Jennifer Cronk calls herself the “keeper of stuff.” It’s an oversimplified way to look at what Cronk does as the Curator of Collections at the Aurora History Museum.
“There’s plenty that happens in the here and now that you know is going to shape the future of the city, and so... it's important for us to collect some of those objects and those documents,” Cronk said.
But Cronk is not the keeper of just any stuff. For the last five years, with the help of some volunteers, Cronk has been working on documenting every item left at memorials for the Aurora Theater shooting victims. The biggest one, across the street from the theater.
“We have candles and artificial flowers, lots of different kinds of candle holders,” Cronk described. “It's from the corner of Center Pointe and Sable (Boulevard), across from the theater. The objects were left following the shooting on July 20th (2012).”
PHOTOS: Memorial following Aurora theater shooting
Progression of Aurora theater shooting memorial from 2012
There are no plans for an exhibit any time soon.
“Potentially an exhibit in the future, but for the time being, we just catalogue it all and make sure it’s stored well and we have it there for, you know, if we ever need to take it out for any reason,” she said.
It’s difficult and emotional to do this. Cronk said she’s had to take breaks from cataloguing the items.
“I’ve touched every single object that was left at this site,” she said. “It's tough, even if you do separate yourself from it and you don't read everything that people left or wrote.”
People have left pieces of their hearts, special mementos, thoughts and hopes.
“You just have to think that there's a reason for everything that was left,” Cronk said.
Cronk said victim families were offered to take items home, if they wanted, before the museum picked them up.
Cronk has worked on saving, cataloguing and properly storing the rest. Every note, every card, every stuffed animal, candle and trinket, everything someone meant to share with the community and families going through a difficult time.
“You have to think about what if this was your loved one,” said Cronk, about her commitment and love she’s pouring into the project.
Because it is not just stuff - not to Cronk, not to the community, not the victims' families.
“I think the fact that we are safe guarding these objects for the future is hopefully you know, meaningful to them. They know that they're here and they're protected,” she said.
Five years in, Cronk is not done yet. She says there is a light at the end of the tunnel of boxes. She thinks that in two more years, she'll have everything catalogued.
And then, maybe an exhibit when the community is ready.
A similar process to this took place after the Columbine shooting. The Littleton Museum collected several hundred of the several thousand items left at Clement Park, and it took them almost eight years to catalog all of it.