kauai” should definitely be kept to show how a leader with a fearless personality tried to lighten spirits on Kauai and for his viewers on the rest of the islands and even on the mainland.

Another video worth archiving is TV news footage of the self-deputized posses that roamed through Waikiki yelling at residents and tourists to try to shame them into wearing masks.

Also good to save would be photos of public parks with signs telling people to stay out to show one of the more stupid government responses to Covid that escalated into bizarre arrests of people passing through the parks when healthy outdoor exercise was what shut in residents craved the most.

There are also works of art to be collected to show the intensity of a time that included not only daily responses to the virus but big events such as the racial unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Museums in some mainland cities have had art shows featuring pandemic-related artworks including the “100 Days of Covid” installation by Aina Haina artist Taiji Terasaki.

I spoke by phone with Terasaki Friday from Tokyo where he was traveling. He said his large installations were featured at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles two years ago, and in September-December 2021 at the Maui Arts and Culture Center.

To create his “100 Days of Covid” exhibit, he downloaded an image from the internet each day for 100 days to represent what had happened on that particular day. He then cut the photo into strips to make a paper weaving to convey the particular day’s distinct flavor ranging from boring routine to unforgettable happenings such as George Floyd’s death.

“Doing this work was a way to keep disciplined and continue to be part of the community even though I was isolated,“ said Terasaki.

Taiji Terasakiʻs “100 Days of Covid” documented the pandemic by sampling images downloaded from the internet every day.
(Courtesy: Make Visible)

Honolulu Museum of Art’s Director of Communications Maggie Engebretson called the art of the pandemic “a fascinating topic.”

But she says it is not something the museum is ready to tackle yet in its upcoming exhibits.

“Maybe it is too early,” she muses.

I hope Bishop Museum and Honolulu Museum will consider future exhibits to memorialize the daily struggles and victories of the pandemic. And that people start to think of a few items to save to show their grandchildren how they got through it.

As archivist Jansen says, “If we don’t preserve a record of what happened it will compound a tragedy that has already occurred.”

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

Homemade cloth masks are not effective against COVID, medical grade masks are,

Kupuna · 8 months ago

I have no desire to save the useless cloth masks and I want to forget the National Guard coming to my home twice a day in tank sized hummers,just because I traveled inter island,and the harassment that I experienced .I want to forget the collective fear and insular mindset;but I won’t.

Swimmerjean · 8 months ago

Just to clarify, the "covid emergency" declaration has not ended. It is scheduled to end on May 11 2023. There is quite a bit of speculation that it will be extended. The profit and power that certain people got as a result of the declaration will be very difficult to just let go of. The CDC Still has on its website that people should get vaccinated to "limit the spread of covid" . How many months has it been since it has been publicly admitted that the vaccines don’t prevent infection or transmission? The loss of trust will only continue until there is an honest reckoning by all the players, including the marketing arm of the pharmaceutical industry, AKA "the mainstream media" , of where they got it wrong. The phony statistics, the inflated numbers, the convenient memory lapses and historical revisionism. Sweden never shut down and they ended up doing much better that their neighbors, the US, The UK and others who instituted the useless and disastrous lockdowns. I hope the displays will include some "Going out of business" signs.

Arewethereyet · 8 months ago

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