Friday, June 20, 2014

Making Main Street: Buildings in Transition

Last Friday we enjoyed welcoming more than 100 people to an opening reception for the new art installation at the McConnell Mansion that coincided with Moscow's Artwalk.  Old friends and new acquaintances stopped by to see the beautiful prints of Kristin Carlson Becker, a local artist.  Her pieces are a perfect fit for the Mansion because each playfully presents the curious histories of many downtown buildings.  The colorful prints that make up "Making Making Street: Buildings in Transition" not only draw on historic photos but also on prints produced by Palouse Prairie students who worked with Kristin over the past year.  The results of this inventive collaboration are fun, lively, and intriguing.

The exhibit will be up at the McConnell Mansion for much of the summer, so don't miss your chance to see these unique tributes to local history in person!

Artist Kristin Carlson Becker discusses her prints with visitors

An old cigar display case from the Moscow Hotel displays a few prints, including that of the Moscow Hotel

The print exhibition is augmented by brief historical descriptions of the buildings and historic photos

The exhibition includes prints of twenty of Moscow's historic downtown buildings
  To see more of Kristin's work, visit her website here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Conference Season

Recently I have been away to conferences, attending both the American Alliance for Museums (AAM) conference in Seattle as well as the Northwest Archivists conference in Spokane.  I would like to take a few moments of your time to share what I learned at these conferences and how I believe we can incorporate that knowledge into the Latah County Historical Society. 

At AAM 2014 I learned about the latest trends in the museums.  One of the more interesting sessions discussed the re-imagining visitor encounters with objects.  This session highlighted on catering interpretation to the families in creating exhibits and displays in order to drive engagement.  Another session that was particularly interesting was the idea of banishing the guided tour in historic houses.  According to their research only 38% of core museum attendees enjoy guided tours; therefore 62% of core attendees (people who self-identify as enjoying museums and visiting them frequently) do not enjoy guided tours.  This statistic has got me thinking about ways to interpret the McConnell Mansion without reciting a guided tour.  These ideas have gotten me thinking about changing the interpretation of the McConnell Mansion.  I do want to caution the readers that this change is not something that might happen overnight, rather with careful long-term planning.

As part of the AAM conference I went to a working lunch for the Historic House Network (HHN), a small facet of the AAM group.  This lunch session was a great way for me to meet other professionals working in historic houses.  It was interesting to meet other historic house professionals and talk about the common challenges in the field.  The most exciting part of this lunch was that the HHN is looking for leaders.  I applied for a leadership position with the HHN to provide more opportunities for historic houses to share their experiences and how they are thriving. 

One of the more fun parts of AAM 2014 was the Emerging Innovators Forum.  I was fortunate enough to present at the Emerging Innovators Forum this year, presenting Mobile Interpretation on a Shoestring Budget.  For this presentation I brought many QR Codes that I have been working on creating with the Latah County Historic Preservation Commission.  These QR Codes told the history of Latah County buildings and showed LCHS archival images.  To augment the presentation of the project I prepared an outline for attendees to take home that explained the process of creating QR Codes for use in their own institutions.  At this forum I received great feedback from attendees regarding this project.  The Emerging Innovators Forum was only open to attendees for a few short hours, however the insight I gained and people I met were invaluable.

The other conference that I attended was the Northwest Archivists conference in Spokane.  The focus of this conference was a bit different than the AAM conference since its only focus was archives.  This gave me an opportunity to meet with archivists in the area to discuss best practices in archives.  At this conference I was able to create a plan for re-organizing the rolling shelving here at LCHS.  I was also involved in some sessions that discussed some newer archival techniques.  One of the more interesting presentations discussed collecting active materials.  In order to do this the owner of the materials still needed to use the records.  Therefore the archive scanned the originals and handed them back to the owner.  These scans were then placed into a digital repository for use by researchers.  While this is not possible at LCHS at the moment I am watching this project closely as our stacks fill up at LCHS this may be a potential option down the road.

These two conferences have given me plenty to consider as I look for more challenges moving forward here at LCHS.  I would like to thank the Latah County Historical Society for supporting me in these two conferences and I am excited to bring these new ideas into our historical society.

 - Zachary Wnek
Museum Curator
Latah County Historical Society

Raise It Up! - A Flag Day Celebration

Each June 14th Americans celebrate Flag Day and commemorate the official adoption of the star-and-stripe-spangled banner on that date in 1777.  This year the holiday is taking on an added layer of significance because 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner."  In the fall of 1814, Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore's harbor by the British navy.  When dawn broke, Key was so moved to see the flag of the United States still flying over the fort that he immediately penned a poem on the back of an envelope.  Within weeks his poem, "The Defense of Fort McHenry," was circulating in eastern cities by way of broad sheets and newspapers. 

