MOINES) Iowa – For the first time in its 114 years existence, the
State Historical Museum will open its subterranean corridors and entire permanent
collection to the general public for tours.
Beginning this month –
in conjunction with a number of other fun-filled family events – curators
will lead behind-the-scenes tours through the museum’s “vault,”
an underground climate-controlled preservation center that is home to more than
100,000 artifacts. Curators will offer entertaining and educational presentations
about the artifacts, the stories they hold about Iowa’s rich history, and
how the museum collects, catalogs, preserves, studies, cares for, and displays
the thrill they had when they first explored Grandma’s attic,” said
Anita Walker, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “This is a
once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore the museum’s storage facility, which
is full of Iowa’s history, and to experience our collective past.”
About 10 percent of the
museum’s collection is on display in public exhibits at any given time.
The balance of the collection is stowed beneath the museum where artifacts can
be repaired, restored, preserved and protected in an in-house conservation laboratory.
Curators rotate artifacts into and out of the “vault” as new exhibits
are developed, but this is the first time they will open the storage area for
“While the new facility
allows for proper care and preservation of the collection, many people have been
asking us for a long time to see some of the things they saw at the old building,”
Walker said. “So, we’re doing this because we are responding to public
The museum collection,
which was established in 1892 and originally housed in three rooms in the Capitol
Building, had been in the Ola Babcock Miller Building (now home to the State Library
of Iowa) at 1112 E. Grand Avenue from 1899 to 1987 before moving to its current
location at 600 E. Locust Street.
The museum maintains many
types of artifacts, including Civil War battle flags, natural history artifacts,
textiles & clothing, quilts (including the famous Mary Barton Quilt Research
Collection), political campaign & Iowa Caucus materials, and Native American
The variety of the collection
is broad and diverse, reflecting nearly every aspect of human history in Iowa.
Among the many unusual and interesting items, the museum currently has a log cabin,
cars, and square grand pianos... even a can of Spam.
Iowans' interaction with
the natural world is also reflected in specimens from the animal world, including
samples of real animal dung (used for fueling fires), stuffed animals and dioramas
dating back to the mid-1800s, and an albino deer.
The public also will see
many road signs and signs, a petrified beaver corkscrew underground burrow, a
stuffed rooster, “Jack Pershing” used by Iowa farmers to raise funds
during World War I for the Red Cross, old cars, an early Iowa State Patrol motorcycle,
antique furniture, and the huge neon Traveler’s Life sign that was a downtown
Des Moines landmark for generations.
The hour-long walking tours
will be held at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street, Des Moines,
in conjunction with a number of holiday events that will be fun for the entire
family. Parents are encouraged to bring their children on the tours, which will
be conducted on December 18, 21, and 23, 2004 at 10:30 a.m.; and December 28-30,
2004 at 1 p.m. Tour admission is $12 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under,
and free for children 2 and under. Parents are encouraged to accompany younger
children on the tours.
Museum tour tickets are
available by calling (515) 283-1757; online
at Reflections of Iowa, the Museum Store; or in the store located
in the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust. The behind-the-scenes tours are
limited to groups of 20 so the public is encouraged to purchase tickets in advance.
Museum tour proceeds will
provide funding for care and preservation of the Historical Museum collection.
Tour participants may redeem their tickets at the Museum Store for a 10 percent
discount on SHSI’s 2005 “Treasure the Times” calendar featuring
historic images from the Society’s collection.
Beginning January 15,
2005, the tours will be held at 10:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month.
The tours will be held
in conjunction with a number of fun-filled family events, including:
- “Snowflake Saturday”
on December 18, 2004 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (admission is $2 for children 2-14,
adults are free)
- “Cards, Boxes &
Bows on December 21 and 23, 2004 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (FREE ADMISSION)
- “Freedom Star: Gertie's
Journey on the Underground Railroad, ” presented by the Eulenspiegel Puppet
Theatre on December 28-30, 2004 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., with workshops at 11:15
a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Admission is $5 per person for the performances and the workshops
The State Historical Society
of Iowa, established in 1857, has a dual mission of preservation and education.
As a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy, SHSI preserves, protects and shares
Iowa's historical resources. As an advocate of understanding Iowa's past, SHSI
educates Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information,
and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others
throughout the state.