Tag Archives: History

25 Years

Turning 25 is a milestone, but unlike others (18, 21), 25 has catapulted me into a different mindset. All of a sudden, there is a significant part of my life behind me. This is not to say, however, there aren’t more defining moments ahead (I can certainly stand to change. Okay, okay. I can stand to change A LOT). Anyway, what I mean is, this is really the first time in my life I can look back on the choices I made over the last decade as well as examine what I saw, failed at, and accomplished and I can do all of that with a sense of here and now because, hey, here I am – this is where all of those decisions got me.

Now it’s time to chart a new path, though it’s more confusing now than ever. With school and finding a first job, things were a bit more obvious. As I look forward, though, it’s been difficult to see through the fog. The milestones I create won’t have deadlines or, for the most part, a sense of urgency attached to them. This is both invigorating and scary. Aside from goals, there are a lot of things I’d like to make a habit of, like reading and writing more. Perhaps now more than ever I should concentrate on refinement instead of picking up new things. Yeah, I like that.

Here’s to another year.


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What Does A Job Mean to Me?: An Open Cover Letter

To whom it may concern;

My name is Jon Zella and I am applying for a job at your institution/organization. I found this job after hours of scouring the internet choosing a city and a place of employment that allow me to grow professionally and personally. Our missions and morals align, and even if I am not fully qualified, I have acquired the skills necessary to pick up what I need to do to complete tasks at hand.

I have had a lot of experiences over the last few years. Some directly related to you and others that were good experiences that have made me a better person. Despite my age, 23, I have done a lot and plan to do even more. Sure, I am new to the full time job market, but that does not mean I am not capable.

Personally, I need to be busy. All the time. I need to be challenged, to manage my time correctly, to have multiple things going on at once, and to do more than make someone’s schedule and send emails. This is probably why I am not applying for an entry level position with 0 to 1 year(s) of experience that will leave me unfulfilled when I leave the office everyday despite giving me a foot in the door to the career path I am interested in. If I am applying for your job, it is because I think it will challenge me to learn, to grow, and require me to do so in order to succeed and become a professional in that field.

I want to be involved, to work in groups, to work alone, and to combine everything I know to make sure I am doing the best job possible. I want to be put in a position to succeed and to prove myself.

Most importantly, if I am applying for your job, it is because I have a feeling that I will learn to love what your institution/organization has to offer to its constituents. Contrary to what many people believe, there are a lot of jobs out there. I chose your institution/organization because, well, I like it. It looks cool, I like the projects, exhibits, programs, events, and topics that you cover. I like what the job description will have me do on a daily basis and can only hope that “other duties as assigned” means I will be given a chance to work on big projects from time to time.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope I hear from you soon to set up an interview because, honestly, meeting me in person will help show you how interested I am in this position.

Warmest regards,

Jon Zella

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Thoughts on a Generation:

I was on the phone with my grandpa last night and I asked, “I called you last night. Where were you?” He answered, “What, are ya writing a book?” Mind you he’s 81 and for as long as I can remember no one knows what he’s really doing on a daily basis unless they’re with him. When cell phones came out he said, “I don’t need a cell phone. If I wanted you to know where I was I would tell you.” My aunt bought him a phone a year or two ago, though he never charges it or leaves it in his jacket pocket hung up on the closet. He also doesn’t own a computer and is still subscribed to magazines he actually reads.

After my grandma passed away, I made a promise to myself to be closer with family and that even if I couldn’t be with them, I would call once a week. I told my grandpa I was just checking in and saying hi. He replied, “Yeah, we’re all getting up there. Since your grandmother passed everyone is calling.” He’s always said things like that, “We won’t be around forever,” even going as far as to tell me how he’d want to be taken care of after he passes. It doesn’t phase him; he’s not bothered by it; he’s not afraid of that next step. He’s happy with his life; no regrets.

Before hanging up, he told me I was too skinny the last time he saw me and that he’s going to send us Omaha Steaks. I laughed and said, “I’ve just been running and eating healthier lately,” to which he replied with the list of what will be in the box.

