Learning and Teaching Yellowstone’s History
By Quinn Walker
B.A. Candidate in Human Biology, 2015
Read about our summer interns on the OutWest student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.
As Jon, one of Yellowstone’s museum technicians, led a tour of the collection, I stood behind the tables. Jon had called me in to this group from Elderhostel, training for the day I would lead a tour on my own. I listened attentively, noting key historical points and interesting facts I could use in the future.
Then one of the gentlemen in the group asked Jon about an artifact on the table. Jon grinned and turned to me. “I belieeeeeve I will let my lovely assistant, Sophia Snuffleupagus, answer this one. Sophia, they’ve got a question about the coated specimens.” I laughed. “Well, first of all, I only wish that was my name. But yes, I’d be super excited to tell you about them!”
Jon knew that I had begun planning my exhibit, as had the other two interns in the Curatorial Department of the Heritage and Research Center. Different members of the staff had taken us through the vast Yellowstone collections. We’d seen old jail doors, photo albums, mini-skirt uniforms from the 60’s, and full size mounted bears—and that’s just from the curatorial collections. The three-story HRC, as it’s fondly known, also houses a research library, archives, and geology, botany, and archeology labs (each with its own collection of artifacts).
Many objects are so distinct they require a new box be made for their storage from the materials down in the archive room. I’ve spent hours down in the basement, measuring, cutting, and gluing pieces together. We’ve become old hands at packaging--the objects vary in size, shape, and weight and this information all goes into the preparation for storage. Next Christmas is going to be a piece of cake.
As soon as I had seen the artifacts, I knew what I wanted to do for my exhibit. In the early days of the park, entrepreneurs had swooped in quickly, eager to make money off the majesty of ‘Wonderland’. One of these opportunists, Ole Anderson, had set up wooden racks within Mammoth Hot Springs. Visitors would place wire objects on these racks and, over five days, the Hot Springs coated them with layers of travertine (limestone) leaving visitors with glistening white souvenirs of their visit.
Jon looked on as I described the artifacts and Anderson’s life, and even went on to talk about the biology of the wolf skulls out on the table. With over 3.5 million visitors each year, the importance of educating Yellowstone’s public has never been higher. The Museum collection, and even just being in Yellowstone, gives one an amazing appreciation of both the history of the West and the beautiful and remarkable land that we sometimes take for granted.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »