Discovering Our Past

When Kathy Shigeta welcomes visitors into Henry and Joanna Lane’s home, she likes to show the piano in the guest parlor.

The Lanes purchased the 172-year-old instrument on their honeymoon in New York, paying more to ship it home than it cost. It sailed first to Florida, then on to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River and across the Ohio  before arriving in Madison, Indiana, to finish the journey on land.

If visitors aren’t aware of the story, it was something Shigeta herself only recently discovered as the new curator and collections manager for the Montgomery County Historical Society.

A San Francisco-area native, Shigeta said the role is a perfect introduction to this history-rich community.

“To tell the honest truth, Montgomery County is new to me,” she said, “so, as you can imagine, I was interested in finding ways to learn more.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Santa Clarita University, Shigeta taught English in Japan, where she met her husband, Tatsu.

The couple later settled in the Champaign-Urbana area, where she worked as a records clerk for the University of Illinois. She earned her master’s degree in Asian studies from U of I.

They came to Crawfordsville in September after Tatsu became general manager of Heritage Products.

It wasn’t long before the curator job came open. Shigeta answered the listing, looking for a part-time gig to learn about the area.

“She’s working hard, she’s going through the collection and finding some things we weren’t aware of,” executive director Steve Frees said.

The curator and collections manager oversees a database of the roughly 5,000 items in MCHS’s possession, updating the organization’s Facebook page and giving tours of the Lane Place, which Joanna’s niece, Helen Elston Smith, gave to MCHS after her death in 1939.

A church group was visiting Thursday morning as Shigeta pointed out her favorite artifacts. She picked up a delicate china that a woman gave to Joanna’s sister, Susan Wallace.

With visitors interested in different aspects of the past, she and the other tour guides have their favorite parts of the Lanes’ story.

Shigeta was drawn to Henry’s connections with Abraham Lincoln, whom he helped get to the White House.

She’s also tapped in to her love of art, stumbling upon a piece by Henry’s first wife, Pamela.

“I was looking for a wall decoration, and I came across a sampling that she apparently had done in the early 19th century, when she was quite young,” Shigeta said.

“That’s one of the things that fascinates me about this job, you keep discovering things. I mean, not only things that you can hold in your hand, but facts about the families.”