"Our Lives, Our Stories" opens at the Park City Museum
November 17, 2010
It’s so easy for people to dwell on the national and international aspect of World War II.
But in doing so, the ordinary people are forgotten.
That’s why the Park City Museum worked hard bring in "Our Lives, Our Stories: America’s Greatest Generation."
The exhibit, an expansion on the Minnesota History Center’s "Minnesota’s Greatest Generation," examines the lives of those who fought in the war and those who helped on the home front, and does it in an interactive way.
"Instead of the textbook approach, it’s fun," said Wendy Ashton, curator of the Park City Museum’s collections and exhibits. "You’re not just reading about it, you’re seeing it and experiencing it."
Patrons can hear radio news flashes, watch parts of TV programs and touch the items, such as metal TV dinner tray and clothing. Various monitors also feature touch screens where people can choose which newsreels to watch.
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There is even a motion-sensor audio track that kicks in when someone sits on a drugstore malt-shop stool. "We’re excited to have this exhibit because the National Endowment for the Humanities decided to take it on the road," Ashton said. "And this is its first stop. So we’re like the grand-opening of the exhibit."
The Minnesota History Center embarked on a five-year initiative and interviewed those who lived during the war, Ashton said. "And instead of looking at the big picture, they looked at ordinary people who made an extraordinary difference."
Pre-recorded, first-person interviews are heard throughout the exhibit, which gives people a feel for what it was like living during that time, she said. And it doesn’t just focus on the War.
"Instead of just focusing on the four years of the war, it really looked at the Depression, when many of these people were born, and how that and the post-war boom shaped their lives.
"It also shows us how they, in turn, they shaped us."
The exhibit starts during the 1920s, giving patrons a point of reference, about the lives the museum examines, Ashton said.
"You get a sense of how it was growing up during the Depression," she said. "More than 28 percent of the households didn’t have anyone working at the time. The Gross National Product was cut in half."
After surviving the Depression, the generation faced another crisis during their high school days.
"The War started," said Ashton. "And when they graduated, there wasn’t a question of what they were going to do next. They joined the Armed Forces."
Still, there was more going on than running off to enlist, Ashton said. There were shifts in the workforce all over the United States, and Park City felt the impact.
"During this time Park City lost a lot of people," Ashton said. "A lot of the young men left. And because this was a mining town, it was a place where the raw minerals for the war production that included 16 million guns, came from. So the city was called to provide materials for war supplies. Since a lot of the able young men had left to fight, the government sent people to help with mining."
That connection was one of the factors that prompted the Park City Museum to display the exhibit, Ashton said. Plus the museum trusts the NEH.
"We looked around at all these traveling exhibits and decided this was one because of the involvement of the National Endowment of Humanities," she said. "Also the Minnesota Research Center is in the forefront of producing great, interactive exhibits."
"It’s all about being involved," she said. "You’re touching and interacting, not just learning from behind a plastic or glass wall."
The exhibit opens on Nov. 20 and runs through March 16, 2011, which is twice as long as the usual display, Ashton said.
"We knew it would be good," she said. "Usually an exhibit is up for seven weeks, but we have this for 14 weeks, because we wanted everyone to have a chance to see it."
Ashton is also excited because the Park City Museum is the first museum outside of Minnesota to show the exhibit.
"It’s a grand opening for the entire run," she said. "And that is a coup for us."
To celebrate, the exhibit’s original curator, Brian Corrigan of the Minnesota Research Center, is going to be in Park City during the opening weekend Friday, Nov. 19, and Saturday, Nov. 20.
"He will be on hand during the opening reception on Friday, but will also give a free, public presentation at the Kimball Art Center (638 Park Avenue) at 2 p.m. on Saturday," Ashton said. "We are very lucky to have this opportunity."
"Our Lives, Our Stories: America’s Greatest Generation" will be featured at the Park City Museum 528 Main Street, from Saturday, Nov. 20, to Wednesday, March 16. The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students, seniors and military personnel and $5 for children in Kindergarten through 12th grade. Call 649-7457 or log on to http://www.parkcityhistory.org for more information. There will be an opening cocktail reception at the museum on Friday, Nov. 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Cost is $70. Contact the museum for more information.