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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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