Tag Archives: historic sites

A historical perspective on Tombstone tourism

Longtime readers may recall that we’ve looked at heritage tourism in the American West (and particularly in Tombstone, AZ) a couple of times.  This topic came up in a fascinating discussion on social media a few days ago, when Kara McCormack shared a series of tweets about preservation, historical memory, and tourism in Tombstone at the Arizona Historical Society’s Twitter account.

McCormack is the author of Imagining Tombstone, an examination of the ways that popular mythology and the desire for historical authenticity have shaped the town’s preservation and tourism efforts.  She notes that the 1940s marked the point when Tombstone boosters really started to play up the O.K. Corral shootout, due to the success of John Ford’s Earp film My Darling Clementine.  But while the town has benefited from Hollywood-driven Earpmania, preservationists have struggled to assert the town’s authenticity as a real historic site.  Hence “the constant tension between the use of entertainment to attract visitors and the imperative of maintaining #historic #authenticity that the town must negotiate,” as McCormack writes.

As I’ve noted before, it’s been my experience that historic sites associated with gunfighters have a tendency to be kitschier than many other sites.  Sometimes it’s to the detriment of a site’s educational value.  But does that make the experience of visiting them any less authentic?  I don’t think it necessarily does.  Just about any historic site is a mixture of “original” and “reconstruction,” and of presenting things the way they were alongside whatever alterations or accommodations are necessary to make it a public facility.  Most of us prefer the mixture to be as convincing and unobtrusive as possible.  But no matter how it’s done, you’re still on the spot where it all happened, and thus having some type of firsthand, physical engagement with the past.

Anyway, read the whole tweet series.  It’s very interesting stuff.  (And it looks like I’m going to have to order McCormack’s book, too!)

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Filed under Frontier History, Historic Preservation, History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites

Need online resources about presidential history?

There’s a good chance you do, since so many people are homebound right now.  Check out the White House Historical Association’s collection of resources from the nation’s presidential sites—virtual tours, blogs, educational material, you name it.  The ALLM is there, too, right at the top of the list of Lincoln sites.

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When museums fold, small towns and rural communities lose the most

According to the president of the American Association of Museums, as many as one-third of the museums that have closed for COVID-19 may never reopen.  That’s astonishing to contemplate.  And if it happens, I think it’s the small towns and rural communities that will lose most.

Although I work at a museum that has one of the largest private collections of its kind, it’s located in a region of low population density. Our county has about 32,000 residents, with a density of seventy-four people per square mile (something like half the density of the state as a whole).  There are only about 4,000 people in our hometown, and the closest towns north and south of us have just over 10,000 and 2,000 people, respectively.

Since we’re one of the more visible museums in the area, people rely on us for a wider range of functions than a glance at our mission statement might suggest. They’re not just coming to learn about Lincoln and the Civil War.  They come with inquiries about history as a whole, from the Archaic period to the Cold War…and with questions about genealogy, education, preservation, grant writing, tourism, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes they come with questions that have nothing to do with history at all.  People bring in fossils, rock specimens, and archaeological material.  There are a lot of things we can’t identify, of course, but we can direct them to other institutions with the relevant expertise. We’re lucky to be a kind of conduit between local residents and the rest of the museum and academic world.

Perhaps more importantly, small towns and rural areas don’t always have the array of specialized services, facilities, and institutions that people in cities take for granted. A local museum can help fill the void.

At the museum where I’m employed, we’re proud to be a multipurpose institution for our region. We’re a homeschool classroom, a speaker’s bureau, a civic center, and a library.  We’ve hosted yoga sessions and political debates, scouting activities and voter registration drives, memorial services and Easter egg rolls, art workshops and reunions.  We have regulars who come by just to browse the gift shop for new reading material, since our town doesn’t have a bookstore on every corner.

When rural and small-town museums close, who will fill all these needs?  Who will provide all these services?

