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State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release June 25, 2009

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

New Historical Museum exhibit showcases rarely seen artifacts

Washington’s hair, Lincoln’s glasses, Roosevelt’s rocking chair on display

(DES MOINES) – Nearly 200 artifacts ranging from George Washington’s hair and Abraham Lincoln’s glasses to a Daniel Boone rifle and military uniforms, weapons and ammunition go on display next month in a new exhibit at the State Historical Museum.

“Rarely Seen: Cool Stuff from the Museum” opens July 11, 2009, for an extended run at the State Historical Museum, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. Admission is free and open to the public. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

“The artifacts in this new exhibit showcase the far reaching impact of Iowa’s rich past,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “I encourage all Iowans and visitors to our state to come see this exhibit and enjoy learning more about the history of Iowa.”

The State Historical Society of Iowa, which oversees the State Historical Museum, has been collecting the material remains of Iowa’s past since 1857. The collection of artifacts is the heart of the State Historical Museum and the basis of all its activities.

“Rarely Seen” showcases nearly 200 historical artifacts arranged in three large groupings: artifacts associated with famous people, places or events; common everyday artifacts of a utilitarian nature; and artifacts that are unique, pleasing or innovative.

The artifacts range from an iron lung to a lock of George Washington’s hair; from the horse collars of the world’s largest and smallest horses; from fuel rods from the 1950s nuclear reactor at Iowa State University to shoe making tools brought to Iowa in the 1870s.

Following is a partial list of additional artifacts in the exhibit:

Artifact: Roosevelt Rocking Chair

Object Information: Large rocking chair made of Osage orange hedge wood. Manufactured for President Theodore Roosevelt when he delivered a speech at Rand Park, Keokuk, Iowa, on April 29, 1903.

Artifact: George Washington’s Silver Pipe

Object Information: George Washington’s pipe, silver, 1891, R.N. Dahlberg collection.

Artifact: Lincoln Eyeglasses

Object Information: Worn by Abraham Lincoln while in the White House, 1860-1865. Presented by Mary Harlan Lincoln (Mrs. Robert) to her friend Jo Leisenring of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, who gave them to Mr. and Mrs. Elbert E. Smith, Aug. 25, 1949. Wire rims with rectangular lenses.

Artifact: Khrushchev/Garst Burka

Object Information: Sheepskin, 1959, made possibly in Ukraine. White sheepskin cape with red satin lining. Flairs out from shoulders. Given to Roswell Garst by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.

Artifact: Daniel Boone Rifle

Object Information: Rifle, 1775, Daniel Boone’s.

Artifact: Display of Independence Hall Brick

Object Information: Liberty Brick taken from Independence Hall, Philadelphia. “The brick and the case in which it was enclosed had been made use of in various meetings to advance the cause of bond selling and was presented to the schools of Iowa for their splendid co-operation in the war work. The present plan is to have the brick remain permanently in the State Historical Building.”

Artifact: Gordon Gammack Typewriter

Object Information: Typewriter, Smith Corona, manual. Used by Gordon Gammack.

Artifact: Parachute Wedding Dress, 1946

Object Information: Wedding, nylon parachute material, cream color, 1946. Dress made from cargo parachute dropped from plane by groom for fiancée, Arlene Alberts. Dress has squared neckline, long tight sleeves with snap cuffs, side zipper and flaring skirt. Donated by Clinton Fogde.

Artifact: Explorer III Satellite Material

Object Information: Instruments in Explorer III, America’s Second Satellite in space, March 26, 1958. This is a spare payload made at a cost of $20,000 to be ready to go in case of failure of first attempt. Designed by George H. Ludwig under direction of Dr. James A. Van Allen, Department of Physics at the State University of Iowa.

The story behind these and other State Historical Museum’s artifacts is as interesting as the history they hold.

Artifacts were held in the Capitol Building until the early 1900s, when they were moved to the “Old Historical Building,” which is now the Ola Babcock Miller Building.

At the Old Historical Building, artifacts were crammed into a hodge podge of exhibits, and stacked on dirt floors in the building’s basement and crawlspace. As a whole, they suffered extensive damage from decades of exposure to sunlight, coal dust, tobacco smoke and fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

When the new State Historical Building opened in 1987, museum staff conducted an exhaustive audit of its collection, created permanent exhibits that tell a linear, chronological story of Iowa, and secured damaged artifacts in a state-of-the-art storage facility for protection and preservation.

In recent years, the museum opened its storage facility to the public for tours of its battle flag laboratory and permanent collection, which has grown to more than 110,000 artifacts.

“The tours proved to be very popular and we are more satisfied today with the condition of the permanent collection,” Pederson said. “Those two factors led us to create this new exhibit. We will keep it open indefinitely and rotate artifacts in and out of it to keep it fresh and exciting for visitors to see over and over again.”


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state.


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