On New Year’s Eve, I went with my family to the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, to see an amazing exhibit in modern history before it was to be packed up and moved to its last site. For the past few months, the Putnam Museum has been home to Diana, a collection of artifacts depicting the people’s princess, the late Lady Diana’s life.
I was only 6 when she died in 1997. I didn’t know why the world was in mourning. I didn’t understand, and I didn’t grasp the importance this woman had on the world and the many humanitarian efforts she supported.
The following year, my mom went to England for an MBA class she was taking. She went around the anniversary of Diana’s death. When she returned, she showed me the pictures of Kensington Palace. There was a carpet of flowers in tribute and remembrance. And once again I did not understand the significance of this death.
As life would have it, the world continues to go on. The years go by and what happened in 1997 gets left to the pages of history. Now as I was growing up and getting older, I started to grasp why this woman was so important to so many. I started to comprehend the weight she carried for her causes. She was more than just a princess or a mother. She was a caring and compassionate woman who looked to the poor souls scattered throughout the world and wanted to make a difference. She wielded her power for the betterment of humanity.
It was with this knowledge and appreciation of a wonderful woman that I found myself surrounded by my family traveling through the life of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.
The exhibit was extensive. There were pieces from her family’s estate, including the Spencer Tiara, which looked worthy of being stored in the Tower of London with the rest of the crown jewels. There were childhood mementos such as toys and books. They showcased her school uniform, a prayer book she received from Mother Teresa and photo albums she kept growing up. Mounted on the walls were enlarged photographs from her numerous trips into the public spotlight for humanitarian efforts, galas and other events.
Of course it wouldn’t be an exhibit without showing some of Diana’s wardrobe. Numerous outfits are showcased along with information about when they were worn. The crown jewel of the exhibit is her famous wedding dress, 25-foot train and all. Her dress has its own room, and the walls are adorned with iconic photos from that July 1981 day. I wasn’t even born yet. When the exhibit was being unpacked, I read an article, which said not all places are able to accommodate her train, and we have it.
The last room in the exhibit was a haunting one. Elton John’s “English Rose” was played on repeat with a four minute video montage of the funeral. I have always loved Elton John and “Candle in the Wind.” I knew he re-worked it for the funeral but had never heard it. The pain of loss is clear, but it also attempts to remind us how lucky we were to have had a woman like her on this earth for even a short time. There was a box of tissues in front of the video for those who needed it. It was hard to walk out. As we did, we passed bookshelves full of tribute and remembrance books for Diana from all over the world.
We took my niece, who is only 13 months old, and I felt sorry for her and the world she will inherit. No longer do we have Diana, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. to look to for moral guidance. Instead we, as adults, need to look at these humanitarians and do what they would to ease the pain of the world and make it a better place.
“Diana: A Celebration” will close its exhibit at the Putnam Museum in Davenport on Jan. 26. The collection will be shown in Cincinnati, Ohio, until Aug. 17 after which it will be returned to her sons as her will has dictated. I would highly encourage everyone to take the trip to see it before it leaves. Maybe she can still inspire us all even 17 years after her death.
BCR Copy Editor Sarah Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.