Image accessed at

The poem was eventually put to music and the name was revised, in part to reflect that it had taken on a broader significance, no longer just a remembrance of the War of 1812.  It was not until 1931, however, that Key's words were adopted as America's official national anthem. 

Image accessed at

While most Americans know Key's first verse by heart, many may be surprised to learn that three additional verses were written in the days following the bombardment.  Below, you will find the entire text of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The Star-Spangled Banner

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The Latah County Historical Society is proud to participate in the Smithsonian Institute's 2014 Flag Day celebration, collectively known as "Raise It Up."  Under the direction of the National Museum of American History, groups across the country are coming together this Saturday, June 14th to commemorate the creation of our beloved anthem and to join in on a record-breaking chorus of "The Star-Spangled Banner."  To find out more about this event and about the history of the song, flag, and more, visit the event site here.  

Join us at Friendship Square in downtown Moscow at 11:40 am on Saturday, June 14th to be part of "Raise It Up!" 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Historian Keith Petersen Introduces the Real John Mullan

Join us on Tuesday, June 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Moscow’s 1912 Center, 412 E. Third Street, as we launch Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen’s new book, John Mullan:  The Tumultuous Life of a Western Road Builder.
Between 1858-1862, Mullan constructed the first engineered highway in the Pacific Northwest, a road that helped cities like Walla Walla, Missoula, and Helena boom, and set the route for Interstate 90.  Today, that accomplishment is recognized with dozens of massive monuments, interpretive signs, exhibits, and highway markers.  But Mullan completed his road as a 32-year-old.  He lived nearly another half century.  Until now, his fascinating life after the road has been a mystery. 
Come learn about the real John Mullan.  We’ll have light refreshments and locally crafted beer from the Moscow Brewing Company, and Keith will be autographing books after his presentation.

Below is an excerpt from the Prologue of John Mullan.

John Mullan as he appeared as a young Army officer while constructing his road. Photo courtesy of Keith Petersen
This monument to John Mullan is in the town of Mullan, Idaho.  It is one of more than two dozen monuments that mark the road’s route in three states.  The Mullan Road is one of the most monumentalized events in American western history.  Photo courtesy of Keith Petersen

"Twenty-five-year-old Rebecca Mullan found herself in Manhattan on May 7, 1863, Cyrus Field at her elbow.  Yes, that Cyrus Field:  The “world-renowned parent” of the first transatlantic telegraph cable.  Field guided Rebecca through the grand Clinton Hall at Astor Place, selecting two seats from which to observe the evening’s lectures at the American Geographical and Statistical Society.  Rebecca intently awaited the night’s first oration, by Captain John Mullan, her husband of ten days, there to discuss the Pacific Northwest, a region he knew as well as any man; a place Rebecca would soon call home.
           "Rebecca sat anxiously as Henry Grinnell, the Society’s president and founder, advanced to the podium to introduce her husband.  Grinnell, retired from the family transatlantic shipping business, now focused on financing polar expeditions.  Grinnell Land, a peninsula deep in the Canadian arctic, bore his name, testimony to exploration philanthropy.  A heady atmosphere filled the Hall, but the thirty-two-year-old Mullan, well educated, self-assured, and the focus of considerable press attention himself as “The Northwest Road Builder,” confidently commenced his address.
            "Mullan described his time with Isaac Stevens’ Pacific Railroad Survey when he explored five possible rail routes through the Rocky Mountains.  He detailed his multi-year effort to construct a military road connecting the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, finally fulfilling Thomas
Jefferson’s vision when he had sent Lewis and Clark west fifty years earlier.  He narrated tales of the region’s Indians.
            "Mullan spoke on—and on:  thirty minutes, sixty, ninety.  Always meticulously well prepared for any task, Mullan’s zeal served him poorly on this evening. Henry Grinnell must have grown restless, for the main attraction remained to come, a report on Arctic explorations, now deterred well into the night.  Mullan’s discourse underwhelmed The New York Times, which charitably termed his presentation “a lengthy but still interesting paper,” before devoting the bulk of its story to the ongoing Arctic excitement.
            "As Mullan accompanied Rebecca out of Clinton Hall late that evening, it would not have occurred to either to ponder whether Mullan’s career might have peaked a few hours earlier as he prepared to give his invited presentation to the nation’s most prestigious geographical organization.  Until then, Mullan’s life had been an ascending arc:  Presidential appointee to West Point, explorer extraordinaire, Western road builder, aspirant to become Idaho’s first territorial governor, recently-appointed commissioner of a western railroad.  Rebecca and John, still relishing this honeymoon evening spent with luminaries, would have had no way of knowing that their future held considerably less predictability."