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The Importance of Membership: The Nebraska City Historical Society

As I have said in my previous columns numerous times, roughly only 15 percent of a museum’s operational budget comes from admissions. While gift shop sales and visitor donations add another small percentage, making up the difference to meet the operational bills is always a challenge. Let’s face it; most donors are attracted to new construction, exhibits or educational programming focusing on children. There is nothing sexy about paying a museum’s utility bill, even though it is vital to keeping the museum open and accessible to the public. If the museum is lucky it has an endowment which provides some income as well, but obviously if the economy is weak, the endowment can only provide so much.

A primary source of operational dollars comes from membership programs. It is a vehicle which allows individuals, families or businesses to become a part a museum’s ‘family’ while also providing much needed funds for the museum’s operations. Unlike larger institutions where membership is a way for an individual or family to reduce their admission costs with repeated visits, such as a zoo, members of smaller organizations are not looking for what they get back financially. Most museum members have a personal stake in the organization; perhaps their interest in the museum’s topic area or past family ties to the museum or some of its donated collections.

Others become members for social reasons. Particular museums offer ‘member only’ experiences, socials or ‘sneak peeks’ for new exhibits. It is not uncommon for a membership group to be a of a museum’s volunteer organization as well. No matter how they are structured or what they offer, museum membership programs are a vital part of an organization’s operations, both financially and as a volunteer base.

A great time to meet the members and board of the Nebraska City Historical Society is at their ice cream / dessert potluck social at the Nelson House, 711 Third Corso. The event is planned for Saturday, August 12, from 1:00 to 3:00, and is open to the public.

Participants are asked to provide a dessert, home-made is optional. The ice cream, table service and water will be provided. This will be a great opportunity to see the Nelson House and find out if you would like to become a member in the Society.

Doubling Up: The Mayhew Cabin and Old Freighters Museum

In our region of the United States, June and September are the optimal months for outdoor events. It seems that there are at least ten events going on any given weekend throughout the area, Nebraska City is no exception. While we try to space the events out during the month sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. So instead of competing against each other for visitors the museums collaborate to attract more visitors to their event and encourage participants to visit all of the sites. Saturday, June 17 will be a busy day. With both events beginning at 10:00, the Mayhew Cabin with John Brown’s Cave will be holding their annual Juneteenth Commemorative Event. The oldest known holiday that commemorates the end of American slavery, the event will include living history demonstrations throughout the day. A music program will take place at 11:30 a.m., followed by John Harris of Lincoln doing a first person presentation as Frederick Douglass at 1:00 p.m. Running at the same time the Old Freighters Museum will be holding its annual “Trails West Day”, from 10:00 – 4:00. The event focuses on those who traveled on the overland trails and features living history demonstrations, hands-on children activities, a petting zoo and horse-drawn wagon rides. The event is made possible through a grant from the local Wal-Mart. These are both ‘family friendly’ events providing a great opportunity to learn and enjoy some family time. While donations are always accepted, they are both wallet friendly offering free admission. This is a great opportunity to learn about more about Nebraska City’s history and how it impacted the America as well, all within one day. IF YOU GO Saturday, June 17, “Trails West Day”, 10:00 – 4:00 Old Freighters Museum 407 N. 14th Street, Nebraska City Mayhew Cabin with John Brown’s Cave 2012 4th Corso, Nebraska City 10:00 – 5:00 402-873-3115 www.mayhewcabin.org

Adding to the Hype: Nebraska City Historical Society

As the Chautauqua to be held in the Nebraska City draws closer, the county’s museums are joining in to promote the event through events and exhibits. Being held June 21 – 24, this year’s Chautauqua’s national theme is “World War I: Legacies of a Forgotten War” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War. Expecting to draw thousands of out-of-area visitors to Nebraska City, the museums’ role is to engage our local residents so that they will have a better understanding of southeast Nebraska’s role in the war and be more than likely to attend the events. Starting the commemoration, the Otoe County Museum of Memories in Syracuse opened for the season on Sunday, May 7, with a special exhibit on the uniforms worn by Otoe County men who served overseas. Next up is the Nebraska City Historical Society with their Spring Meeting featuring a presentation by Nebraska Author Karen Gettert Shoemaker. Planned for Monday, May 22, beginning at 7:00, in the Arbor Bank’s Friendship room, the event is made possible by Humanities Nebraska, the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and the Nebraska City Historical Society. Gettert Shoemaker’s historical fiction novel takes place in 1918 Nebraska. Focusing on a young woman of German descent, the novel exposes the prejudices towards German-Americans at that time as well as the impact of tragic events such as the influenza pandemic of 1918 brought on by the war. The author’s presentation will cover how Nebraska responded to the declaration of war against Germany and how it affected not only German immigrants but their children as well. Providing a great opportunity to learn more about a war held over 100 years ago; while staged overseas, the war still greatly impacted Nebraska City and Nebraska in general. The Nebraska City Historical Society’s program is just another great addition building up to the Chautauqua in June. IF YOU GO Nebraska City Historical Society Meeting Karen Gettert Shoemaker, “Behind the Meaning of Names” 7:00 pm., Coffee, Cookies & Conversation; 7:30 pm, Monday, May 22 Arbor Bank Friendship Room No admission and open to all who are interested

