Constant Change: Working in Living History

Well, this month has been a BUSY one.  I have come to the conclusion, that successful Living History sites are constantly changing.  While initially that might seem like a strange paradox—Constant Change— the concept is sound in an ever diverse and changing world.  Perhaps sharing what i have specifically been a part of this month will help explain.

This is The Place to remember the past, entertain the present and educate the future as we honor Utah’s Heritage through hands-on experience that provides a glimpse into “a day in the life” of Utah’s rich and diverse history.

The Mission Statement.  The core of everything that an institution does. In the case of This is the Place Heritage Park the mission boils down to three main goals: Remember, Entertain, and Educate through a variety of experiences. In order to achieve those goals, constant, mission-driven change and growth is required. As we enter our fall programming, we shift focus to the entertain portion of our programming.

October is a busy month for us.  We implement our Haunted VillageLittle Haunts, and most recently successful Witches’ Ball. Haunted Village is exactly what is sounds to be: We take our historic village and turn it into a “spook alley” in the evenings. This requires extensive coordination among all departments so that daily historic programming and school tours are not effected by the evening events. Routes have to be drawn, new employees hired to work evenings, and buildings decorated to fit the theme. Each year, (this is now the 8th) this program brings in additional revenue and exposure to the Park.  In fact, several living history sites are beginning to implement similar programs surrounding Halloween.

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Since Haunted Village is more for older kids and adults, we offer our Little Haunts program for families with small children. Visitors don’t only get to visit the Village with regular pioneer activities, but they get to wear their Halloween costumes, trick or treat at the historic buildings, and listen to a witch tell stories. Again, the exposure the park receives from this event is priceless.  Families may come up for something to do around Halloween, but they also experience our pioneer programming and the momentum of their experience will carry them to future events and visits at the Park.

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The Witches’ Ball is a new program that was started last year.  It is a one-night ball, or family-friendly costume and dance party.  Fortune tellers, palm readers, live owls, and even snakes and spiders offer dancers things to do while taking a break from the dance floor.  We even have a costume contest. Last year, we had over five hundred participants.  Hosted in our large event center, it was a great success.  Last year we advertised the Witches’ Ball at the Salt Lake City Comic-Con, now the 2nd largest in the country. Since people already attend Comic-Con in costume, why not get them to come to This is the Place for a costume party?  With that goal in mind I attended the convention to help advertise not only our Witches Ball, but all of our Halloween Programming….and I may or may not have run into a famous bounty hunter…

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So what?

Well, I think that these programs demonstrate ways in which living history sites can think outside of the box, as long as it falls within their mission.  In the case of This is the Place, it does, and has proven enormously successful.

But this is just one portion of what I have been a part of preparing this past month. In an effort to grow the Youth Programs offered at the Park, we have been increasing our Social Media presence, constantly adapting or referencing our posts to local trends.  New print materials have been created, printed, and will soon be distributed.  We are working on a couple of potential partnerships with other organizations offering youth programs to increase our visibility and professional network. Once again, it is important for Living History organizations to think outside the box, but stay on mission. In this case, the focus is to Educate.

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Finally, we have had the recent privilege to host members of the Utah Legislative Appropriations Committee, as well as a government delegation from Vietnam. Though these groups definitely fall under VIP visitors, their personal experiences are just as important as any other guest. It was a great experience to personally give them tours of the Village, allow them to participate in our hands-on activities, and tell them about the history of the Park, as well as the settlement of Utah and the American West. Both groups had memorable experiences and expressed gratitude for the time they were able to spend at the Park.

vietnamese delegationAlthough it has been a busy month, and looks to be similar in October, my  advice to anyone working at a historic site, or in living history is this:

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box to build visitor numbers, programs, and the exposure of the site, as long as it falls within the mission of the organization.

In an ever diverse and changing world, historic sites and living historians can choose to be on the cutting edge, or in the distant past. I submit that it is possible to be on the cutting edge, while still maintaining historical integrity and the important stories and lessons of the past.

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Month Four: Wrapping Things up on the Western Front

At this point I have wrapped up my internship at the Molly Brown House Museum.

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During my time here I have worked on surveying visitors on various topics including what they expected of the museum and their experience, what they would like to see after changes are made to the museum and what they thought of the free and photography days.

I also spent time practicing and carrying out some of the existing educational programs, as well as attending local events and meetings. I helped out around the house whenever I could and learned about giving tours of the house and surrounding area. I helped with Thirsty Thursday events at the house and played the part of Helen Ring Robinson, the first female state senator in Colorado.

