PARSONS — Representatives of 16 Southeast Kansas museums gathered inside the Parsons Historical Museum Monday with the objective of forming the Southeast Kansas Museum Alliance.
“It will hopefully draw museums together from southeast Kansas and we’ll be able to support each other with ideas for promotion and educational opportunities on how to operate a museum better, share the vast resources that we have in southeast Kansas and the great historical stories that there are,” said Leanne Githens with the Wilson County Historical Museum in Fredonia. “That’s kind of what we’re about.”
“The idea is you have a group of people in it for everybody else,” said Ray Rothgeb with the Independence Historical Museum and Arts Center.
“We all find a great deal of joy and pleasure in promoting our own museums, but this is an opportunity to join hands and see if we can make the region a destination area. Tourism destination is something that is very important to the economy of the state. We think that it is important to the economy of Southeast Kansas and this is one way we can contribute, if we can get people to come from outside our 15-county area and visit several of our museums and make the rounds around the communities and spend some nights in southeast Kansas. There are some gems in southeast Kansas.”
Obvious museum stops would include Big Brutus and the Dalton Museum.
The Emmett Kelly Museum and Buster Keaton Museum are other gems.
But every city museum contains historical gems to be discovered.
“In Fredonia or Wilson County, one of the things that is unique about our museum is the building itself, which was built in 1915 and the sheriff and his wife lived in the front part of the structure and the jail was in the back. Sheriffs lived there until the 1960s,” Githens said. “A new jail was built then.”
“We had that, too, in Neosho County,” Lois Carlson added.
Rothgeb said Independence boasts an 1812 federal building as well.
“It was the post office and the gallery was the sorting room for all the mail. It is unique in that the structure is still as it was originally built, and you can see walkways here the postal inspector would walk around the edge of the building looking through little holes and see if the mail was being sorted properly.”
Independence is also home to the first night-lighted baseball game in organized baseball and Mickey Mantle played in Independence.
“We have baseballs signed by Mickey Mantle and a lot of baseball history,” Rothgeb said. “And we have quite an extensive display of prairie life from the mid- to late-1800s in over 21 exhibits in our lower level in our museum.”
Bringing history to the area from which it originated is also a mission.
For example, Rothgeb said, the Independence Museum is working on getting Able to their museum. Able, a rhesus macaque, was the first primate to fly a successful mission into space. He rode aboard the Jupiter AM-18 May 28, 1959, with Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, who also lived through the flight. Able, who is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, was born at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo in Independence. The museum has a small display for Able already.
Some museums have treasures undiscovered by people in their home communities.
“I know Coffeyville has an aviation museum that almost no one knows anything about,” Rothgeb said.
“They have some really neat planes in there, because Funk Manufacturing made airplanes.”
“All people think about is the Dalton Museum and the Brown Mansion,” Carlson said.