If you live in a small community, your local museum will need your support in the coming weeks: your donations, your engagement with online and remote programming, and your advocacy.  Take a few minutes to let your elected officials know how much that museum means to you, and if you can spare some money to help tide a neighborhood museum over, consider sending them a donation.

Downtown Sylva, NC. AbeEzekowitz / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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Museums and historic sites need your help during the COVID-19 crisis

We were lucky at the ALLM.  When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we were already closed to the public because of our big construction project.  For a lot of other museums, though, it’s a real catastrophe.

In fact, the COVID-19 outbreak is costing American museums, historic sites, zoos, and aquariums something like $33 million per day.  And these institutions can’t just turn off the lights, lock their doors, and wait for the crisis to pass.  Collections have to be monitored, historic buildings have to be maintained and secured, and (with so many kids now doing all their learning at home) their online programming is more vital than ever.

Like other sectors of the economy, museums and historic sites are in desperate need of support to keep their heads above water during this emergency.  The fallout could be disastrous—as in one quarter of all museums closing permanently if they can’t start bringing visitors in again soon.  We simply can’t let that happen.  This is a $50 billion industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people, and immeasurably enriches the lives of many millions more.

The American Association for State and Local History is asking people who care about these institutions to get in touch with their legislators and urge them to back economic relief legislation for nonprofit museums, along with a temporary charitable deduction to boost the donations museums depend on.  They’ve even put together some talking points you can use when calling lawmakers.

Please read AASLH’s appeal, and then take a few minutes to get in touch with your representative and senators.

Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. Photo by Dave Pape via Wikimedia Commons

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Commemorating a Revolutionary woman at Sycamore Shoals

East Tennessee artist Mary Ruden‘s statue of Mary Patton is on display at Sycamore Shoals State Park until the end of this month.

Patton and her husband operated a powder mill in the Watauga settlements.  Most accounts credit her with outfitting the King’s Mountain expedition.  Sycamore Shoals is an especially appropriate venue for this sculpture, since two of Patton’s big powder kettles are on exhibit there.

This is one of a series of Ruden’s works depicting historic Tennessee women. Her next subject is suffragist Lizzie Crozier French, just in time for the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment.

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Filed under American Revolution, Appalachian History, Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History

Nathanael Greene’s home isn’t a place to dump your trash

The Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead in Coventry, RI has to shell out a couple thousand dollars for a security camera setup because of jackasses who dump their trash there.

It’s happened twice in two months.  And we’re not talking a little bit of trash, either.  It’s like truckloads of construction and landscaping debris.

If you’d like to contribute some money to help defray the cost of the cameras, click here for contact info.

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Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites

Lawmakers threaten to gut Minnesota Historical Society over an entrance sign

I hear a lot these days about how “they’re erasing our history.”  Well, here’s an example of politicians doing their darnedest to accomplish that very thing.  How many of the people who complain about erasing history will speak up about this?

Minnesota senators on Thursday passed a GOP-sponsored measure that would cut the Minnesota Historical Society’s budget for using a Dakota people’s name to identify the site of Historic Fort Snelling.

The fort is located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers; the Dakota people called the site “Bdote.” To identify the location, the Historical Society recently added the words “at Bdote” to temporary signs welcoming visitors to the fort.

State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, called the addition “revisionist history” and moved legislation to cut the society’s state funding.

Kiffmeyer is chair of the Senate committee that oversees state agency budgets, and she tucked a provision into a larger budget bill that would reduce the Historical Society’s appropriation by $4 million a year.

That represents an 18-percent decrease that could mean 53 to 80 layoffs, cutting hours at historic sites and “severe reductions” in the organization’s educational and other programs, said Historical Society Director and CEO Kent Whitworth.

Eighty Minnesotans should lose their jobs, thousands of schoolchildren should lose access to historical programming, and tens of thousands of residents and visitors should lose access to the state’s historic sites…because a welcome sign now reads “Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote” instead of “Historic Fort Snelling.”

There just might be some revisionist history going on here, you see.