After our talk, I started to think about how brave he is about life growing up during the depression and experiencing the home front during World War II while living with his grandparents, his sister, and his cousins. He’s traveled to every continent, well, except Europe. He said, “Why would I want to go somewhere that’s older than me?” He preferred Australia, cruises around Africa and South America, and white water rafting at age 65 in Colorado. He was in the Korean War, though just the tail end. His company was replacing another on the front lines and as they were walking to the border a truck stopped and told them the armistice had been signed. The joke in the family is that, “Stormin’ Norman showed up and they got scared.” I smile every time I think about that.

Anyway, after the war, he lived in Japan working different jobs within the military complex before heading back to the United States and getting married to my grandma when she was 18 and he was around 23. He worked as a carpenter in a union in New York City and even worked on the World Trade Center. He had two kids, a house, a dog, and a wife. He loves baseball and football and always buys an American made car. He is the American dream.

He’s part of a generation who didn’t need a college degree, could fix cars, went off to war as part of growing up, that worked hard their whole life and now enjoys their family with a pension and social security. He grew up when it was cool to be a guy; when there was so much hope and promise for the future; when people were breaking out of their shells, gender roles, and monotonous lifestyles; when Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and all the great events and speakers were promoting freedom and equality; when there were real heroes fighting for real causes. I envy that.

It makes me truly upset to sit here knowing I’m safe. Other people built the security and I sit back and enjoy it without much thought. His generation was all part of something bigger than themselves, whereas most of mine sits back and is waiting for their handout. The mantra of their generation was, “Be a productive member of society.” Ours? “Do what you want. You can be anything.” When I think about it, that won’t work long term. Totally be happy and do things you love, but who’s going to pave the roads you want to drive on, make that notebook you write in, or even make this computer I get to blog with?

Maybe they did too good of a job and now we’re all used to it being there already built and ready for use. The problem is, now it’s starting to break, and all the college degrees in the world can’t seem to fix it.

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My Claim to Fame:

Since my grandma died about two weeks ago, I’ve been feeling nostalgic. I’ve had some rough nights thinking about her, but I try to make sure I’m remembering the positives. As I think about all of those great things we did together, I can’t help but remember other members of my family that have passed within the last decade; members of my family that did cool things; members I hope I never forget.

Most of my family never did anything amazing or ground breaking, hell, most of my dad’s side of the family is still across the Atlantic Ocean in the old country (Italy). However, there is one person in my family, my great aunt Helen, that not only lived over a century (she passed away at 102 I believe), but was also a part of something for the only two years of its existence and is my only real claim to fame.

She was the Queen of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in  1926 and 1927.


 Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my family to pieces and to be honest, I could care less if they were “famous,” and that’s not because I know I won’t be unless I go on some crime spree and wind up in the papers. I like my simple existence and don’t need anything huge, even in my family’s past, to gratify a non-existent ego.

Anyway, when I think about the history of my family, where everyone came from, and all the things they did during a century that seemed to transcend what could happen in a century’s time, this is something I can proudly connect with. 

I remember being there for her 100th birthday party in Florida and on numerous other occasions. She remember everyone’s name, always sent birthday cards, and knew what everyone was doing. She loved everyone, and after 3 generations which followed, there was a lot of us.

She was the first generation born in the United States, making me the 4th generation, which from what I understand is a very long time for Jewish families in America.

The historian in me likes to better understand those roots and make sure I can tell the story to my grandkids one day. My dad’s side is much easier, as my grandpa and his brother came to the United Stats in the 1950s from Brazil and the Dominican Republic (respectfully) after leaving Italy when there mandatory military service was completed. They went to South America to avoid the low immigration quota that was placed on Italy after World War II, though I also know that many mobsters from southern Italy also went to South America to clear their names before coming to the United States, which is much more fun to tell people even if I have zero evidence my family was connected to that.

This nostalgia also helped re-kindle my idea to write about how social media and the internet will change how we are able to look at history. Not really sure where it’s going to go as of right now, but a friend of mine and myself will be slowly working on it in the near future (I hope). My grandma has a Facebook and Instagram, and though my Aunt Helen didn’t, I was able to find this New York Time article about her coming back to the parade as a guest of Macy’s.