Making the Most of the Winter Months: The Civil War Veterans Museum

As I have often point out, while most small museums are not open during the winter months does not mean that they are not busy. In the Midwest, traditionally November through March are when year-round museums record their lowest visitation. Without full-time paid staff, it is just not feasible for small museums to have open hours. Instead they use this time to make major repairs, physical improvements or enhance exhibits. This has definitely been the case for the Civil War Veterans Museum. Since closing at the end of last October, work has been done to the museum’s entrance thus improving the quality of the experience for the visitor. In the past the entry way acted as an extension of the gift shop with an array of used books and consigned items for sale. The visitor had to navigate this hodge-podge of items just to turn the corner to get to the reception desk. Over the winter this has been completely re-done so that now as the soon as the visitor enters the main doors, they are greeted by a representative of the museum. With many of the consigned goods removed, now an improved gift shop with a much cleaner look is the last room they go through before returning to the main doors to exit. Adding to the initial impression of the museum, the upper walls surrounding the entry room feature Civil War inspired murals painted by Kent Schwartz. Known for the outdoor murals in downtown Nebraska City, Kent’s work sets the tone for what the visitor will experience, especially if it is their first time to see the museum. The murals were possible through a grant from the Nelson Family Foundation. Changes in the main exhibit gallery are also evident once the visitor passes through the weapons room. Disproving the old adage, “Once you’ve been a museum you don’t have to go back because they never change,” the work done this winter will give even a returning visitor an improved and meaningful experience. Opening for the season with Arbor Day Weekend, the museum will be open Friday through Sunday, noon to 4:00 p.m. until the end of October. Then the volunteers will have an opportunity to make more enhancements. The Nebraska City Museums Resident Program had begun for the year. Residents living in the 68410 zip code are able to visit all of Nebraska City’s museums, with the exception of Arbor Lodge, on weekends for free. Proof of residency must be shown and children must be accompanied by an adult. The program runs until the end of October. This is a great opportunity to visit the community’s museums and see the changes that they have also made this winter. IF YOU GO Civil War Veterans Museum 910 First Corso Nebraska City, NE Hours are; 12:00 – 4:00; Friday - Sunday $3 for adults, $1 for children www.civilwarmuseumnc.org

How Old is Old?: The Otoe County Museum of Memories

A familiar question that I get is how old does an artifact have to be before a museum takes it into its collection? Obviously, it depends upon the mission of the museum; if the mission does not go beyond the 1870’s, then all of the artifacts are old by most people’s standards. However, if the mission is simply to collect and preserve the material history of a county or region then “how old is old?” takes on new meaning. While everyone assumes that something has to be old to be in a museum, this is simply not true. As long as an artifact is meaningful to the mission of the museum, then it has a place in the collection. To provide an example, prior to becoming the Director of the Nebraska City Museum Association, I was the Director of the Institute of Industrial Technology in Newark, Ohio. Its name changed to simply “The Works”, the museum focused on the industrial history and technology of the county. That county still had over 60 manufacturers, many household names. While we looked to collect artifacts representing all of the past manufacturers, I was more than happy to accept the first of a new product coming off the assembly line. While it may not be old now, it eventually would be and its significance was that it was the first piece off of the line. A good example of “not old but significant” is one of the new temporary exhibits that will be on display at the Otoe County Museum of Memories in Syracuse. Opening Sunday, May 7, from 1:30 – 4:00 and continuing on Sundays through the summer, the exhibit focuses on spring fashions; primarily on men’s sports coats from the 1960s and on. While this may not seem old to a number of us, it is fun to see what we as a culture thought was fashionable just 40 years ago. Their other exhibit features uniforms worn by men from Otoe County who participated in World War I to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War. While only one of the displays may be considered ‘old’, they both emphasize that a museum’s collection does not have to be old, just significant.

