City museum weds something new, something old
Old Settlers’ Day is fast approaching, and Marion City Museum, a place specializing in ‘old,’ will once again be a favorite destination for visitors.
But bringing some newness to the old is a goal museum director Cynthia Blount and the museum’s board of directors have for local residents and the steady stream of out-of-town visitors throughout the year, something achieved through a variety of activities and changing exhibits.
Special thematic exhibits lasting one or two months are regular offerings at the museum, highlighting unique interests or providing historical perspective to current events.
“We wanted these monthly things as an excuse for local folks to come back to the museum. As time goes on, hopefully people will realize there are new things going on,” Marion County Historical Society board member Gary Ewert said.
Special exhibits have featured items from outside of the museum’s permanent collection, such as a collection of old games donated by Ewert that brought back childhood memories for many, and provided some fun for museum staff as well.
“We played Chinese checkers a lot,” director Cynthia Blount laughed. “It’s better than a video game.”
An exhibit designed to coincide with the recent garden tour featured old garden tools and yard ornaments, including items from the antique tools collection of Wendy Youk of Marion, Blount said.
The museum will be linking a special exhibit to the Kansas Sesquicentennial by featuring items from the 1961 state centennial celebration. Since the museum depends on donations for its collection, Blount noted one wrinkle making this exhibit more difficult to put together.
“We don’t have that much from 1961 – the 50s and 60s are kind of new for us,” Blount said. “People look at things they have and think they’re not that old yet.”
Another avenue the museum has used to bring in local residents has been to collaborate with educators in USD 408.
“This past spring we had a poster and video contest at the high school and elementary school,” Ewert explained. “For open house at Christmas, we worked with the art department for decorations for the tree we put on display.”
Scavenger hunts and a Santa Fe trail mystery box in the museum are designed to engage young and old in a hands-on approach to history.
“People stick their hands in a box and try to identify things that would have been found along the Santa Fe trail. There are worksheets for different ages,” Ewert said, noting the items are frequently moved around and changed to keep the exhibit fresh.
Blount credits board members for encouraging the connection with education.
“We’re just lucky we have teachers on our board because they are interested in doing a lot of those programs to get the schools interested in the museum,” Blount said.
Old, often fragile pictures have found new life in the digital age, as the image collection has been scanned and is accessible on Blount’s computer at the museum.
“I’ve scanned just about all the pictures in the museum – it took several years,” she said.
“We get people who need pictures of a building or family,” Blount continued. “I just do a search and show them what we we have.”
A set of unidentified pictures is posted online on the museum’s page at the Marion city website, with an e-mail link for history sleuths to report their discoveries.
“We always love to get pictures,” Blount said.
The museum collection continues to grow through donations from near and far. A connection to one of Marion’s founding families will arrive soon.
“We just had a woman email from Britsh Columbia – she has a cake lifter that belonged to William and Charity Shreve, and this comes from their daughter Sara Elizabeth,” Blount said. “She just felt it belonged here.”
“I got a call from a couple that live in Colorado, and they had some items to drop off,” she continued. “Their grandma had a rooming house, and they dropped off the register from the rooming house, some clothes, and school certificates.”
While the museum will continue to find ways to engage area residents, people from out of town are the museum’s largest segment of patrons.
“We have people come in from all over,” Blount said. “We just had a couple in from the Netherlands.”
“We deal with out of town people looking for genealogy,” she added, noting the museum has a number of notebooks filled with genealogical information.
The room featuring school memorabilia is a popular destination on Old Settlers’ Day, particularly for those having high school class reunions who come in to look at the museum’s collection of class pictures and high school yearbooks.
This year, Old Settlers’ Day visitors can view a video featuring another Old Settlers’ Day from years past, as well as the dedication of the post office, put together from donated eight-millimeter film. The video is available for sale.
One other feature may draw in casual Art in the Park and Old Settlers Day participants that has nothing to do with history.
“People can go in and cool down,” Ewert said. “We have air conditioning, and new insulated windows. It’s much more comfortable.”
The Marion City Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 2 p.m., or by appointment with 24 hours notice by calling (620) 382-9134, or (620) 382-3703.
Last modified Sept. 15, 2011