Saturday, October 29, 2011

Small Town Museums--Lucille M. Hall Museum

Barbara Tuchman wrote:  "Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library."  I certainly empathize with her feelings, but I would also add "...or the closed door of a community museum."  Doing the research for Isaac's book has made me appreciate small town museums kept functioning by dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and poorly paid administrators.  I want to use my blog to recognize some of the people and places where I have done and continue to do my research.

I'll begin in the town of St. John, Kansas, home of the Lucille M. Hall Museum where Isaac's Journal was found and the county seat where Isaac banked, shopped, proved up his claim, and attended farmers' meetings.  The heart of the town is a beautiful, shaded park with the sidewalks from four sides meeting at a fountain in the center.  Lucille deeded a landmark 1910 building on the west side of the square, known as the Tudor Building, for the museum.  It can be seen in the distance, just to the left of the fountain in the picture above.  In his journal, Isaac mentioned settling up his grocery account with Tudor & Ring, but that was twenty years before the 1910 Tudor building was constructed.

The Museum Board has added improvements, such as rest rooms, an elevator, and an impressive kitchen, so that the building can be used not only to showcase the collections but also to serve as a place for community events, such as wedding receptions, birthday parties, and meetings.  The annual Victorian Tea held at the museum the first Sunday of November celebrates the gracious era of the Tudor Building's construction.  All of the volunteers and many of the guests appear in Victorian attire to enjoy a time of lace and linen table cloths, delicate tea cups, and tea party manners.  Pictured below are Courtney, Lyn, and Sandra at the Tea in 2010.

Lucille Hall was a teacher, and each summer she travelled.  Her delight was to collect objects from her foreign travels to bring home to share with her students, along with the many photographs she took.  Rather than expensive objects, she wanted toys, carvings, textiles, tools, and things the children could handle, and her museum is designed to continue that tradition.  Of course, there are also things for adults to see, many of which recall their own childhoods--antique furnishings, clothing, tools, and things that do not lend themselves to easy classification, like the collection of early bathroom commodes.  In that exhibit is a pre-plumbing porcelain commode that is very similar in appearance to modern commodes, except that instead of flushing, there is a removable porcelain bucket that can be lifted out for disposal.  The antique toilet was discovered by one of the board members where it had apparently been discarded in a pasture many years ago.  When she dug it out of the sand, it was in nearly mint condition, except for the deterioration of the wooden, ring-style seat.  Now it is exhibited as an unusual and rather fancy convenience for its time.

The museum also displays objects from the town's history.  One day while I was there, the old gymnasium basketball scoreboard was being installed for display, some of the men working to hang it having been schoolboys whose baskets were tallied on that very scoreboard decades before.

It is the eclectic and personal nature of small town museums that makes them so deserving of preservation.  The hodgepodge of items from daily lives sometimes reveal more history than carefully footnoted books, and a trip to the local museum allows a special peek backward into the lives of the community.  Without the preservation of Isaac's Journal by a woman who understood the importance of saving things from the past, the journal of an old bachelor, with his remaining family living far away, might have disappeared forever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are building quite a following in a very short time must be because this blog is so well done. Well written with wonderful photo's, both a heartwarming and intriguing introduction into the life of Isaac B. Werner. I look forward to more posts and reading the book!