Attracting Local Visitors

One of the greatest complaints of museums, even on a national scale, is the limited number of local visitors. Efforts such as special events and speaker series are offered aimed at just this audience and yet local attendance is still less than what is hoped. In most cases it is not necessarily due to lack of awareness or apathy; it’s more a matter of priorities. As I always tell the museums’ board members and volunteers, “It is easier to get a visitor from a hundred miles away than ten blocks.” The reasoning is simple, when an individual or family leave town on either a vacation or just a day-trip, they have undedicated time. With this free time, they are more apt to visit attractions, which includes museums; many see museums as entertainment as much as education. However, once they return home; that undedicated time disappears. Now their time is occupied with work, home care, children or grandchildren activities, special interests and a host of other obligations which absorb any free time. In addition, to this is the mentality that the museums are always there creating a “maybe tomorrow” mentality. In the case of visiting local museums, that tomorrow could be as much as ten years away. One opportunity that Nebraska City residents have which many other communities cannot offer is the “Nebraska City Museums Residents Program.” This program is made possible in part through a grant from the Nebraska City Growth Fund, formerly known as the LB-840 Fund, which assists nine of the community’s ten museums with stipends allowing for the hiring of part-time seasonal attendants. This allows even the smaller museums to offer regular open hours during the summer months. A perk associated with the Nebraska City Growth Fund is free admission to the nine museums for all Nebraska City residents. As this is local sales tax money in use, residents living in the 68410 zip code merely need to show proof of residency to visit the museums. It does not limit the number of visits, which creates the opportunity of stopping in at one of the museums just for a peek to see if it is something that is interesting enough to make a return visit when more time is available. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity may surprise you with what Nebraska City’s museums actually offer. Whether it is for the first time or a visit to see the improvements made during the winter, you may find that extra time in an otherwise busy schedule to enjoy the community’s museums.

Putting a Twist on Exhibitions: The Wildwood Historic Center

While some museums just stick to the basic interpretation of their mission and collections, others seek to creatively interpret theirs. Usually done in temporary exhibits; the goal is to draw in new or repeat visitors to see the collection in a whole new light. While some museums go for the dramatic, others guide towards the whimsical showing the ‘fun’ side of history. A great example of this is the upcoming temporary exhibit at the Wildwood Historic Center. On display only for Arbor Day Weekend, April 28 – 30, the exhibit is titled “Edwardians Unlaced & Unbuttoned-What?” During that weekend, the Wildwood House will feature displays of Edwardian clothing; the last period of the Victorian Era. Essentially 1901 to 1910, the fashions of the era can also be marked from 1890 to the beginning of World War I. The emphasis of his exhibit will be on the undergarments. There will be unlaced corsets lying about and more ‘modern’ camisoles displayed, including a few pieces of men’s undergarments. The clothes on the mannequins will be left intentionally unbuttoned so their undergarments are revealed. While the Wildwood Historic Center has a pretty extensive collection of clothing, additional artifacts on display are on loan from the Syracuse Museum of Memories. This is a great opportunity for a history lesson of the fashions of the last century. Flipping through a book or searching internet may give you a better idea of the clothing of the period but odds are they will not give a ‘behind the scenes’ images like you will see in this temporary exhibit. As it is the beginning of the tourism season, like during the past several years, local visitors receive free admission to the Historic Center.

Coming Up With the Other Half: The Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting

Recently, Nebraska City’s museums were awarded a grant from the Nebraska City Growth Fund, formerly known as LB-840. In its seventh year, the grant provides a stipend for the participating museums to hire a part-time attendant during the summer months. Primarily intended to allow the museums to offer regular visitation hours during the peak tourism season; as the funds come from the city’s sales tax, all residents in the 68410 zip code receive free admission to the museums. While each museum receives $2,000 to pay an attendant, this is only half of what the actual cost of employing front desk personnel in addition to the added costs of operations by being open. Nationally, visitor admissions only make up roughly 15 percent of a museum’s operational budget; the rest must be raised through membership and fund-raising. The actual cost of having an employee even for the minimum of hours required by the grant, Friday through Sunday, noon to four, is roughly $4,000. Each of Nebraska City’s museums makes up the difference in their own way; some comes from donations, others from membership and finally the rest hold fund-raisers. Fund-raising events themselves are time consuming and often do not raise much money themselves. However, public events do two things; they show the public that the museum needs money and most importantly is willing to work for it. A great example of this is the Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting’s Annual Super Bowl Soup Luncheon. Held in the Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department, this year’s event will be Sunday, February 5, from 11:00 to 1:00. The volunteer firefighters each bring in a crock pot of soup which distributes the work and offers a great variety of soups as well as an opportunity to socialize with other community members during Nebraska’s cold weather. A free will offering for the luncheon is asked with all of the proceeds benefiting the Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting. And yes these funds will be used to pay utility bills as well as making up the difference in paying attendants. So don’t think that the museums are just getting a free hand-out; they are working as well to ensure that the museums are open during the summer. Some just have to start earlier than others. IF YOU GO Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting Super Bowl Soup Luncheon Sunday, February 5, 11:00 – 1:00 Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department 1409 Central Avenue, Nebraska City

