Historical Museum extends tours of battle flags and permanent collection into 2006

For immediate release January 3, 2006



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

(DES MOINES) – The State Historical Museum announced today it is extending the run of its popular History Hunter Tours into next year.

The curator-led tours have been highly successful since their introduction in December 2004, taking visitors through the museum’s subterranean, climate-controlled “vault” where more than 100,000 artifacts and 200 Civil War battle flags are preserved and protected.

“Because our collection is so extensive, we can only put about 10 percent of it on display at any given time,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Anita Walker said. “So we opened up the vault last year for tours in response to the public’s requests to see more of the collection. It marked the first time the public has had direct access to the entire permanent collection in 114 years and we’re still going strong.”

Tours of the Permanent Collection are offered at 10:30 a.m. on January 21, February 18, March 18 and April 15. Tickets are $12 per person, $8 for children 3-12 years old. Children under two are free.

Tours of the Battle Flag Preservation Laboratory are offered at 1:30 p.m. on January 21, February 18, March 18 and April 15. Tickets are $20 per person, $18 for members of the State Historical Society of Iowa. 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.

Reservations are available by calling 515-283-1757 or visiting the State Historical Building’s museum store at 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. In addition, weekday group tour reservations are available by contacting Hillary Liepa at 515-281-3809 or Hillary.Liepa@iowa.gov. The State Historical Building is open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4:30 p.m.

The permanent 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 and natural history in Iowa. Among the many unusual and interesting items, the museum currently has a log cabin, vintage 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 preserved animals and dioramas dating back to the mid-1800s, and a white deer.

The tours also showcase historic road signs, a prehistoric animal 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 relatively intact while others are severely damaged. Left unchecked, this damage eventually would have grown to become greater than what the flags endured in battle.

The Iowa Historical Foundation, the private, nonprofit 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 historians have already made contributions. 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 Museum is part of the State Historical Society of Iowa, 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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