It’s really cool looking back and it makes me proud to be who I am and where I came from, even if we’re just a regular family.

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August 8, 2013 · 11:20 am

My first museum exhibit panel

I didn’t get paid to do it. I didn’t even receive academic credit. I did it because I love the idea of education outside of the classroom. This was a subject I was largely unfamiliar with, but was a lot of fun to put together from the research involved, to the writing, even the editing. Below I am posting the final copy of what he panel will have on it as far as my contributions. I haven’t yet heard when the panel will be created, though from what I understand it will take a while for the graphic designer to get some ideas together. In the mean time, I’m happy and proud of what I did and hope that this helps me in the future.


America is Challenged in the 1930’s

In the 1930s, a combination of environmental and man-made problems caused the United States to nearly spiral out of control. As the stock market crash of 1929 produced a financial meltdown, over-farming started to take its toll on the land and, along with population growth and drought, created what is known as the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains.

 By 1918, American troops were engaged in battle in World War I. As one of the few foods the United States could successfully ship to troops across the Atlantic Ocean, the government encouraged farmers to grow wheat under the slogan, “Wheat can win the war.”

 The United States Food Administration created “Wheat-less Wednesdays” to keep shipments flowing to Europe. The price of wheat rose and farmers plowed 11 million acres of virgin grasslands across the mid-west, twice the size of NJ. This time period is often referred to as the Great Plow Up.

 After World War I, Americans continued to move west. As the 1920s wore on, problems arose for farmers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Southeast Colorado.

 Plowing removed large stretches of the previously undisturbed native grasses and, without grass, the soil became dry and exposed and was picked up by the wind, which created dust storms.

Along with over-farming, four distinct periods of increased drought: 1930–31, 1934, 1936, and 1939–40, made the land unable to recover. 

 By late 1935, an estimated 850 million tons of topsoil had blown away in dust storms. By 1940, close to 2.5 million people left the affected states and headed further west towards places like California. Though from various states, these travelers were collectively known as “Okies” after Oklahoma.

 Dust storms caused health issues for many people. Respiratory and eye infections were common and many wore masks made of gauze and cheesecloth to protect themselves. Windows and doors were sealed in order to keep dust out of homes. The most famous dust storm occurred on April 14th, 1935, known as “Black Sunday.” Shortly after, the term “Dust Bowl” would be used for the first time in a newspaper article.

 By the mid-1930s, the U.S. government was actively involved in trying to reverse and prevent these conditions. In April 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Soil and Conservation Act, giving farmers money to plant native grasses and vegetation to stop erosion.

 People learned to deal with dust storms in different ways. Jokes and story-telling helped take people’s mind away from their harsh surroundings and resilience and ingenuity were necessary survival skills.

 Along with the environmental disaster, an economic disaster was also underway. The 1929 stock market crash caused many Americans to lose their jobs. The price of goods plummeted and some farmers had little choice but to abandon their land.

 As unemployment rose from 3% in 1929 to 25% by 1933, President Roosevelt began creating social programs called the New Deal. Roosevelt’s vision started with the employment of artists. Artists promoted the program’s ideals and gained support. They also played an important role in documenting the effects of the Dust Bowl.

In 1936, funded by the U.S. Resettlement Administration, Pare Lorentz, produced a film on the Dust Bowl entitled, The Plow That Broke the Plains. The film was intended to educate the public on the need to reform farming practices and the delicacy of the land.   

 Meanwhile, still photographers, sponsored by the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA), traveled to the heart of the Dust Bowl and beyond, including Oswego County, documenting local citizens, locations and events during the period.

Without jobs, many Americans couldn’t afford to feed their families. Until 1932, local charities, mainly churches, were responsible for provisional food and financial assistance.

With the creation of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) in October, 1933, the government was able to purchase, store, and process surplus agricultural products to relieve the hardship and suffering caused by unemployment.

To receive surplus food, many individuals and families stood in line at food banks, which were sometimes miles away. In cities like Baltimore, Maryland, people were given a weekly allotment of 80¢ worth of products. Bread, sugar, and milk (when it was available) were distributed while supplies lasted.

In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created. The CCC employed youths, between the ages of 18-24, to perform conservation work such as planting trees, digging new irrigation ditches, etc. Still valued today, the drought in the Great Plains gave the United States government a new perspective on conservation.

In the late 1930’s, weather patterns changed and brought rain to drought-affected areas. The U.S. economy finally began to recover in late 1941 as the country entered into World War II. 

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Why I love history:

“There’s nothing wrong with history, but simply being old doesn’t make you historic.” – Dave Lozo

Though Dave Lozo was talking about the NHL and the constant use of the “Original Six” when hockey analysts talk about Chicago, Boston, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Detroit, Mr. Lozo’s quote really struck a chord with me. It made me really think about history and what makes something or someone historic.

For me, it depends on who you ask. The meaning something has to one person may not exist, or exists differently, for someone else. There are many different parts of the past that I find interesting, and more so if I get the opportunity to interact with people who lived through it. To me, that makes the person I’m interviewing historic.

For example, today at Safe Haven Museum and Education Center, where I am currently working, I told Lois, an 85 year old Experienced Works employee, I was working on a Dust Bowl Panel for an exhibit on SUNY Oswego’s campus. She told me that she was a little girl during that time period, so, I started talking to her about it and asking questions. The fact that she remembered and could tell me what she went through, how it felt, the things that were going on gave her a historic quality. It’s not because she lived through it, but because she had the information to pass on to me, teaching me about history.

An African proverb helps in better understanding what I mean, “When an old man dies, it’s like a library burning to the ground.” All of that information is lost, unless passed on to someone who connects with it.

Lois and I ended our conversation, and she walked away into another room. A few minutes later, she reappeared and handed me these.


I was amazed. I’ve been in close contact with quite a bit original materials from the 19th and early 20th century, but for some reason these made me appreciate the opportunity I had all over again. I’m sure people hold these things every day, but to me, it was special.

Lois didn’t seem to think they were all that great and even said that she had ones from the 1930s that I could have. I was shocked. To me, being able to interact and begin to understand history on a personal level is what makes it all worth while; it makes it something worth knowing; it becomes a part of you even if you weren’t there to experience it.

That’s why I love history. It let’s me outlive my own life by hundreds of years, through different people’s perspectives.

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Sempre Imparare. Always Learning.

I’ve met a lot of different people in my close to 23 years on this earth, but I’m beginning to understand more about myself through simplifying my life; by breaking down these structures I built up in my head for so many years that I thought meant happiness, especially in my daily life.

Many of the people I encounter on a daily basis tell me what they’re background is in, “Well, my background is business administration,” “Mine is in marketing and graphic design.” For the last few years my goal was to be a historian, whatever that means. I wanted all the credentials I’d ever need. The solid Master’s GPA. Internships. Jobs. The whole nine. What I’m realizing is, you need more than this narrow track to become what you want.

I don’t want to focus my present on the few things in my past that make me a  “historian.”I want to have a broad background that allows me to gain skills in every aspect of my life, professional and otherwise. My resume is full of jobs, internships, fellowships, assistant-ships, all of which tell the story of how I became who I am and who I want to be.

Umm, what do I want to be?

I want to be an educator, teaching people parts of history they’re interested in and how to use it in their daily life in a setting that is comfortable. A museum is the perfect place. They show up willingly, they ask questions, I either answer the question or we find the answer together. Conversation sparks the flow of information. We learn together. No one is smarter than anyone.

I listen to the aforementioned people speak and think, “Is this their whole life?” “Is this all they have that they’re proud of?” If it’s not, it sure as hell seems like it is.

I want my life to be integrated. I can’t separate all the different aspects of my life and be a different person everywhere I go. I want a seamless, border-less life that allows me to learn everywhere I go, with every person I speak to, and with every experience I have.

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