Most of my time, however, was spent creating a new educational program about world cultures. This program uses various places that Margaret Brown traveled to help teach children the differences between those places and the United States in the early 1900s. The program focuses especially on the lives of families and children. There was a lot of research involved to find out what life was like in those countries at the time, and to express it in a way that schoolchildren will understand. When I left I had finished and timed the script from the program and compared the content to Colorado curriculum standards. I also prepared a list of objects that will be used when the program is presented – these are now being ordered. And a few had arrived before I left.

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Now that I am done there I am heading back to the Midwest to look for another place to learn.

Accomplishments Made Experience Gained

There is much activity occurring at the Missouri Civil War Museum. I am excited to say that I have inputted every artifact on the museum’s Deed of Gift records into PastPerfect. This system now has information on each artifact on record starting from the beginning in 2006 through 2015.

My supervisor is currently working to get missing paperwork on certain artifacts and hopefully by the time I leave the information on those missing documents will be put into PastPerfect. It is rewarding to hear from my fellow staff members how significant my special project is to the museum’s record keeping, artifact preservation, and collections management.

My supervisor has diligently over the years taken a photo of each artifact in the museum’s collections. In my last two months at this internship I hope to upload each photo onto the artifact file within PastPerfect. This way the photos are saved and preserved on another platform.

Currently, I have begun inventorying a large portion of the Missouri Civil War Museum’s uniform collection. In addition to making sure every clothing article is accounted for on the museum’s computerized spreadsheet I am checking for manufacturer marks and other identifiable numbers. The columns for these marks on the spreadsheet are blank, so I am looking at each article of clothing to see if there are any markings.

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It is like detective work handling these artifacts looking for the hidden inscription!

In addition to these projects I continue to work at the front desk to interact with visitors, inventory gift store merchandise, receive admission as well as cleaning exhibit cases and other daily tasks. The Missouri Civil War Museum is a 501c3 non-profit organization. There are three staff members who work full time at the museum, and now I am the only intern. These day to day tasks are ones that have to be done for the museum to run efficiently, so there are multiple days during the week where I am managing the desk by myself performing these responsibilities while the other staff can work on administrative duties.

Check back to see what happens next in this amazing adventure! 🙂

A Journey Builds Inner and Outer Strength

The halfway point is here! I cannot believe that I have been working at the Missouri Civil War Museum for almost three months. Where did the time go? Since my last blog I have been diligently working on my special project, while still devoting time to my primary duties.  Cataloging the museum’s collection into PastPerfect is a lot of fun because I get to see what types of artifacts the museum holds in its collection as well as preserve the information we have on each object in another platform that future staff can use.

However, as we all know with cataloging collections things can be misplaced…..such as paperwork. Making a lot of headway on this special project I have found certain documents are not where they are supposed to be and identifying inconsistencies with the accession numbering system over the years.  I have worked with my supervisor and we are fixing these problems, so that hopefully by the time I leave everything will be cataloged, consistent, and present. Fingers crossed!

The museum has accepted donations since its inception in 2002. I am happy to say that starting with this year and working backwards I am currently cataloging artifacts that were donated in 2006. This bee has definitely been busy.

For me cataloging artifacts is not only fun but rewarding because my work ensures that the museum’s collections are safe and preserved.

In the past few weeks I have also assisted my supervisor and staff installing new artifacts in various exhibits. For instance, in the past week we have completely transformed three exhibit cases in the main gallery. We switched out many artifacts in these cases with others, cleaned them, and re-arranged label cards.

Case 1

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By the way this week was my first time cleaning various weapons, such as pistols, rifles, and swords.

Since the beginning of my undergraduate career I have loved working with historical collections, and being in the Historical Administration Program and this internship has only intensified that. Both of these amazing opportunities have given me confidence in knowing what I am doing or how to find the answers when it comes to collections management as well as exhibit installation, marketing, and so many other skills.

It is only the halfway mark of my internship but as I take each step down this path my stride becomes stronger and sturdier.

Month Three at the Molly Brown House

In the third month of my internship I have continued to work on many of the same things as I have the last few months. I have finished the servant surveys but will continue to survey for other purposes.

I have also been working on my project which has progressed to the point where I have a draft of the script and some options for interactive elements for the program. The script itself is too long for an hour long program, so now comes the point where I need to edit it down. I need to review the content to determine what is most important to meet the program’s educational goals, and remove unneeded details. I also need to work the remaining content into a smooth script.

I have had a couple of experiences outside of the house as well. I attended a local educational fair for social studies teachers along with one of the volunteers who frequently presents education programs. At the fair we talked about the programs that the Molly Brown House offers so that the teachers will be interested in using them in their classrooms.

