Inside Out | History of healing at Museum of the Grand Prairie

Inside Out | History of healing at Museum of the Grand Prairie

The News-Gazette

Published Date: June 19, 2022

Ewww. The Museum of the Grand Prairie is opening an exhibit on what? On disease? Haven’t we all had enough of that after two years of struggling through the worst pandemic of our lifetimes?

While it is true we’ve all now experienced hardship from COVID-19, the Museum of the Grand Prairie is hoping to highlight how infectious disease has spurred us to community action, locally and throughout the world, in a new exhibit.

On May 21, the Museum of the Grand Prairie opened a new special exhibit, “The History of Healing: Infectious Disease and Community Response to Defeat Them.”

What will you learn? Did you know that the University of Illinois closed for a couple weeks in 1938 to deal with the last major outbreak of smallpox in the area? Or that the Illinois State Water Survey was founded, in part, to deal with typhoid epidemics? Were you aware that European American settlers brought malaria to the area, mosquitos spread it, and then modern drainage reduced the number of mosquitos? Or maybe you would be surprised that Carle Foundation Hospital exists because Margaret B. Carle Morris left a small sum in her will to start a sanitarium for the treatment of chronic diseases? And how many sanitariums were there in the area? You’ll have to visit to find out more!

While there are dozens of infectious diseases to choose from, the museum is concentrating on smallpox, malaria, tuberculosis, the 1918 influenza, typhoid and cholera, polio, AIDS and COVID-19.

We’ll also explain isolation, quarantine and vaccination. You’ll see a bifurcated needle used for smallpox vaccinations, the formulary (medical recipe book) handwritten by Abraham Lincoln’s doctor, and even an iron lung used at Champaign County’s own Burnham Hospital in the battle against polio.

And these were mighty battles against diseases that killed thousands. Our ancestors left a legacy of good behind: clean water, public health systems and improvements in medicine.

As we continue to move through the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re celebrating many of the positive responses to disease that Champaign County has made.

We’re also offering the opportunity to consider our own COVID-19 experiences. The museum is asking for entries to be included in a constructed piece, assembled into a work by artist Cindy Sampson.

This Healing Hearts Community Collage, a collage created from photos, personal artworks, poems and other two-dimensional objects, will reflect our shared response to COVID-19 and the other social upheavals recently.

Everyone is invited to contribute! Submissions may be made through this Google form:

We’re also hosting a Special Exhibit Speaker Series surrounding the exhibit. With funding from Illinois Humanities, we’ll be hosting experts to speak about the University of Illinois’ response to polio and healing medicinal plants, in June and July, with more to come in future months! If you’d like more information about the exhibit, the collage or the speaker series, contact 217-586-2612 or

The museum has returned to its pre-pandemic hours, too! We’re open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday again through Labor Day.

Barb Oehlschlaeger-Garvey is director of the Museum and Education Department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.