A new type of history

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Salem Museum’s John Long accepts D-Day Memorial position

Since he was a child, Salem Museum Director John Long has been fascinated by history.

Salem Museum Director John Long stands in front of hometown artist Walter Biggs’ painting, “The Letter.” Expanding the Biggs exhibit is one of Long’s proudest accomplishments. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Salem Museum Director John Long stands in front of hometown artist Walter Biggs’ painting, “The Letter.” Expanding the Biggs exhibit is one of Long’s proudest accomplishments. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Soon, he will make some of his own as he embarks on a new career path as the educational director of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. There, he will work to preserve the history of America’s World War II Veterans.

Long grew up in Roanoke, and when he was in the eighth-grade, a history assignment regarding the local police department led him to discover his relation to a former mayor.

“That just fascinated me to have a family connection to local history,” he said.

Long attended Roanoke College, where he majored in history. However, while in college, he specialized in European history, and it wasn’t until after college his vast knowledge of American history grew.

Before accepting a part-time job at the Salem Museum in 1998, Long commuted between Radford University and Roanoke College as a history teacher. He became the museum director in 2003. Since, he has worked to piece together Salem’s past, and preserve the present for future generations.

“Salem is a great community with a great sense of its roots, and that’s why this society has been so successful,” Long said. “It’s not because of what I’ve done. I hope I’ve helped. It’s because of the community support. Not many cities the size of Salem could pull off this type of facility the way Salem has.”

He isn’t moving away from his Salem residence. He still teaches at Roanoke College and plans to stay involved with the Salem Historical Society. As bittersweet as his decision to leave the museum was, he said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak to World War II Veterans.

“There are not many years left to talk to World War II Veterans,” Long said. “I’m honored that I get this opportunity to talk to these guys.”

“World War II has been my area. I’ve done a lot of research and reading and writing on World War II subjects,” he added. “I have taken two groups of students over to Normandy to tour the beaches and the cemetery.”

Long said he has constantly been surprised by his Salem discoveries.

“If it is not recorded, it is forgotten,” he said. “Occasionally, you might find some reference in an old letter or a newspaper article to bring something back from the shadows.”

One of his first projects at the museum was the annual Ghost Walk at the surrounding cemeteries.

“We reenact the people buried in the cemetery,” Long said. “Between the two, there are probably six or seven thousand people out there buried on those hillsides. There’s always a new story to find.”

The Ghost Walk is also where he met his wife, Candy, who he said is his best find. The two were married in 2003.

With Long’s new position, he will be helping out with school programs and educational events, as well as curating a large collection of World War II artifacts.

“I like to think that whoever has my job 100 years from now will be glad that I was here,” he said.