Earlier this month, I participated in the Thirsty Thursday event, where we discussed notable women in Denver’s history. At the event several people portrayed these notable women and told their stories from a first person point of view. I played Helen Ring Robinson who was the first woman State Senator in Colorado and the second one nationally.

Aside from my personal work there have been a few interesting things going on at the house. The front porch of the house is in need of repairs as the foundation has deteriorated. Another project that will be starting soon is the replacement of the roof on the carriage house. While this work is being carried out there is a board by the entrance of the museum that explains the work being done to visitors.

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While this work is being carried out there are fences around the construction area and a temporary staircase set up (the normal one is behind the fencing). The tours have also been rerouted as they normally start on the now closed front porch.

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These changes are just the beginning however as the museum plans to renovate the basement for use as an education space. This will free up the third floor which is currently used for this purpose. Once the third floor is free it will be restored and used to interpret more about the house including the stories of some of the servants who lived and worked there.

Getting Into the “Swing” of Things

I  wracked my brain to try and come up with another Hobbit theme for this blog post. Alas- I could think of nothing…BUT! I did stumble upon a wonderful quote that I find to be speak to the researcher in all of us:

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.” -J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

I don’t believe truer words were ever written.

My internship has provided me with many small to medium sized projects instead of one giant project. The first project I was given was to create and implement summer camp programming and plan the curricula for future summer camps. My second project was working as an assistant to MCCD’s marketing director Katherine Unruh.

Fun Fact: Katherine held my internship position two years before me and is an HA alum! (Class of 2012-2013)

I created press releases and flyers for the remaining historical site events for the 2015 season. My experience on the Marketing team for our Lab School exhibit certainly helped me with each project. Here are a few examples of my designs:

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I can’t wait for this event! 🙂

Candlelight Tour Flyer Photo

Now for the “triple play”.

The third project I have recently been given is a job that seemingly came out of “left field,” so-to-speak. It is to complete an  inventory of the boxes donated to MCCD by members of the Rock Springs Ground Squirrels Vintage Base Ball team. If the name rings a bell, that’s because it is one of the teams our very own Dr. Reid plays for.

The boxes were sitting in the CORE (what we at MCCD call the middle room of the building’s basement) for several years before there was time enough to sort through them. It will be an item-by-item inventory once it is all said and done. I will work on it as time allows and hopefully complete it by the end of my internship with MCCD. I also hope to develop an exhibit proposal based upon items within this collection.  I am sure it would be a “big hit” with visitors.

Until next time…

Au revoir Degas, le Tarble & Charleston…un clou chasse l’autre!

Well my HA friends, it has been real.  As my new friend Edgar Degas said:

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Ah oui Monsieur Degas!

If we switch out the word “art” for the word “accomplishments”…

I have managed to accomplish approximately 900 hours of work this summer!  To summarize, this entailed:

  • the completion of 3 major archival projects for APT, involving hundreds of publications–including one large collection in West Texas
  • acting as Assistant Registrar at the Tarble- communicating with an artist to arrange transport, insurance, and negotiate terms for a temporary loan for his incoming fall exhibit, AND I was assigned as the “lead” to check in the Degas exhibit
  • assisted in recording an audio tour for the Degas exhibit
  • completed a “backlog” accessions project, filled out catalogue worksheets, entered items onto Omeka, completed condition reports, artist and donor files, and marked the artwork
  • I continued as Project Coordinator for the Cultivating Creativity Traveling Exhibit, and…
  • I worked in the gallery at the Tarble- handling general operations and day-to-day tasks.
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This expresses exactly how I feel after three months.

But alas, all this hard work was not in vain- the wonderful staff at the Tarble trusted me to handle many things, and their confidence in me was a great boost to my self esteem.  I finally felt like I could actually be a “Museum Professional”.  I certainly value all that EIU, Mike Jackson, and the staff at the Tarble has taught me- I would not be able to list those accomplishments without them!  Au revoir!

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One of my more challenging Degas sketches to condition report. It was a terrible example of his work, and just between us, I am glad it did not make it into the show.

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Three Degas crates, 114 total pieces to process. I ended up having to rewrap and pack up over 20 pieces that did not make the final cut into the show.

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I was afraid at first to break one of the antique frames, but I soon became quite adept at cranking out the large volume of pieces.

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One of my favorites, a monotype by Degas. It makes me think of how frazzled I feel. Photo Courtesy of Landau Exhibits

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HA Coffee Addict signing off! I look forward to seeing everyone at HAPA 2016!