State Historical Museum extends run of popular tours of permanent collection and battle flag lab through end of the year

For immediate release September 12, 2005

 

 

Contact: Jeff Morgan, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – In response to continuing public demand, the State Historical Museum is extending the run of its popular “History Hunter” vault and battle flag tours through the end of the year.

Originally developed in December 2004, the vault tours explore the museum’s subterranean, climate-controlled storage facility where more than 100,000 artifacts of its permanent collection are housed. Curators offer entertaining and educational presentations about the artifacts and how the museum collects, catalogs, preserves, studies and displays them. Curators also lead tours through the Battle Flag Preservation Laboratory where more than 200 battle flags are being conserved and prepared for display in the museum and the State Capitol Building.

“These tours mark the first time the public has had access to the entire permanent collection in 114 years, and most of the battle flags have not been seen by anybody for more than 100 years,” Department of Cultural Affairs Director Anita Walker said. “We knew there would be widespread interest in these tours when we first developed them, but we’re still selling out a year later. Right now, we’re going to offer the tours through the end of the year, and then we’ll take a look at extending into 2006 if the demand is there.”

About 10 percent of the museum’s permanent 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 preserved and protected in an in-house conservation laboratory. Curators rotate artifacts into and out of exhibits as new displays are developed.

The museum collection, established in 1892 and originally housed in the State Capitol Building, had been in the Ola Babcock Miller Building 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 and clothing, quilts (including the famous Mary Barton Quilt Research Collection), political campaign and Iowa Caucus materials and Native American artifacts.

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 stuffed animals and dioramas dating back to the mid-1800s, and an albino deer.

The vault tours also showcase many road 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 had been a downtown Des Moines landmark for generations.

In the Battle Flag Preservation Laboratory, museum conservators are stabilizing and preserving U.S. national colors, regimental flags, banners and Cavalry guildons from the Civil War that were housed – some for more than 100 years – in four display cases in the Capitol rotunda. Most are silk flags with painted decorations and gold fringe.

The vast majority of these flags were last seen by the public in the 1890s. Some of them appear to be relatively intact while others are severely fractured with large areas of loss. Left unchecked, this damage eventually would have grown to become greater than what the flags endured in battle.

The vault tours are offered the third Saturday of each month at 10:30 a.m. at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street, Des Moines. Parents are encouraged to bring their children. There is a fee of $12 for adults, $8 for children 3 to12 years old, and children 2 and under are free. Proceeds are used for the care and preservation of the collection.

The battle flag tours are offered the third Saturday of each month at 1:30 p.m. at the State Historical Building. There is fee of $20 for adults, $18 for State Historical Society members. Due to the highly sensitive nature of the work involved with stabilizing and preserving Iowa’s historic battle flags, each tour is limited to 10 participants age 12 and older.

Vault and battle flag tour reservations can be made by calling (515) 283-1757 or by visiting the State Historical Building’s Iowa Museum Store at 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. Weekday group tours are available by contacting Hillary Liepa at (515) 281-3809 or hillary.liepa@iowa.gov.

The Iowa Historical Foundation, the private, non-profit fundraising arm of the State Historical Society of Iowa, has established a restricted account to receive contributions for the flag project. Individuals, veteran's organizations and many Civil War living historians have already made contributions to the project. For information on making a contribution, please contact the Iowa Historical Foundation, 600 E. Locust, Des Moines, Iowa 50319, or call (515) 281-5111.

The State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines, is open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday Noon to 4:30 p.m.

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