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Whether you're looking for the original constitution for the State of Alaska or dirt from William H. Seward's hometown, the Alaska State Museum's collection is a good place to start.
Preserving history 010709 NEWS 2 CCW Associate Editor Whether you're looking for the original constitution for the State of Alaska or dirt from William H. Seward's hometown, the Alaska State Museum's collection is a good place to start.

Katie Spielberger Photos

Alaska State Museum Curator of Collections Steve Henrickson displays the original Alaska State Constitution.


Katie Spielberger Photos

A diaper pin, given by an Arizona radio station to Alaska, the newest baby state at the time, sits next to genuine dirt from Florida, N.Y., birthplace of William H. Seward.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Story last updated at 1/7/2009 - 10:51 am

Preserving history
Juneau's museums are more than a repository of past artifacts

Whether you're looking for the original constitution for the State of Alaska or dirt from William H. Seward's hometown, the Alaska State Museum's collection is a good place to start.

Among the treasures at the State Museum are the original state constitution, Benny Benson's original design for the state flag, copies of newspaper headlines from the time of statehood, a novelty baby diaper and yes, even dirt from Seward's birthplace in Florida, N.Y.

"That's dirt that Seward as a boy could have played in," said Steve Henrickson, curator of collections at the state museum, as he carefully handled the bronze box.

The State Museum is the repository of all things Alaskan, from prehistory to the present. The museum was well established by the time of statehood, so it's no surprise that it counts a number of objects from 1959 as part of its collection.

Established by an act of Congress in 1990 to collect, preserve and exhibit objects from the territory, the museum's collection now includes around 27,000 objects, only a fraction of which are on display at any time.

"We have such limited space, too. We need to be selective," Henrickson said. "We're pretty much packed to the gills down here."

Although that might influence how many new objects the museum takes on, those objects already in the collection can rest assured.

"Once we decide to collect something, that's a commitment to take care of it for the next thousand years or more," Henrickson said.

Sometimes it's not easy to tell if something will have historic significance, Henrickson said, but sometimes it's very clear. The museum did not hesitate to begin collecting memorabilia from Gov. Sarah Palin's Vice-Presidential run. The budding collection of "Sarah-phanalia" contains buttons, bumper stickers and t-shirts - and a request has been put into the Republican National Committee for one of Palin's campaign outfits.

"People think we only collect old things," Henrickson said, "but we want to keep up to the minute."

Across town, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum also fulfills the duel task of preserving the artifacts of the past and commemorating the present.

And preserving history is not just the job of curators. One of the City Museum's newest projects enlisted 92 middle school students to help document local history in a digital media project, with the assistance of a Rasmuson Foundation grant.

Curator of Public Programs Alycia McLain is in the process of making the final edits to the videos and hopes the yearlong project will be done by mid-January.

"There's a whole class at Floyd Dryden that focused on statehood," she said. "All the kids had to interview people in the community, so it was like an oral history."

The museum came up with a list of topics that they were interested in, took them to teachers, who then brainstormed with their classes. Topics included early history, cultures of Juneau, capital move issues, the process of becoming a state, civil rights and profiles of prominent figures such as Judge Wickersham, Ernest Gruening and Elizabeth Peratrovich. The 6th and 7th grade students themselves conducted and filmed the interviews.

"We're doing oral histories, which people have always done, but (it's different) to incorporate that digital media," McClain said. "(The students) filmed all the interviews that they did with people. We're never had an interactive (exhibit) in the museum."

The museum's building had a starring role in Statehood events of 1959. On July 4, 1959 the new 49-star flag was raised in front of what was then the Juneau Memorial Library and the state bell in front of the capital building was rung 49 times.

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Statehood, the City Museum will also help host a reenactment of the flag raising and bell ringing July 4. At least one of the original bell ringers, Romer Derr, will be participating in the ceremony.

In the meantime, visitors to the museum can view photos and video of the 1959 event on display. Several of the digital stories are currently available and more will be accessible by mid-January.

And come July 4, the museum itself will step into the spotlight with an event that may be deemed historic itself.


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