Behind the scenes, Park City Museum preserves the town’s history
When Parkites and tourists visit the Park City Museum on Main Street, they see an array of items from the town’s rich mining and skiing history that include a 1926 Graham Brothers Dodge, one of the Kimball Brothers stagecoaches that was used to transport mail and people to Park City, and a Park City Mountain Resort gondola.
Other items on exhibit include a hand-crank cash register that was originally from Hodgson’s Jewelry Store that was located on Main Street from the 1910s to the 1960s, and an original grand drape, complete with hand-painted ads, from the Egyptian Theatre.
These are only a fraction of the objects that have been recorded in the museum’s database, said Courtney Titus, curator of collections and exhibits.
“We have catalog records for 5,426 objects, 28,034 photographs and 3,914 archives, with many more not yet processed,” she said.
These items, which are owned by the museum, have been donated and acquired throughout the years, and Titus’ job is to receive, document and store them.
To do that, she starts with the mission of the Park City Museum, which is overseen by the Park City Historical Society.
“Our mission is to ‘preserve, protect and promote Park City’s history and heritage for future generations,’ and it’s my job to make sure any potential donation fits into the mission,” she said. “For example, we can’t accept mining equipment from Colorado or a dress from Wyoming, because those things don’t have a direct connection with Park City.”
Some items the museum has accepted in the past include skis used by Park City Olympian Ted Ligety, light bulbs that were once stolen from the Silver King Mine and five different dresses that were owned by Susanna Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff, who was known as Park City’s Silver Queen.
“We are very particular of what we collect, because, obviously, we could have a lot given to us,” Titus said. “But it’s also difficult, because I don’t like turning away things. This part of my job is something I take very seriously and think about before I make my decision.”
When Titus receives a donation, she draws up a temporary custody form. The form, which stays with the donation, contains information about the items and the contents of the potential donor or donors.
“If someone comes in with a boxful of photographs from their attics or basements, we need to keep track of the items, even before we go through the stuff to see if we can, indeed, accept them,” she said.
After Titus verifies a Park City connection, she will look at the items’ condition, and ranks them as excellent, good, fair or poor.
“I would most likely have to turn down anything that is poor condition, because it’s too difficult for us to preserve,” she said. “We want to preserve these things for as long as possible.”
Also, items in poor conditions often have less research or exhibit value, Titus said.
“Conservation work is expensive, and we don’t have a conservator on site,” she said. “So we can only do that for a select few things.”
Titus then looks for interesting stories that go with the objects.
One example is a story about a framed portrait of miner Raymond Jackman that includes a bow-tied lock of his hair.
“He was 19 when he died in the Daly West Mine explosion of 1902,” Titus said. “His wife was pregnant with their second child when he died.”
Titus will start the process of formally accepting an item once she decides it belongs at the museum.
Accessioning and processing
Accessioning is the legal transfer of the artifacts from the donor to the museum, and the process requires paperwork that includes a deed of gift.
“I draw up the deed and send it to the donors, who will hopefully fill it out, and that gives us full possession of the items,” Titus said. “Then I create a record in the museum’s database, and assign each item an accession number.”
The accession number includes the year an item is donated, and the order in which the item was received, she said.
“So the first order we process in 2020 would be 2020.1, and the second would be 2020.2 and so forth,” she said.
After accessioning an item, Titus processes it.
Processing is basically cataloging an item.
The procedure includes recording a more detailed description of individual artifacts that come within a single donation, according to Titus.
“If we receive a box of items, it’s one donation, but we catalog each item in the box and give it it’s own three-part number that we can track through the database,” she said.
The first two parts of that number is its accession number, and the third part is an order number, Titus said.
“That’s a challenge because sometimes we get a lot of items in one donation,” Titus said. “One donation, the Smith and Brim General Store Collection, which was a grocery store located across the street from the museum on Main Street, had 601 items.”
Titus, along with her assistant Hanna Howard, relies on volunteers and interns to help with the processing.
“We give it a physical label and tag, and then we sit down at our database and input that number and create a record for the objects,” she said. “This is where we record everything we know about the item. We include what the donor has told us, what we have learned through our own research.”
The record includes the item’s measurements, photographs and condition.
“We also try to date the item, if the donor wasn’t able to,” she said.
Once the items are processed, they are stored.
Any object — jewelry, framed pictures, tables, clothing — are stored in the museum’s collections and education center on Sidewinder Drive for long-term housing, while unframed photographs are stored at the museum. Storing items in a manner that assures their protection is a careful process.
The items, which are stored in the cool, dry temperature of around 53 degrees, are divided by material type, Titus said.
Metals include badges and pins and some jewelry. Textiles comprise clothing, rugs, curtains and tapestries, she said.
Dresses and other clothing that can be hung are hung on padded hangers so they won’t lose their shape, and some rugs are stored on rolled tubes, Titus said.
“We also have plastics, glass, leather and wood objects,” Titus said. “There are a lot of things that are made of mixed materials, and we decide where they will go when we get to them.”
The location of each item in storage is noted in the database.
“We are able to record these items down to the shelf,” Titus said. “So when I need something, I can go to the shelf and then look at the list on the box to find what I need.”
Bigger items such as the metal safe from the Hodgson Jewelry Store or a recently donated pump organ, are or will be covered by dust covers or thin sheets of packing foam before they are stored.
“We want to protect the items from dust,” Titus said.
In a town with as much history as Park City, the biggest challenge of the job is keeping up with the donations, she said.
“We do have a backlog of items that we haven’t been able to process, because it takes so long,” Titus said. “But we need to take time to process the items because we want to be as thorough as possible.”
Still, she enjoys her job.
“I’m an organized person, so I like keeping track of everything and making sure they are all protected and preserved,” she said. “I like making sure the database is up-to-date, and I like working with the objects and organizing them in a way that is accessible when we need them for one of our museum exhibits.”
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