Eventually, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, stepped in to explain.

“The controversy revolves around whether or not the Historical Society is involved in revisionist history,” Newman said. “I do not agree with what the Historical Society is engaged in doing. I believe it to be revisionist history.”

Yessir.  Once you start revising history, there’s no telling what calamities might ensue.

Everybody knows that you can’t do science without revision and correction.  But people have this idea that history is a static body of knowledge.  This knowledge isn’t the product of inquiry and interpretation. And it certainly isn’t the product of revising earlier interpretations (which were themselves the result of careful, deliberate inquiry).

This knowledge just exists.  It always has, ever since the historical events in question took place—as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.  Amen.  

The historian’s task thus becomes a simple, straightforward matter of custodianship.  You can forget critical inquiry or investigation. In fact, you can forget even simple addition to this body of knowledge.  It’s a zero-sum game.  If you try to broaden it by taking new perspectives into account, it means you’ve got to delete something else.  

You can’t, for example, add Indians without taking away military history:

On Thursday, Kiffmeyer engaged in some revising of her own. Now the controversy was about more than a single sign.

Fort Snelling, she said, should be an unbroken celebration of Minnesota’s military history.

“It is the history of Minnesota. It is military appreciation,” Kiffmeyer said. “Minnesota’s history all the way back to the Civil War and the very first regiments … is deep and strong and long.”

“Fort Snelling is about military history and we should be very careful to make sure that we keep that,” she said. “It’s the only real military history in a very unifying way amongst all Minnesotans.”

If history has any usefulness, it’s all about “unifying” and a instilling a sense of “appreciation.”  Again, critical inquiry and investigation aren’t part of the equation.

But the funny thing is, while Kiffmeyer wants the site to focus on “Minnesota’s military history,” she seems blissfully ignorant of how central Indians were to Fort Snelling’s existence as a military post in the first place.

She invokes Minnesota history “all the way back to the Civil War.” Does she realize that the most important event in Fort Snelling’s Civil War history was the 1862 Dakota uprising?  Does she know that during the Civil War, the fort was an internment camp for more than 1600 of the very same people whose ancestors called the place Bdote?

Dakota internment camp at Fort Snelling, 1862. From the Minnesota Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons

Fortunately, the state senate’s funding proposal isn’t the last word on this.  The governor and representatives still have to weigh in.  If you’d like to learn how to support the Minnesota Historical Society amid this brouhaha, click here.

Fort Snelling. Ben Franske [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

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The Alamo’s furry guardian

I was today years old when I learned that the Alamo has an official resident kitty.

The cat’s full name is Isabella Francisca Veramendi de Valero, but you can call her “Bella,” for short. Her royal full name pulls from Texas history, including the Goliad Massacre (Francisca, the Angel of Goliad), an early leader of San Antonio de Bexar (Juan Martín Veramendi) and the original name of the Alamo (which was Mission San Antonio de Valero).

Bella isn’t the first cat to call the Alamo home. “Mistress Clara Carmack” (C.C.) reigned for 18 years before Bella, as did Ruby, who lived there from 1981 until 1986. According to Texas Monthly, both Ruby and C.C. are buried on the grounds and each of the animals receives permanent memorials on the website of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, where sentences like “C.C., as you can see from her photo, was a regal feline who was aware of her importance,” “during her short life not a stray cat, dog, nor ‘nother varmint dared set foot in the sacred battleground,” and “she liked reading about Ms. Clara Driscoll, who with Adina de Zavala, saved the Alamo from being demolished” appear with utmost sincerity.

Bella’s quite active on Twitter.

Hey, maybe historic site cats need their own professional association.  A feline auxiliary of the AASLH, perhaps.

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Recommended reading from the ALLM staff

Remember a few months ago when I posted this?