What is a Chautauqua?

If you haven’t heard already, you soon will that a Chautauqua to be held in Nebraska City this June. The question on most people’s minds is what is a Chautauqua? While the modern interpretation of the four day event is now more historic in nature, Chautauquas actually have religious roots. Named after Chautauqua Lake in the resort district of New York, held in 1874, it was organized by a Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent. Created for Sunday school teachers, it essentially was an outdoor summer school. Held under a large tent in rural areas, the concept of three to four day outdoor event caught America’s attention. Running up until the 1920s, traveling Chautauquas made their way through rural regions of the United States featuring speakers, sermons, music, and entertainment. Before the age of radio, residents of these sparsely populated areas were starving for information and entertainment. After World War I, interest in the outdoor format lost interest nationally as the growing radio and movie industries made access to information and entertainment more convenient. In the late 1970s and 80s, the Chautauqua format experienced a renaissance. However, this time it has become historical in nature. Now the primary speakers portray a specific individual in history as that person; this is known as ‘first person’ in living history terms. Sponsored by Nebraska Humanities and the National Humanities Councils, only two Chautauquas are held in the state each year. This year, Seward is the other community hosting the event. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entrance into World War I, the theme is “World War I: Legacies of a Forgotten War”. While the special event in Nebraska City will be June 21 through the 24, Peru State College will also host activities the two days prior to its coming to Nebraska City. During the day, seminars and a youth Chautauqua camp will be held at venues around the community. At night, the featured speakers will present in the Nebraska City High School Auditorium. In addition to the Humanities support, local donors have also made the event possible; admission to all of the activities is free. So now you know what a Chautauqua is. Over the next several months there will be speakers and activities to build interest and awareness of the June event. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the impact of World War I on Nebraska as well as Nebraska City; and impress people with the fact that you know what a Chautauqua is.

Catering to Local Visitors: The MRB Lewis & Clark Center

All museums strive to better serve their audience, whether it is through new exhibits, programs, or preservation of their collection. However, depending on the time of the year, it is not unusual to focus on serving a specific part of the audience such as local visitors. During the spring and summer months, museums will advertise their exhibits or events to a larger area; travel conditions are better, and visitors tend to come from a farther distance. However, in the winter time, the cold and difficult road conditions tend to keep potential visitors closer to home. From January through March, many of Nebraska City’s museums will be offering programming specifically targeting Nebraska City area visitors. While the events tend to be smaller in scale compared to summer events, they offer an excuse to get out of the house and learn something new. Nebraska City’s Lewis and Clark Center is kicking off the 2017 winter season with several informal events. The events begin on first day of the year. On Sunday, January 1st, the Center is cooperating with Waubonsie State Park by opening its trails for the “First Day Hike”. "First Day Hikes" are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to get people outdoors, with over 400 hikes scheduled this year in all 50 states. Following the event; on Friday, January 6, and every Friday following through February, the Center will be hosting its “Brown Bagging with the Birds”. This informal event is held from 12:00 – 1:00 on the Center’s main level. Participants are asked to bring their own lunch and enjoy watching our winter birds from the comfort of inside the Center. A local bird watcher will be on hand to assist in identifying our feathered friends. So while many spend their winter months hibernating, for those of you who enjoy what nature offers when it is cold and snowy; the Lewis and Clark Center has events planned just for you. As we get closer to February and March, I will showcase more events the museums are planning to serve our local visitors. IF YOU GO Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Center 100 Valmont Lane Nebraska City, NE 402-874-9900 Winter hours begin October 1 and end April 30. Hours are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Saturday and 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Sundays. During the winter months of December, January and February, the Center is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but can open on those days by appointment. www.mrb-lewisandclarkcenter.org