Friday, July 8, 2011

Matt Visits the Wonders of Kansas #1: The Kansas Museum of History

Every now and then, I will be visiting locations that were selected for the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s 8 Wonders of Kansas lists.  The Kansas Museum of History in Topeka was selected as a top 8 Wonder of History.

I recently paid a visit to the Kansas Historical Society’s Museum of History over the Independence Day holiday weekend.  It had been a while since my last visit to the museum (I believe I was in Middle School the last time I toured the place).  It has been interesting to visit other museums over the past year to say the least.  Since I began working in a museum, I feel that I look at other museums in a new light.  I am not just there to learn about the historical narratives that the exhibits teach me, I am also there to see how the museum and exhibits are constructed, and get new ideas for the future.  

The Kansas Historical Society has a fantastic space for their museum.  The ceilings are very high, allowing them to feature many large and tall artifacts such as a windmill, covered wagon, Native American tipi, airplane, and of course, a train.  If I have one critique about an element of the museum’s exhibits, it is that some of the exhibit labels are difficult to read.  Now this can partly be attributed to lighting, however many artifacts on display cannot have direct light on them.  The museum would definitely not want to cause accelerated light damage, so changing the lighting would not be the solution.  One possibility would be to change the coloring of some of the labels.  I think this would help quite a bit.

But I am not writing this to complain about exhibit minutiae, I am here to promote history!  If you have never been to the museum, it begins with a fascinating look at Native American life in Kansas.  This area of the museum features many American Indian tools, and a Plains Indian grass lodge and tipi.  It is difficult to describe how cool it is to see a tipi actually made from bison hides.  Pending on the size of the tipi, it could take twelve to sixteen hides to make the outer covering of a tipi.  If you think about the process and hard work it took to create something like this, it is truly amazing.

The museum also features interesting exhibits on the Santa Fe Trail, Oregon Trail, and Bleeding Kansas.  The Bleeding Kansas period has always held special interest to me.  It is incredible to look at how Kansas was at the forefront of national politics (and people were killing each other over these issues!).  I feel the museum does a good job of showing both sides of the story, and showing how many people were invested in their respective causes during that period in time.

The train, in which you can walk through a section, is probably the museum’s superstar.  Inside the drover’s car, visitors can learn a little bit about the Kansas cattle towns and Joseph McCoy.  Outside of the train are many artifacts relating to changing technology and town growth.  

Probably my favorite part of my visit was getting to see the museum’s current exhibit in their temporary gallery.  The exhibit is entitled 150 Things I Love about Kansas, and will be on display for the remainder of this year.  The exhibit features a plethora of objects related to what makes Kansas great.  Most notable for me was a dress worn by Carry Nation.  Also featured was a painting of the famous hatchet-wielding woman, painted after her visit to the town of Enterprise in Dickinson County.  In the painting, her face is bruised due to women attacking her while she was in Enterprise to smash up Schilling’s Saloon.  It was such a cool piece of history to see, since I already knew the story of her visit to the town.  Fascinating stuff to see.

If you have never visited the Kansas Historical Society, be sure to do so.  I have only scratched the surface of what you can see in this blog post.  Also, if you have seen the museum before, I highly recommend returning, so you can see the current exhibit.

To learn more about the Kansas Museum of History and the Kansas Historical Society, be sure to visit their website

Kansas 150 Film Series

The Dickinson County Heritage Center has been showing movies related to Kansas history once a month throughout this year.  We have had a great turnout for all of these events so far.  Over one hundred people came to the museum to see June's movie, which was Surviving the Dust Bowl: The American Experience.  If you live in the Abilene area, we would love to see you at the rest of these historical film showings.  All films begin at 2:00pm on their respective dates.

July 17: The Wild West Cowboys
August 21: Mr. Sear's Catalog
September 18: The West of Charles Russell
October 16: The Railroad: Transcontinental, 1865-1880; The Railroad: The Golden Age, 1880-1916
November 20: The Real West