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Downtown Museum is a Hidden Gem

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I’ve always been curious about the Museum of North Texas History and I decided to go explore. My trip took a total of two days, but I have never felt so inspired and educated.

The first time I stepped into this “hidden” off the streets building, I met with the executive director, the curator and a staff member. They were the most helpful bunch I have ever encountered in a museum before. I had the pleasure to explore the museum, interview the curator and interview the executive director. Having an interview with the curator and the executive director, opened my eyes more to what the museum holds.

The curator, Leanne Ray, specializes in researching specific collections and pieces. She curated Boots on North Texas. This exhibit is all about cowboy boots made by North Texas companies. She went all out on research and discovered that most boots were based out of the town, Nocona. That company was owned by a woman named Enid Justin. She decided to start her own boot company in the 1920s, which was really revolutionary.

While I was browsing The Nat Fleming Western Hat Collection, Ray shared a recording to explain more about them. She also told me funny stories that associate with the hats. It was nice to know that not only are these hats historical but they hold sentimental value too.

This was one of my favorite exhibits. It was neat to see the rows of cowboy hats. The exhibit does not carry straw hats due to the light potentially deteriorating it, but there are still plenty to see. There is a total of 288 hats that are on display. There is also a boardwalk display showing what a shopping front would look like. One of my favorite artifacts was in this room from the 1986 bank robbery, it was a hoof made into a jewelry box. Ray was kind enough to share an interesting fun fact about how it came from the hoof of a horse that was shot during the robbery. It was Mr. Wagoner’s favorite horse and the foreman took a hoof off and made it into a jewelry box. Right beside it was a bank bag from that time period. It was all fascinating to see.

I had the pleasure to interview the executive director, Madeline Calcote. Having only just met this woman, I can see that she is incredibly passionate about her museum and the Wichita Falls Community. She shares thoughts on her favorite exhibits and what items mean the most to her. Calcote only wants to spread the educational value and importance of each individual exhibit.  It is clear that she loves her job, and continue to learn about museums.

“Museums to me are important places. They give communities and visitors a place to learn about where they are living and where they are from…To experience from a different viewpoint, to learn about things that you don’t see often anymore. For us being a history museum, we get to educate the community about how technology has changed the places we live. The differences industries have affected the places where we live,” states Calcote.

This is a true statement of a dedicated executive director, and how much her passion stems from history. The two of us ventured into more questions and discovered her favorite item in all of the collections which is the “Iron lung.”  This device helped people breathe at a lower pressure and their lungs could work a little easier. This occurred all over the world with the Polio epidemic.

Calcote adds,” This is a great way to talk about how technology has changed the medical field, and how it helps people realize how things have changed so much.”

Also, the whole museum collaborates and holds an event called “The Mysteries of the Museum” It is a game where they highlight weird stuff and put them in cases. There are no labels and the guests come in and make their own stories or recognize them. It is a fun experience and fun to watch the visitors enjoy it.

Another collaboration process is between Calcote and Ray to see what exhibits will be next. They use objects to tell stories. The mission is to use objects from the community to tell stories of each collection. Researching exhibit can be a long process and there is full confidence on these two doing it properly and well.

The core exhibits are Heritage Hall with what a  boardwalk would have looked like, there is Nat’s Hats which is a collection of cowboy hats by Nat Fleming, military collection, oil and gas, medical items, vintage collection of toys and dolls, and a Native American exhibit that is hoping to expand.

Also, the museum staff are big contributors to the Art Walk. This year a local blacksmith sold items which were a cool mixture of history and art. They let people from the art walk do a guided tour, and this brings more business in. The museum is open to help support local artists set up in front of the museum. The museum wants to support those that support them.

To end this interview, I asked two final questions. I asked for a special thanks. Calcote gives special thanks to museum staff, museum board members volunteers. and Wichita Falls community.  She quotes” We wouldn’t be around without their dedication.”

I asked a challenging question. Do museums exist to interpret the past or to change the present? She responds with “Yes, because by interpreting the past…we are working towards changing the future by creating a space for people to see…and it is inspiring in some way or we hope to be inspired in some way.”

So, all I have to say is, slip on your boots and check out the Museum of North Texas History. Located right by Crashworks Steam Studio off of Indiana road.  With free admission, you can check out an entertaining experience of historical exhibits such as the Military Collection, Emil Hermann and the Net Fleming Western Hat Collection.

As Calcote, states, “Museums are important pillars in the community. They help build connections,” and I could not agree more. With no ticket purchase, and the motivation to learn, I saw this museum as a great start in finding out what the community is all about.

For more information check out the Museum of North Texas History on Facebook and Instagram.

– Brenna Regouby