Jami Frazier Tracy, curator of collections at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, joins Sara to talk about Wichita history, the museum and the building that houses it, local history books, and more.
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SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Hello and welcome to episode 4 of Read. Return. Repeat. : a ReadICT Podcast. I'm your host, Sara McNeil, adult programming librarian for the Wichita Public Library. In today's episode, titled The Peerless Princess of the Plains, we will explore category 8: a book about local history. We will be speaking with Jami Frazier Tracy, curator of collections for the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. The museum is an iconic building located at 204 south Main street in the heart of downtown Wichita. The Peerless Princess moniker not only describes the building itself but it's also a nickname for the city of Wichita. In fact, it is one of the many nicknames that Wichita has had over the centuries including the bride of fortune, the banner city, the new Chicago, the Air Capital of the World, Doo-dah, and ICT. Jami, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the show.
SARA: Our first question for you: what sparked your interest in local history and how did you come to hold the position of curator of collections for the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum?
JAMI FRAZIER TRACY: Well, my interest in... in local history was sparked by my grandparents who took me to dozens of historical museums across the state of Kansas in the 1970s and I fell in love with objects at the Eisenhower museum in Abilene and so my interest in local history is not so much the history itself, it's the objects and the stories that the objects tell. So when I was in college, I was studying history and English, and like so many of us, I knew I did not want to teach and I was complaining to a professor, you know, what am I going to do with these two degrees? And she said, well, what do you love? And I said, well, I love museums. And she said, well, I know the man who runs the historical museum in Wichita. Why don't I call him?
And I'd been to this museum before and loved it but it never occurred to me that someone would actually pay you to work in a museum with collections. So that was an eye-opening experience for me and it really set the course of my career and my life. And when I was... so I started internship here at the historical museum in 1988 and I worked here for a year and then I got a call from Old Cowtown museum that they were embarking on an accreditation process which is a peer-reviewed program that museums go through to ensure that they're meeting best practices and meeting the standards and this museum's accredited and Cowtown was trying to go through that process at the time and so I had the skill set to help them do some cataloging. So I worked there for two years and by that point I was ready to graduate and was thinking about graduate school but not really sure where I wanted to go so I applied for an internship at the Biltmore house in North Carolina --
JAMI: I know. And I got it. I got it, I got it. But then at that same... well, I mean like within a two-week period I got a call from my former boss at the historic museum, Dr. Judy Heberling and she was moving and she said I want you to take this job, I want you to take my job. And I said, oh Judy, I'm not qualified. You have your Ph.D, you are... you know, Judy's always been a great mentor and friend to me and I really idolized her and her experience and her skills but she convinced me that I could do the job and so I turned down the internship of the Biltmore house and then I had to convince Bob Puckett, who was the director at the museum, that this was a better opportunity. He thought I was crazy to pass up that internship at the Biltmore house. But I thought it was a better move and I've been here now for 30 years so I think it worked out okay. I think it worked out okay.
SARA: And you could take vacations and go visit it. You know, Asheville's a really cute town.
JAMI: It was great. They had space on the grounds for the interns to live. Oh gosh, that would have been... that would have been really wonderful but... but you know, I made my choice and I, you know, I'm happy with it. I'm very happy with the choice that I made but... but yeah, it's been great for me. But I love objects, I love museums, I'm passionate about museums. I'm less passionate about history -- people always think, oh, you must really love history -- and I mean I like history a lot but I love museums, I love objects, I love working in collections so that's really... that's really where my interest in local history comes from is just the interest in the objects and the stories that they tell.
SARA: Oh definitely, yeah. And you know, it's... it's always interesting when people bury time capsules, right? And they --
SARA: And the assumption is later, you know, someone's going to discover these objects and maybe they have the knowledge of what these individual objects are or maybe it's just they have to go on a quest and find that information because it's not really relevant to like --
SARA: -- today.
JAMI: Right. Yeah, there was a time capsule buried at the museum here when it was city hall. They buried a time capsule and we opened it in 1990 and it was newspapers and city directories and completely uninteresting things. I mean, no one cared about that then, we certainly don't care about it now. I mean, there is nothing interesting. But we thought now, like what would you put in a time capsule now that would be really interesting and relevant? And you have to of course think about the technology too if you put in... who's going to be able to play a DVD?
JAMI: So you have to think about those kinds of things too.
SARA: It might be like a fidget spinner or some little knacky toy that doesn't require any batteries.
JAMI: Right. Yeah, low tech for sure.
SARA: Yeah. No, that's... well, that is quite an opportunity but we're glad that you chose to stay here in Wichita.
JAMI: Me too.
SARA: So if you were to recommend any books about history, I know you said that you're more interested in the objects and there are plenty of books written about objects in history, are there any books you could recommend for our listeners in terms of local or regional history? Is there --
JAMI: Actually I peeked on your Facebook page and saw what people had been recommending for local history books and I thought those were all terrific. I would say that at the museum we define local history as Wichita and Sedgwick County. That's our mission so we don't go beyond those bounds but there are a lot of great books about local history. Anything by Craig Miner who is considered the dean of Kansas history for sure and Wichita history in particular. Anything by Dr. Jay Price. Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains by James R. Mead who is a town founder. Many people mentioned Gretchen Eick's book Dissent in Wichita. That's a terrific book. Mayday over Wichita was also mentioned frequently, terrific. A more contemporary book: Heartland, Sarah Smarsh, great book.
And then I mentioned I love museums. Exhibit catalogs are a great resource for local history. It was... there was an exhibit that we did with the Wichita Art Museum, Center for the Arts -- now it's Mark Arts -- WSU and this museum and it was a print maker. It's a prairie print maker, C.A. Seward and friends so to explore the history not just of their prairie print maker organization which was founded in Lindsborg with Birger Sandzèn but a lot of the artists were here from Wichita but the... the Western Lithograph which was the company that actually printed a lot of the prints not just for local artists but nationwide. In fact, if I'm remembering correctly, Western Lithograph was one of the few printing organizations outside of New York City that could do this kind of work. So Wichita really became a hub for... for art in the 19 teens through the 1950s through Western Lithograph and that's fascinating. C.A. Seward was a commercial artist as well as a fine artist but it also incorporates the history of Wichita and a part of history that we don't often think about which is the art and cultural side of our community so I highly recommend that book.
And Arcadia Books, we've all seen these Arcadia Books. Those are always terrific. There's a couple that are very specialized: Lebanese history in Wichita, African American history, Riverside Parks by James Mason is an excellent book. Pat O'Connor has written several books about the Delano neighborhood and the Wichita beat community. I mean, there... I could go on. There's... there's a lot of local history books.
And cookbooks: there's the Afternoon Cooking Club that was published recently. The art museum did a cookbook a couple years ago and they talk about the recipe and and how it relates to maybe a piece in their collection so cookbooks are great. And these community cookbooks often give a little, you know, information about the First Presbyterian Church or something. I mean, I could go on. There's... there's so much. Memoirs. One of my favorites is the Laura Moriarty... Chaperone.
SARA: Oh right, the --
JAMI: Set in Wichita. Set in Wichita, incorporates the Innes department store. Really interesting time period. Okay, I'll... I'll stop now.
SARA: No, no, that's awesome. You have --
JAMI: Too many!
SARA: Just you listing... listing off a lot of those different titles I was like, yeah, I've read that or yeah, I have that or you know, you mentioned the print makers. I have a Four Foibles, the print one.
SARA: And that one is so fascinating because I love native plants and they did --
SARA: They did prints of native plants and then they used native dyes and you know, they went and explored and I guess that one in particular wasn't published until the '90s because... it was all collected earlier but the gentleman died, I forget his name and then his friends took that information.
JAMI: Yes and I'm trying to think... I think he worked at McCormick Armstrong. Was it Bill Jackson?
JAMI: Does that sound right?
SARA: Yes, that does sound right, yeah.
JAMI: And Zona Wheeler, I think Zona Wheeler had some involvement with that. Anyway... all these little tidbits in the back of our minds.
SARA: Well, that's great because yeah a lot of, like you said, on the Facebook page people have been mentioning, you know, things specifically related to Wichita. Some folks are participating, they're not even in Wichita so we kind of left it open like regional for them.
SARA: And then I know that orphan train, we had a program earlier this year that was popular and yeah, it's just people are just fascinated by that, that mass migration and how... and placement of children so...
JAMI: Oh, another good one is Grasslands, speaking about children who are kind of orphaned is Grasslands by Deb Seely, kind of an O Pioneers! kind of book for... for a young adult reader. But I mean again, there's so many great ones, so many great ones.
SARA: That's... that's wonderful. I like that... it's funny, when we... we always talk about this in the challenge we always make our pick at the beginning of the year and then as the year progresses we keep choosing more and more books that fit each category like I think at the beginning I chose "kotch land" about -- or excuse me, Kochland.
JAMI: I was like, what is that? Okay. [LAUGHS]
SARA: I know, you can tell I'm not native Wichitan. When I first picked up that book I was like, "Look, 'kotch," and then someone corrected me quickly and they're like it's Koch and I was like okay, it's Koch. You're right. I will forever in my mind see C-O-K-E even though it's spelled K-O-C-H.
JAMI: Right. And it's the ar-Kansas river too, by the way, if you don't already know that.
SARA: Yeah, yeah.
JAMI: I'm sure you know that by now.
SARA: It took me a long time to get... I'm from Oklahoma and so we have our own isms about certain words but yeah, that one took me a long time to break.
JAMI: And if you're interested, you could read all about why it's pronounced that way in Rydjord's Kansas Place-Names which was published in the 1960s I think. So yet another local history book. I don't know you'd want to sit down and read it just for fun necessarily but --
SARA: If you're interested about the --
JAMI: If you're interested, yes.
SARA: That's great. Well, so another category that we have which kind of piggybacks off of local history but it can be... it can go in another direction is untold stories. That's category six. Can you share a story about local history, or about a local history legend that our listeners might not have heard before? I know that when I talk to locals, I'm always finding out fascinating stories and I just kind of crave to know more about that.
JAMI: I was listening to Prisca's podcast, Prisca Barnes and she was talking about when she was the NAACP youth advisor that she was shocked that so many of them had never heard of the Dockum sit-in. And I too hear from so many people that this is new information to them and so to me that is... to me it's... I don't know how people don't know about it. I think we've done a really good job of sharing that story. But so there... that's one, the Dockum sit-in, the first successful student-led sit-in the nation predates the Greensboro's 1958.
Another great story that maybe you've heard, maybe you haven't is that we had an amusement park here at the turn of the 20th century, Wonderland Park. A young woman, Sara Harmon's done a documentary I know it's been shown at the Library. We've shown it here a couple of times. So this really amazing amusement park about where Exploration Place is now. It was on an island, the island was filled in as a WPA project so that's kind of a really neat story. They called it Wichita's Coney Island.
But a really... I think a really impactful unknown story is that of the woman Louise Caldwell Murdock who came to Wichita as a young woman in 1871 with her family. Her father was a queensware dealer which was like crockery and dishes and she married Roland P. Murdock of the Wichita Eagle family. So Roland's brother was Marsh Murdock who was the editor of the paper so they had a paper association. And when her husband died, she went to New York City and studied interior design. One of the first women to do so. Now it's Parsons, it was called something else then. Came back to Wichita, built the Caldwell Murdock building which still stands. And when she died, she left in her will that the money from that building would be used to purchase a collection of American art. If the city would fund the building, she would fund the artwork and so that's the Roland P. Murdock Collection of the Wichita Art Museum which never would have happened had it not been for Louise Caldwell Murdock and some of the most amazing American art in the world and her... she was very specific that it should be American art and she identified Elizabeth Stubblefield Navas as her emissary to select this artwork. So now we have Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, all the... you know, the biggest names in the art world are in our own back door at the Wichita art museum and I hope people realize the importance of that collection and how fortunate we are to have such great museums in Wichita. So the... and she's just an amazing person. She did so much more than I'm telling in this short segment. But another great exhibit catalog, Towards an American Identity, when I was thinking about this, I thought, oh, that was published like 10 years ago. No, it's 25 years ago but still very relevant. But it's the story about Louise Caldwell Murdock, the formation of the museum, and then a deep dive into a lot of the collection and why it was collected and why it's important and... and how it, you know, is a great part of our community. So Louise Caldwell Murdock, amazing woman, learn more about her at the Wichita Art Museum.
SARA: That's right. And for our listeners, if you aren't aware, on Saturdays you can go in free. It's open to the public. And also they offer a great Art Start program for pre-k kids. It's free, you sign up, you can go once a month with your child. You walk through the galleries, there's story time and then you go down into the studio and you can make art which is... we took advantage of that, me and my family when my daughter...
JAMI: Wonderful. And they have a great cafe.
SARA: Oh yeah. Oh.
JAMI: Food's wonderful.
And now that the art gardens, I mean they've really transformed the grounds because the cafe overlooks gardens and they have lots of native plants there and in the summertime they open up, it's... they've got it staged to where you can... it's almost like an outdoor amphitheater where they have --
JAMI: Yes, yes.
SARA: -- concerts or movies.
JAMI: And I know a lot of us are still concerned about the pandemic and museums are thought to be some of the safest spaces in that usually there aren't too many other people around. Not huge crowds that you're, you know, fending off. And especially at the art museum, they have an HVAC system that makes the air quality really superb so you can go visit the art museum and feel pretty safe in, you know, getting out into the public again.
SARA: Yeah. Well, one thing I was doing to kind of prepare for this episode was I went on to your website, the Wichita Sedgwick County Historical Museum website, and I saw that you had some virtual tours which were really fascinating so kind of acquainted myself with what you had in your collections and inspired me to want to, you know, schedule time to come in.
JAMI: So have you never visited, Sara?
SARA: I've never. I know, I know.
JAMI: Tsk tsk tsk.
VOICE: Do you know there's history all around you? Download the PocketSights app from the Google Play Store or App Store to your phone and gain access to walking tours of Wichita. These self-guided tours display archived photos of Wichita spanning back to the city's inception through the early 20th century. Travel back in time and discover landmarks of Wichita while learning about our city's rich past. Visit wichitalibrary.org/historywalk to learn more.
SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with Jami Frazier, curator of collections for the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum and we've been talking about some of Wichita's most prolific residents. Now Jami, we we mentioned this before the break that your museum is a landmark in Wichita. What are the many roles that the museum's had? Because I know it hasn't always been a museum. So can you tell our listeners its evolution?
JAMI: Yeah, this building was designed by Wichita architects Proudfoot and Bird. They designed a lot of buildings in the area: McCormick school, Friends University administration building. So very prolific architects. Designed in 1890, they completed the building in 1892. It's rusticated limestone, Richardsonian romanesque design. It served as city hall from 1892 through I want to say 1975 is when the city moved out. So city hall and all the departments you would associate with the city hall. It did house the library for a number of years before they bought the Carnegie library which is just next door to us in 1916. The city library was here, it moved about. It was... some years it was on the fourth floor, some years was on the second floor so it moved about. Police station was here, fire station was here. During World War I they gave space... I think this is interesting: they gave space to the Red Cross to roll bandages and make masks for the soldiers overseas and so that went on for a long time. They... we actually have... some of the few interior photographs that we have of the building are from the Red Cross and it's there are several that are on our Facebook page and maybe on the Wichita Photo Archives that show the Red Cross has taken over the city council chamber. So there's all these women, you know, like 50 women in Red Cross uniforms working diligently, rolling the bandages and making supplies and there's Red Cross signs everywhere so those are fun to see.
So you know the building's always had a public role because as soon as the city left, then the museum came in and started to renovate the space. It had been extensively renovated at least five times prior so there was nothing of the original interior left. So we kind of had a blank slate and it served as the museum since 1981. Now, shortly after the museum opened in '81, lightning hit the top of the clock tower and there was a -- yes, terrible fire. The clock was damaged, the clock faces were destroyed. So we'd been open for a couple of months and then we had to close. No damage to the collections, thank God, and no real damage to the... to the building but just that roof area but they had to close down and kind of regroup. And Bob Puckett who was the director at the time told me later that it was actually a blessing in disguise because they hadn't felt quite ready to open to the public but were feeling the pressure you've got to open so he said it gave us a chance to kind of do things the way that we wanted to do but didn't feel like we had the time. So... and that's been a great story to share with people too. And when you come and visit, I'll take you to the clock tower and you can see the clock and you can see the photograph of the, you know, the flames bursting. It's very dramatic and it's surprising how many people remember that event that say oh yeah, I was working downtown when that happened. I remember the smoke or I remember the fire truck so... but thankfully the fire department was very quick and very efficient and they put it out almost immediately and the permanent damage was very minimal but... so those are the two, yeah, those are the things: the city hall and then the museum.
SARA: That's fascinating. I wonder if Robert Zemeckis took that... saw that in the news about your clock tower catching on fire and put that into his Back to the Future Movie.
JAMI: I'm sure that's where he got the inspiration. I'm... I might, you know, we may be owed some money for that for that.
SARA: An homage to Wichita. That's great. Well, so this kind of leads into the next question: what are the advantages and disadvantages of repurposing an iconic building? Because we have a lot of... there's a movement in town, restoring historic buildings and, you know, we... we live in this kind of idealism where if it had a purpose before, it needs to have a purpose now. But you know, that takes hurdles. You really have to go on a journey to like transform a building so, you know, what are the advantages and disadvantages of doing that?
JAMI: Right. Well, in my own life I try to recycle, reduce, reuse so that is always a benefit that you're... you know, it's an adaptive reuse of... of, in our case, a really historically significant building, a very aesthetically pleasing building so the advantages are that it's very familiar even if people don't know what the museum is or... or what the building houses, they recognize the building. It's, you know, the Peerless Princess of the Plains. It just, you know, it dominates downtown. The clock tower is just, you know, the beacon of downtown so that's certainly an advantage. It is perfect for a museum, I think, because we always think of the building itself as being our premier artifact. And I should say this: the city owns the building and the museum owns the collections so the city is gracious enough to share the building with us but they maintain ownership.
There's a sense of permanence, I think, about the architecture and about I mentioned the rusticated limestone. There's a sense of permanence and, you know, solid footing about this building. It's stood for well over 100 years. I will tell you during an earthquake -- my office is on the fourth floor and you can really feel it shaking and it's given me pause a couple of times. But so far, so good. I'm still here. But... but that... that was... that was... it's unsettling when you feel an earthquake and you're in a 120 year old building.
And some of those disadvantages are that... I think, you know, again envisioning the building in your mind and seeing the, you know, how it just is kind of this huge stone, you know, behemoth, that can be intimidating to some people. Some people may not feel welcome and that's something we need to overcome and I will often see people across the street taking photographs of... of the building but then they never come inside and that's discouraging. It was not designed as a museum and so all those kinds of lighting, environmental issues that the art museum can do so well because they have a newer facility, it makes it a little more challenging for us. So there have been some hurdles that we have to get around in that regard and it's always... you know, I live in an old home. If you live in an old home, you know, there's constant upkeep. There's always paint that needs to be repainted. Where's we have a boiler that is, you know, chugging along but there's... there's always maintenance issues, especially with an older building. But there's also a real... when you walk in the doors, there's a sense of history, you feel like you're somewhere important and you are. And you feel like you're going to see something special and you are. And so to those who have driven by or walked by, please come inside. We will welcome you and you will be glad that you came to the museum. But yeah, it's a great building.
SARA: So just briefly on that, what are your museum hours for our listeners who are wanting to stop by soon?
JAMI: We are open Tuesday through Friday 11 to 4 and Saturday and Sunday 1-5. We have an occasional exhibit opening where we're open like on a Friday... I think it used to be Final Friday, I think now it's First Friday so occasionally we'll go beyond those hours. If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter or if you're a museum member, then you'll get those kinds of updates. It's five dollars admission. We're doing something now that we are offering free lunchtime admission. If you want to bring your lunch to the museum, we have a great courtyard behind the building. It's called Heritage Square. There's a little reflecting pool back there. There's a statue of Heritage Woman. It's beautiful, the wisteria is looking gorgeous. Sometimes we have ducks so bring your --
SARA: Aww. Sold!
JAMI: Yeah. You had me at ducks.
SARA: You had me at wisteria.
JAMI: So if it's not wisteria, it's the ducks. Anyway, so bring your lunch, have your lunch outside, it's beautiful. And then, you know, leave your trash outside and then come through and take a quick zip through the museum. And, you know, if you read every label -- which we want you to -- you'll be here a couple of hours. But over your lunch hour, maybe you spend 30 minutes upstairs but it's a way to kind of encourage especially people that work or live downtown to take advantage of what the museum has to offer not just inside but outside and just, you know... you can see the... if you're outside in Heritage Square, you can see the holes within the building that show where the jail cells were so that's always exciting too.
SARA: Oh yeah.
SARA: That's awesome.
SARA: Well, I am definitely encouraged to come. I, you know, again like I said, I've passed the building by several times and... and just I can see where people might be intimidated. It has this very gothic look to it where it's just like look but don't touch sort of thing. That's not the vibe?
JAMI: No, no. We want people to feel very welcome.
SARA: Wonderful. Yeah, I read in the paper the other day, you know, there... someone had made mention of the old library and how beautiful it was inside, they were getting their vaccine and you know it was just like how can we re-envision this space? And as someone who works for the Library and knows a little bit more about the building itself and, you know, the plumbing, the HVAC, the electrical, it really is... whoever takes over the project, it's going to be quite the commitment to bring it up to code to the 21st century.
SARA: And so --
JAMI: And even... another issue in this building for the staff is that there are parts where you cannot get internet access at all, period. You know, full stop, you cannot get access in different parts because the stone in some areas is like four feet thick and it just... again, it... you know, when the library was built in 1967, they were not anticipating some of the technology that we would have in place today and certainly in 1890 they weren't envisioning it.
JAMI: So those kinds of hurdles that you have to get over at the library would even more because you're serving an audience that's coming there for a specific purpose. Our audience is not coming here to use the internet, they're coming to look at the exhibits. So yeah and you know, I don't want to get too deep into historic preservation because that's not really what we do. But you... in the same sense that you can't save everything, we cannot accept everything that's offered to us. We have limited resources and we have to be very strategic about what we accept so that we don't overwhelm our resources.
JAMI: And by the same token, you cannot save every building. You just can't. It's just... you just can't. You know, you have to do... you know, you have to be good stewards and sometimes that means that you... something has to... you have to let some things go.
SARA: Well, that's... yeah, that's a really timely thought to share with our audience because I'm sure some of them are kind of grappling with this like the Riverfront Legacy Plan and how can we you know be good stewards, but then also be realistic about is this meeting the needs of the community, how can it?
SARA: Just food for thought for our listeners.
SARA: Well, we're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll be talking about means to interact with local history and the importance of expanding that scope of what histories are told.
VOICE: Your Wichita Public Library offers programming for all ages. We've got gardening, we've got learning circles, we've got story times, we've got computer classes. There's literally something for everyone. Check out wichitalibrary.org/events for more information.
SARA: Welcome back to the show. We're here with Jami Frazier of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum and we've been talking about the importance and challenges of restoring local iconic architecture. Now Jami, I was on your website the other day and I saw something that was called the historic -- excuse me, the History Relevance Campaign. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about this campaign?
JAMI: Well, I can and that was developed about three years ago by a group of history professionals including the American Alliance of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, the National Council on Public History, and it was to give historical museums and societies kind of the framework in which to share that idea that history is relevant and very important. And some of the ways that the History Relevance Campaign works for museums like this one, as I mentioned, they provide kind of a toolkit. And so last year they came up with the five qualities of a relevant history experience just to give you an example of what the History Relevance Campaign does.
And those five qualities are that the experience or program is rooted in historical quality and so you put things in historical context and perspective, that we're using primary sources, that we're including diverse participation, and that we're coming at it from a scholarly point of view rather... if it's someone from within the museum itself or someone from out in the community that has an expertise that we do not have, that it's scholarly and that we've done the research to inform the narrative so it's rooted in historical quality. The second is it's applicable. It pertains to the participants' life in some way, that it might foster change in the community, that it encourages critical thinking skills. Things that we do as historians and our work but we want to encourage the community and our audience to use those same skill sets. That the program is impactful, that it provokes new or a profound way of looking at something that maybe a person hadn't thought about before that it might challenge a familiar assumption. That the content is current and timely even if it's something that you're talking about that happened 50 years ago or 150 years ago or five years ago that you can tie it back to the present and see how relevant that is today. And that it's connected: that we're connecting with the audience in some meaningful way, that it's addressing the individual and collective identity, that we're empathetic to those who were living in the past, that we're including marginalized communities and that especially when those things are difficult to discuss that we're meeting head on and that it is connected and that we're making it again timely to today using all of those skills.
And the whole concept behind this is... is to try to convince people that history is important and valuable and essential in a democracy. We all know the importance of STEM, we all know the importance of STEAM, but sometimes history and the instruction of history and the importance of history gets left out of that conversation and so it's an attempt by historical professionals to make sure that that gets back into the conversation. History matters, dang it.
SARA: Yeah, history does matter and, you know, and like you said, recognizing those marginalized groups and their history because there's an assumption that, you know, if we're using primary documents, it's from one perspective or there's a lens there, you know?
JAMI: Right, right.
SARA: And you know, diversifying the conversation is... it's definitely important for people who don't see themselves like that. I know right now without getting too political, there's The 1619 Project that's kind of taken off and we have some staff members here who are trying to explore that for future programming and, you know, there's a lot of pushback from the historical community to say well, yes, this is relevant but if we're gonna really predate history, like it actually happened even further back. And so it's just kind of like we are emotional about our history.
JAMI: Right. Right.
SARA: We also have to be not emotional about it, to be... I don't know how to say this, not necessarily biased.
SARA: So that... that seems like a slippery slope like, you know, being unbiased but then also being... yeah, hitting all of those marks with those folks that are marginalized.
JAMI: Right. Right. I was watching Driving While Black on PBS recently and it's based on... I can't remember the author's name but it's based on a book by the same name but they had a historian from M.I.T. which I didn't even know M.I.T. had a history program so that was a surprise to me.
But he said something that really captured what I have thought and he said Americans love to celebrate their history but they don't like to look at it very closely. And I thought that that is so true and sometimes... it's painful sometimes to look at things closely but we have to. That's our obligation. We have to and that we... we have to confront those painful truths. You know, that's just... we have to. We can't move forward until we... until we do that.
SARA: That's right. We can't further the discussion until we examine it closely.
JAMI: Right. Right. And museums, there's a movement within the museum community too that we can't always be neutral. Sometimes we have to take a stand even though... especially in smaller communities you're risking alienating some of your audience. I think that's been a big fear but sometimes the... you know, that's just the perception. Your fear is unfounded because many times your audience and your community are hungry for that kind of information. They want you to be exploring that kind of information, they want that support. You know, they want your... you know, that the museum's giving it credibility because work... you know, we we've done the due diligence, we've done the historical research, we've looked at the primary documents, we've looked at the, you know, the hidden documents. My son just gave me a book on the Barbizon hotel which is... it's a all-women's hotel in New York. It's fascinating but was really interesting to me is that the woman who's... who's writing the book said many have attempted to write this book but no one had the historical archival material to do, you know, the thorough research until she finally put it all together. So yeah, some... you have to do a little digging sometimes. But well, again like the Dockum sit-in: hidden in plain sight for 50 years. The community knew that that had happened but it was not well... you know, it's not well known outside of... of that community. So yeah, we've got a lot of work to do obviously.
SARA: Well, last question for you. So you have this amazing facility, you have all of these awesome artifacts. What sort of programming does the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum offer? What kind of exhibits do you have coming up that our listeners can check out?
JAMI: We do a lot of programming with the school age children. Not so much in the last 18 months or so because of COVID but we do a lot of school tours, we offer free school tours to both home school-based and traditional public schools. We have a terrific Senior Wednesday program which is a project of... I think it's 10 different organizations in town. I know the Library participates but every Wednesday there are two programs offered at two different organizations. Our program is the fourth Wednesday of the month in the morning and we've got a... we're booked for the year so you can go onto our website and see all the different programs that we have coming up. I mentioned that we offer the occasional exhibit opening for First Friday. Right now we have a tremendous pedal car exhibit, it's about 40... 45 pedal cars that are on loan from a local collector. And if that's not your interest, we also have a great exhibit on the electric guitar. Here's another little known fact for you: in 1932, the first documented performance of an electric guitar was in Wichita, Kansas.
JAMI: It's true, Sara! People think we're making it up. It's documented, it's true. It happened right here in Wichita by a man named Gage Brewer who's from Oklahoma. He's from Gage, Oklahoma but he knew the inventor of the guitar and he picked it up in Los Angeles, brought it back here, and performed first in the world with the electric guitar. So we've got a great... we do a lot on electric guitar. So we have a guitar exhibit that looks really fantastic and it also features guitars from local musicians so Berry Harris, Clif Major, Bill Goffrier, a lot of the... Pat McJimsey, a lot of local names but set into context and some of it involves the technology of the guitar, some of it's the style and the design of the guitar but all about... all about the electric guitar.
SARA: Heck yeah!
SARA: That's fascinating. Sign me up.
Well Jami, thank you so much for making time to join us today.
JAMI: I'm so glad to.
SARA: It's been so fascinating to learn about all the collections that you have and the museum that you helped curate so I look forward to taking my family out there soon.
JAMI: I look forward to that as well, Sara.
SARA: Have a great day, Jami.
JAMI: You too, thanks. Take care.
SARA, VOICEOVER: Today we are joined by three librarians who will share their recommendations for three noteworthy books that fit category 8: a book about local history.
MICHELLE SMITH: I'm Michelle Smith from the Advanced Learning Library and my pick for the 8th ReadICT category is the local history book Wicked Wichita by Joe Stumpe. Before Wichita was the peerless princess of the plains, it was known as wicked Wichita and this book shows why. It starts in 1873 with Rowdy Kate, Rowdy Joe, and a shootout on the bridge between Wichita and Delano and ends in 1923 with a fake Romanov prince. In between, Stumpe introduces bank robbers, crooked cops, madames, and even a few good guys trying to keep the peace. Wicked Wichita is a great overview of the city's early history and includes a bibliography for further reading.
BEN ROPP: Hi, I'm Ben Ropp, a technology trainer librarian at Wichita Public Library and today I'm talking about a selection for the local history category of the ReadICT adult reading challenge for 2021. The title I've chosen is John Brown, Abolitionist: the Man who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds. This cultural biography is a thorough account of John Brown's life and influence upon American history, specifically his role in spurring the start of the civil war by his 22-man raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859 and subsequent hanging. It's a little long at 550 pages including 45 pages of footnotes but an excellent history arguing that Brown was not quite as crazy as some have made him out to be but certainly complex, intelligent, and hugely influential. John Brown is a controversial figure due to his willingness to commit violence in his lifelong mission to end slavery. In addition to covering basic facts of Brown's life such as his two marriages, unsuccessful business ventures, and his frequent participation in the underground railroad, Reynolds explains the ways his actions helped hasten the start of the civil war in 1861. Some chapters are devoted specifically to his relationship to the transcendentalists such as Thoreau and Emerson and their view of him in his actions. According to Reynolds, these famous authors spun the story of his insurrection at Harpers Ferry as a heroic endeavor, painting him as a martyr and thus propelling his story into the imagination of the country, simultaneously inspiring the north and shocking the south. Brown's time spent in Kansas is suitably covered. His infamous acts in Pottawatomie in particular are given due consideration and placed in the context of the bleeding Kansas conflicts of the time between free-staters like himself and the pro-slavery factions who wanted to make Kansas a slave state. If you're interested in John Brown's time in Kansas and his role and legacy in American history, this is a fascinating and engaging read and a fine choice for the local history category of ReadICT.
JOHN CLEARY: My name is John Cleary. I'm a librarian at Wichita Public Library and this is category 8: a book about local history. The title is Wichita Memories: A Photographic History of the Early Years hardcover edition, published January 1, 2019 by the Wichita Eagle staff. The print length is 144 pages. The Wichita Eagle offers a new hardcover coffee table book: Wichita Memories: A Photographic History of the Early Years. This beautiful heirloom quality book features a glimpse of the greater Wichita area from 1870 to 1939 through stunning historical photos and text. It includes photos from Wichita Eagle readers in addition to photos from the archives of the Kansas Aviation Museum, Kenneth Spencer Research Library at University of Kansas, Midwest Historical and Genealogy Society, Wichita State University Library's Department of Special Collections, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, and Wichita Public Library. The foreword to the book is written by Wichita eagle editor Michael Roehrman. There is a table of contents included as well as an index. This is a book full of photographs of early Wichita, Kansas history. The subject areas include views and street scenes, transportation, commerce and industry, aviation, education, community, floods and fires, public service, recreation and celebrations. There is a second volume that was published in 2020. Check out more categories at wichitalibrary.org/readict. Thank you.
SARA MCNEIL, VOICEOVER: Thank you for those awesome recommendations and thank you to the listeners of today's episode. Listeners can request books by visiting our website, wichitalibrary.org, or calling the Library at (316) 261-8500. To participate in the ReadICT reading challenge, please visit wichitalibrary.org/readict. To find a full list of books mentioned in this episode, please visit wichitalibrary.org/podcast. And as always, stay connected with other ReadICT participants on the ReadICT challenge Facebook page. Find out what's trending near you, post book reviews, look for local and virtual events, and share book humor with like-minded folks.
You can follow this podcast through the Anchor app or stream episodes wherever you get your podcast. If you like what you heard today, be sure to leave us a 5 star review. This has been a production of the Wichita Public Library and a big thanks goes out to those staff members who helped produce this episode. I'm your host, Sara McNeil. Join us next time when we will be discussing category 9, a challenged book, with the director of the American library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. We will explore the implications of challenging library materials and the impact of censorship and its effects on a community's freedom to read.