Hours after her arrival in Independence, Ashley Hill strolls through the National Frontier Trails Museum gift shop. She peruses walls of books, souvenirs and trinkets, finally selecting a covered wagon pencil sharpener.
Hill admits she has no idea when she’ll use it, but that doesn’t stop the C-SPAN producer, who says she’s “never met a knick-knack I didn’t like.” After traveling at least one week a month for the past five years as part of the C-SPAN Cities team, Hill’s random and diverse collection has grown.
So has the amount of miles on her van – equipped with camera and production equipment – and the stories from around the country she’s been able to share with viewers. The goal of the C-SPAN Cities initiative is simple: Get out of the company’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and explore local history. This week, that mission has taken Hill and her team to Independence. Here, they’ll visit sites that include the Truman Library, the Truman Home and the 1859 Jail, with the ultimate task of creating a special dedicated to Independence to run on C-SPAN on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.
“There are so many stories to tell here in Independence. For a smaller town, a lot of history happened here. Things happened here that impacted the entire country,” Hill said.
“We’re not just talking about Harry Truman, which is of course a huge story to tell, but also trails history. The story of westward expansion is the story of Independence.”
For Hill, this story comes through when she talks to locals. The C-SPAN stories team will interview Independence historian and author Paul Edwards, Mayor Eileen Weir and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II. At the Trails Museum, event and education program manager Leah Palmer served as a tour guide.
Palmer recognized the value of this in-depth, personal experience.
“Independence is in most history books, but we don’t often get a chance to take people through and talk to them about why it’s so important,” Palmer explained. “Although the locations and numbers are important, I find the human stories more relatable. Too often in history, we get pigeonholed into exact cause and effect.”
“In the end, people’s experiences were just as diverse as mine and yours are.”
During their week in Independence, the C-SPAN Cities team will blend the past and the presence. They’ll ride through the Square in a wagon pulled by mules – a first, Hill acknowledged, and one they’ve eagerly anticipated.
But they’ll also stop at small, local businesses for coffee and dinner. According to Hill, the staff holds to a self-imposed “no-chain restaurant” rule.
“It’s important to us to experience the cities we’re in. We want to see what’s important to the people of the city and see how the people here live,” Hill stated. “Our experiences come across in our programming.”