FUTURE, PRESENT and PAST Research, education and preservation part of museum

By Steve Quakenbush

When most guests cross the Finney County Museum’s threshold, they naturally expect to see exhibits, and they’re rarely disappointed. Our three display galleries feature artifacts and information that tell a variety of stories about the past.

In fact, our main gallery includes sections with titles such as “Buffalo Jones, Last of the Plainsmen,” “My Place in Time,” “The Big Pool,” “Finney County Agriculture,” “Celebrate Kansas,” and “Take Stock in Finney County.” Viewers will also discover a 19th Century kitchen; images of veterans and settlers; and the Front Door Gallery, a space where we rotate displays up to six times every year.

In addition, the Temporary Gallery incorporates images and evidence from the 1920s crime spree of the infamous Fleagle Gang, and shows how area law enforcement officers solved the tragic Clutter murder case of 1959. Meanwhile, our Spirit of the Plains Gallery illustrates the grand sweep of natural and cultural history, going back thousands of years, in the region we call Southwest Kansas today.

However, despite the perspectives these displays offer, they comprise only part of what the museum provides. That’s because we’re also a facility for historical research, a provider of year-round educational programming and a repository for artifacts that represent countless past lives.

RESEARCH

The Leola Howard Blanchard Research Library on our second floor contains an estimated 8,700 volumes, in terms of books and related publications, relevant to Finney County and Southwest Kansas history and genealogy. There are also extensive files of clippings, photographs, articles, accounts, interviews and additional records about Finney County families, businesses, homes, schools, churches, buildings, organizations, leaders, events, developments, catastrophes and triumphs.

The library is maintained by Laurie Oshel, research librarian and museum assistant director, and you’ll find it open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Services are available on a walk-in basis, but it’s helpful to make contact in advance with specific requests.

EDUCATION

The Museum Education Program, led by Coordinator Johnetta Hebrlee, operates year-round. During the academic year there are approximately 90 classroom presentations and on-site museum tours for students in USD 457 and USD 363, as well as those who are home-schooled.

Our educational efforts involve numerous community programs for adults too. These range from our Evening at the Museum and History at High Noon presentations, scheduled January through April and September through November, to events such as the Historic Walking Tours of Valley View Cemetery, where guests meet figures from the community’s past, portrayed by volunteer reenactors.

Most of our public programming is gradually returning to normal, as the COVID pandemic subsides, but a great deal of our offerings in the schools have shifted lately to methods such as video presentations, Zoom sessions and Facebook postings.

PRESERVATION

You’ll discover a wide range of historical and prehistoric artifacts when you visit our exhibit galleries, but it’s safe to say that these represent perhaps 15 percent of our entire collection. We actually care for more than 21,000 other objects, records, documents and photographs through the efforts of Collection Manager Todd Roberts and Artifact Register Yadira Hernandez.

Many of these are protected in five storage areas, where they’re available to rotate periodically onto display. Stored artifacts are also available for research and study purposes, and for viewing during pre-scheduled tours.

Just a few of these range from a one-horse surrey, a 1930 Ford sedan, an 1887 Garden City Fire Department ladder wagon, a hulking iron lung and room full of 19th and 20th Century clothing to items such as wagon wheel wrenches, side crank adding machines, ice block tongs, ink wells, black-and-white TVs, rotary dial phones, 34-star American flags and a few of those mechanical word processors that many of us remember by the term “typewriter.” There is even a series of macabre pieces and curiosities, such as Victorian period hair weavings, ash trays made from animal hooves, a spinning spiral device once used for hypnosis and at least a couple of skeletal segments.

TAKE A STEP BACK

While you’re invited to visit our displays, peruse our gift shop and quiz receptionists Synthia Preston, Betty Dague, Alondra Hernandez and others, we hope you’ll remember that the Finney County Museum is a center for research, education and preservation too. We’ll be switching to summer exhibit hours on June 1, with our main entrance open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.

Presently the doors are open 1 to 5 p.m. seven days weekly, and we’ll be expecting you. When you cross our threshold at 403 S. Fourth Street, you’re not just stepping inside, you’re also stepping back in time.

Steve Quakenbush is the executive director of the Finney County Historical Society. He can be contacted at HYPERLINK "mailto:squakenbush@finneycounty.org" or at squakenbush@finneycounty.org .

Quakenbush