Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sharlot Hall Museum: Story 1

Museum offers intimate look into lives of early Arizonans



A diorama at the Sharlot Hall Living History Museum in Prescott, Ariz., shows a mother from the Yavapai Prescott tribe teaching her young daughter how to weave one of the 40 different baskets used by their people.

            Last week, we introduced you to the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Ariz., a major living history museum. This week we will take you through some of the other buildings that bring visitors back to what life on the frontier was like in the 1800s.

            The first building we entered, the Frémont House, was staffed by a master’s level historian who was an admirer of John Charles Frémont (1813-1890), a former governor of Arizona who had lived in the house for a number of years. He was a famous explorer known as “the Pathfinder,” an anti-slavery presidential candidate and a military officer during the Civil War.

            Later in life, Frémont became destitute and had to depend on the earnings from the writings of his wife, Jessie, the daughter of Missouri Sen. Thomas Hart Benton. The house had to be substantially rebuilt after falling into disrepair, but it has been refurnished with furniture and artifacts of the time Frémont lived there.

            The old Governor’s Mansion was staffed by a very pleasant guide who, for the past 16 years, has been dedicated to making history interesting for the fourth-grade children visiting from around the state. She took them all back to the days before electronics and power tools when the important occupations were tin smiths, wheelwrights, coach makers and gunsmiths.

            One room in the mansion displays a dozen boxes visitors can open that hold different equipment of the 1800s, such as shaving tools, a gun with a bullet mold and gunpowder container and what a man might carry in his pockets. Boards that had covered the log walls have been removed and the room was close to its original condition when it was built in 1864 to house John Goodwin, the first territorial governor.

            There also is a series of small log buildings on the grounds: a ranch house, a schoolhouse, a frontier mercantile and Fort Misery. Built in 1863, Fort Misery is the oldest building in the collection. There is a question as to whether it ever actually was a fort. One story indicated the building was called Fort Misery because of the way one of its occupants, a judge, handed out justice. Another story notes that when the building was converted to a boarding house, the food was miserable.

            The major displays are in the largest building, the Sharlot Hall, where the largest collection of artifacts is on display. One section called “Baskets Keep Talking” has objects from 9,000 years ago, which show how the Yavapai-Prescott tribe lived. Forty different uses for baskets are listed, among them infant cradles, seed beaters, strainers, artwork, fish traps and cooking equipment.

            One setup with mannequins has a mother teaching her young daughter how to weave a basket.

            The other section has wax museum scenes from everyday life on the frontier, among them a young officer proposing to the colonel’s daughter, a mother teaching her daughter to wash clothes and a chuck wagon where food is being prepared for the cowboys.

            The final building we visited was the transportation building, which had a collection of vehicles of the period: a stagecoach, a covered wagon, various buggies and a small collection of bicycles.

            As our readers probably recognize, we are interested in the past and how people survived. Our experiences in living history museums makes us thankful for the rather luxurious lives we 21st century people live.


Animals of the period appeared to be quite dangerous


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