I have talked to many people that have visited the museum over the last few months. It is fantastic that so many people are passionate about the wonderful history stored there. I wanted to spread the word further about what is going on at the museum.
I wanted to take a few moments to address a few misunderstandings and to let people in on what is in store for next year. I encourage anyone with questions to contact me to discuss them. I am happy to talk to anyone, and I love to learn more about the collection from the community.
I am working to protect the collection for the future, which I was hired to do
We are not throwing artifacts away. Any objects moved from the depot have been carefully packed and moved to the house. Photos and documents are being organized into protective folders for storage until they are on display or digitized. We are doing a much needed museum-wide inventory and assessment to make sure all the items, including the buildings and trains, will be taken care of in the best way possible for as long as possible.
I did not open the house this season to protect the many artifacts inside while I completed the inventory. Also, I simply don’t have enough volunteers to keep the many parts of the museum open with adequate supervision of the objects. City employees mentioned that there was theft of objects and vandalism in the past. So, I wanted to be very careful until the situation was completely secure.
There was a dumpster at the museum because we were clearing out the boxcar, which had been used by the city and an outside group for storage. When the group left, they left almost an entire dumpster of their scrap materials behind. These were not artifacts.
We are also picking up and removing some scrap metal pieces that were laying around the park in order to make the park safer for children who have been picking up the rusted metal and playing with them. Safety of our visitors, especially children, is very important.
We are blessed with an abundance of objects, including a massive manuscript collection, that require a change in style of exhibition from the past
Due to the generosity of the people of Tooele, the museum has more historical objects, papers, and photos than it can display at one time and still protect the artifacts. This is common for successful museums. Most museums store the majority of their collections and bring out a few items at a time to show in a protected environment. To protect the artifacts the museum must move to this method. Objects have to be stored in specific conditions to give them a maximum lifespan. Light exposure, temperature, and humidity are very important factors to consider for each object when caring for it. A normal collections storage temperature is often much colder than most people want to be while viewing exhibits. In order to expand the life of the objects as long as possible, I am rotating the objects on display. Sadly, you can already see the destruction of a desert environment and light exposure on some of the objects at the museum. Preservation is a difficult battle and it only gets harder as the objects get older. If you would like the technical specifications of what I am doing, I am happy to provide information and have discussions on object preservation.
Because I know how much people love certain items, I am working to create an online display of the most popular items so people can see them as often as they wish and share them with others. Many museums have begun displaying some items online so people can see a sample of the many wonderful items in their collection while still protecting the items.
As a public museum, we want to create a secure environment that allows everyone to be able to visit the museum. We are working to make sure that the exhibits are accessible to everyone by making enough room for wheelchairs and strollers. This consideration also contributes to the new arrangement of space in the exhibit spaces.
Finally, we want everyone to learn about the history represented at the museum. Enough time has passed since the closing of the smelter and the railway that newer generations and newcomers to Tooele don’t know the stories. In order to educate them, we have to add much more explanation to the items in the exhibits. This is another reason are reworking the exhibit areas in the museum.
I am only allowed to work 20 hours a week, and I spend much of my time while the museum is open talking to visitors. So, the work on exhibits does not move forward as quickly as I would like. Also, the museum has been suffering for a long time by lack of local funding. The city pays for the operating of the museum and routine maintenance, while still keeping it free to the public. However, preserving historic buildings, railways, and objects is very expensive and the city cannot afford to pay for it all. While there is a lot of passion from locals about the museum, there is not enough money from donations to preserve the artifacts and buildings. Writing the grants to get the money takes time and increases the amount of time it takes to develop exhibits or complete projects.
I am not from Tooele, but I am passionate about preserving the collection and telling the stories it represents
Some people are concerned that since I am not from Tooele and not from Newtown that I will not respect or take care of their history. I moved to Tooele five years ago and have made it my home. I think it is a great town with an interesting history. That is one of the reasons I choose to live here. In order to protect that history and share it with others, I joined the county and city historic preservation commissions. I have helped write two successful grants to help restore and protect the history of the county. One was to have the dock of the Tooele Valley Railway depot restored. I began working at the museum April and have worked closely with the City Hall to further their goals for the museum. Also, I have personally provided almost two thousand dollars this year to the operation of the museum, creating programs for local children, and protection of items in the collection. I am invested in preserving the objects at the museum and telling its stories.
I was raised in a small town in Texas about the same size of Tooele and my family comes from working class roots in Louisiana and Oklahoma. I believe the past is so vital to our culture that I worked my way through college and graduate school to learn about it and how to protect it. I have been studying Tooele’s history since I arrived and love learning about it. I wanted to work at the museum because I was so inspired by the collection after I took Jean’s tour. While I don’t have a history with the local smelter, underground mines, or the Tooele Valley Railway, my own family has worked in the hard, dirty, thankless yet extremely vital jobs of the petroleum industry, military ammunition plants, trucking, wheat farming, and river shipping. I do personally identify with the importance of local industrial history and the people who do those jobs.
I am honored to be able to work at the museum, protect the objects in the collection, and share the stories associated with them because of my heritage, even though I am not from Tooele. I think my perspective allows me to understand the needs of the many new people moving in to the community and share Tooele’s past with them.
Museum professionals and historians are trained to abide by certain ethics, which I take very seriously. This link provides an example of our ethics.
I welcome feedback and local assistance at the museum
I will say that again, I welcome feedback at the museum. I have talked to many people over the last few months. I created a special feedback form on our webpage that I monitor and respond to. I am happy to talk to anyone who comes in or has a concern, as I have been doing for months. There have been advertisements asking people to join the museum’s advisory board and volunteer for months. I have asked many people that come into the museum to join the board or be a volunteer, but few have come back to work. I hope to see more local people at the museum. In fact, I would love to begin a program for people to record their stories of working at the smelter and living in Newtown.
What is in store for next year?
During the fall, winter, and spring, I will be working at the museum to develop the following exhibits.
A Newtown Exhibit
Last summer I worked with Jean at the museum and had several talks with her about what she wanted for the museum and what she thought was most important. I spoke to her again after I was hired. I know how important the story of Newtown was to her and the neighborhood. So, we are working on putting together a permanent Newtown exhibit in the bottom floor of the house. However, it takes time to put together a professional and respectful exhibit. I have been gathering the items for this exhibit for the past five months and planned to have it ready when we open in the spring. I would love for anyone who grew up in the neighborhood to be involved and tell me their stories so we can add more to the exhibit.
A Tooele Army Depot Exhibit
We are also working to create a permanent exhibit telling the story of the Tooele Army Depot. I have been working with local historians and collectors to create an exhibit that will provide many different perspectives on the history of the depot.
A Great Salt Lake Exhibit
We will also have a new Great Salt Lake Exhibit. Our museum collection has some wonderful items from the Great Salt Lake resorts and industries that operate around the lake. I am preparing an exhibit to show off these items.
A Railway Memories Online Exhibit and Walking Tour
To celebrate the Tooele Valley Railway and the Transcontinental Railroad Completion 150th anniversary, we are creating a place for people to learn more about the railway, walk where it once traveled, and share their memories of the train. We hope many people will be involved.