Maybe there’s a way to incorporate “teachable moments” into visitors’ gift shop browsing. Some chain bookstores have staff recommendation sections where the displays include a brief message from employees about why particular books appealed to them. Maybe museum shops should set aside some shelf space where curators and staff historians could highlight especially good works in their fields, complete with blurbs about why each title appeals to them. Besides encouraging people to pick up solid works, it would have the added benefit of putting a human face on the staff, allowing them to engage visitors on a personal level without even setting foot outside their offices.

Well, we’re going to give it a try at the ALLM, at the suggestion of our program coordinator, Natalie Sweet.  We’ve selected a few of our favorite books from the gift shop and added personalized blurbs to the shelf display.  Maybe it’ll prompt visitors to give these titles an extra look and foster their own independent historical studies.

Natalie picked Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln.  It was the first Lincoln book she read as a kid.  Her note to visitors explains why it made an impression on her.

Steven Wilson, our curator, recommended The Wilderness Road.  It’s an engaging history of the museum’s neck of the woods by a former LMU president, first published in 1947.

And I decided to recommend Battle Cry of Freedom, still my favorite one-volume history of the Civil War.  We want visitors to leave hungry for more information about Lincoln’s era, and I think it’s as good a place to start as any.

If this little experiment works out, we might devote more shelf space to staff recommendations, and maybe get suggestions from the Civil War historians on the faculty.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Museums and Historic Sites

Last stand of the Regulators

Alamance Battleground had been on my bucket list for many years, so I stopped by for a visit on my way back from a research trip a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a small site, but its story is very important to the history of the eighteenth-century backcountry

Settlers in the North Carolina uplands had a great deal to be upset about in the years leading up to the American Revolution.  Underrepresented in the provincial legislature, they were also subject to exorbitant taxation and fees by corrupt local officials who were, in the words of Richard Beeman, “as feckless, venal, and larcenous a lot as existed anywhere in America.”  Exasperated backcountry farmers—”Regulators,” as they called themselves—responded by breaking up courts and engaging in some of the same resistance tactics that seaboard colonists were employing against British taxation.

The revolt came to a head at Adamance, where a force of approximately 2,000 armed Regulators faced off against just over 1,000 militiamen under the command of Gov. William Tryon on May 16, 1771.

Here’s a view from near the Regulator lines, facing toward the position taken by Tryon’s men.

And here’s another, this time facing the Regulators’ position from the opposite side of the field.

After trading volleys with Tryon’s militia, the Regulators broke.  At least nine men died on each side (Tryon’s losses may have been higher).  The governor hanged one prisoner in his camp nearby; six more went to the gallows in Hillsborough the following month.  One of the condemned men appears on the plaque affixed to this monument, which was originally placed at the Guilford Courthouse battlefield in 1901 and moved to Alamance in 1962.

The fact that a monument to the Regulators’ defeat once sat on North Carolina’s largest Revolutionary War battlefield is significant.  Early chroniclers referred to Alamance as the “first battle of the American Revolution,” with determined farmers standing up to a tyrannical government headed by a royal appointee.  This monument, dedicated in 1880, identifies the combatants at Adamance as “THE BRITISH AND THE REGULATORS,” although the men in Tryon’s ranks were the Regulators’ fellow colonists.

The actual relationship between the Regulators and the Revolution was more complicated.  The rebels had indeed defied a royal governor.  But a good part of the blame for their predicament lay with the eastern Carolinians who dominated the colonial legislature and kept backcountry concerns marginalized in provincial politics.  And it was just such men who, calling themselves Patriots, led the protest movement against imperial taxation.  When the Revolutionary War broke out and these easterners looked westward for support, many backcountry citizens were still nursing grievances from the Regulator dispute.  The same thing happened in South Carolina, which underwent a separate Regulator movement in the 1760s.

The Regulation wasn’t a dress rehearsal for the Revolution.  Instead, it made the Whigs’ task of mobilizing the backcountry more difficult when war with Britain came.  As a result, both Carolinas went into that war divided, and British armies would find some of their most zealous supporters among the backcountry colonists that seaboard Patriots had antagonized.

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Filed under American Revolution, Colonial America, History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites