What stories should a historical museum at the county level be telling? What is important to preserve for future generations? These are the kinds of questions that influence the exhibits a museum develops. The mission of the Fremont County Historical Society is to preserve the past for the future. Currently, we are at a pivotal point in deciding how our mission should go forward.
When the Society started four decades ago, the founders had a clear vision. They wanted exhibits that residents of Fremont County could visit and remember the families that had roots in the area. They displayed articles by category and told who had owned them. They showed glimpses of life in the 1800’s. Four decades ago, this is how a successful museum fulfilled its mission.
Fast forward to today and things are much different. In the seventies, we had three television networks and movies. Today, among the hundreds of cable channels available are three history channels. When they present an historical event it is done in vivid color with reenactments that bring alive the events. The success of the history channels has been to take a subject that many considered dull and boring and make it relevant and interesting.
The public now expects more from museum exhibits. Today’s mobile society will travel long distances just to stand where history occurred. Visitors go to museums to learn how unique aspects of an area’s history fit into the national story. They are not just interested in epic events like Lewis and Clark’s journey. They want exhibits to tell why artifacts were part of living in an area so many year ago.
So what does this mean for the mission of the Fremont County Historical Society? Their answer is the project now being developed. The most visible part of the plan is the building of a new Rodeo Museum and renovating the existing facility. Inside the buildings, new exhibits will change how and what stories are told. There will be more highlighting of events that had a national impact. The items in the Society’s collection will be interpreted more meaningfully. An example: we have in our collection one of a few remaining traveling pantries that were used by those who came west via wagon trains. Today the pantry is on display in the museum kitchen. In the future, visitors will still know who owned the traveling pantry but they will learn how it was used and how it helped pioneer families.
Another example; the Rodeo is so exciting to many because they remember the bull rides that thrilled and the famous cowboys who were in Sidney. To capture that excitement the Rodeo exhibits will use video to bring the sounds and action of the Rodeo to the visitor.
The result of this new direction in exhibits will be to ensure that the Society develops exciting, innovative ways to interpret history to future visitors.