Deadwood museum officials hope to pool resources
DEADWOOD -- A new director at the Days of '76 Museum aims to breathe more life into Deadwood's museum scene.
Bill Peterson has a vision for Deadwood's museums that includes educational programs, interactive exhibits, extensive community outreach and greater cooperation between museums.
"We hope this facility can serve as a central museum hub and work in conjunction with other museums in the area," Peterson said.
The boards of directors of the Adams Museum & House -- which oversees operations at the Adams Museum, the Historic Adams House and the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center -- and the Days of '76 Museum have been working together for some time to forge a closer partnership.
The cooperative potential may finally flourish after years of attempts without progress, said David Wolff, Adams Museum & House board chairman. Current talks, under the guidance of Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker, started around Christmas, Wolff said. Although no formal agreements have been reached, the boards seem to be making headway, he said.
"Now we seem to be getting past the impasses," Wolff said.
A partnership would benefit both organizations by fostering cooperative programming and saving on costs, Adams Director Mary Kopco said.
Deadwood's Historic Preservation Commission partially funds both groups.
"You have two museum entities that are often viewed as competing with each other, and historic preservation dollars are finite," Kopco said. "Cost savings to partner are huge. It means you don't have two bookkeepers, two grant writers competing against each other."
The two groups could also share resources, including professionally trained staff, and more streamlined programming would result, she said.
"What we want to do is not tell the same story" at multiple museums, she said. "The town is too small. We want to be able to give visitors to the community a coherent, unified story."
Kopco describes a tourist's journey through Deadwood, driving into town from the north. The first stop would be the Days of '76 Museum to learn about pioneer-era history. The next stop would be the Adams Museum. Visitors could then visit Mount Moriah Cemetery to pay their respects to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane and finish at the Historic Adams House to see the wealth of the gold rush.
Deadwood's history doesn't stop at 1876, Kopco said, also mentioning Prohibition, World War II, the closing of brothels in 1982 and the return of gambling in 1989.
"I think of Deadwood itself as a museum; it's just that the roof is the sky," she said.
Peterson envisions working with organizations outside the museum community, as well.
"I'd leave no rock unturned to find partners in the state. ... This is an opportunity to build something really big and something really forwardthinking and really smart," he said. "Deadwood is really unique in that it takes its history very seriously."
Peterson foresees cooperation between the museum and universities in the immediate area and beyond, fostering students working internships in Deadwood in with the goal of applying the study of history outside academia.
"I'd like to see Deadwood become the No. 1 place to go for a unique education experience," Peterson said. "We could put Deadwood on the map in the academic world as a great place to learn public history."
Experiential learning is the direction museums must go to remain relevant to people today, Peterson said. He envisions interactive exhibits where participants can learn how to work a printing press, brew frontier-era beer or make and repair a 19th century wagon. People often don't realize how much history their areas have, he said.
"Especially in the West, where a lot of our history is so new, we don't consider a lot of things history. But how many people know how to harness up a team and pull a wagon down the street?" he said.
Bill Peterson, the new director of Deadwood's revamped Days of '76 Museum, poses recently at the museum. Peterson has a vision for Deadwood's museums that includes educational programs, interactive exhibits, extensive community outreach and greater cooperation between museums.