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Discover Mid-America —July 2004

HISTORY ON DISPLAY: Diverse museums bring America's heritage to the forefront. By Ken Weyand.

Collections of fascinating things—from Oz to airline memorabilia—make up just a small part of what inquisitive Midwest residents and visitors can find in our region. Museums ranging in size from 5,000 square feet to 20 acres give visitors an insight into the life and times of those who came before us. Of our featured museums in this month’s issue, each has its own personality and each fulfills a unique mission.

The discoveries for my wife and myself began at the Airline History Museum in Kansas City. From there, we visited the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS, then drove into Nebraska to see the venerable Pioneer Village in Minden. In Denver, we visited the Tiny Town village southwest of the city (see Traveling With Ken in this issue) and headed back to KC, with a stop at the High Plains Museum in Goodland, KS.

Seeing these museums in person brings a closeness to history and a way to see, what I fondly call, “Great Old Stuff.”

Volunteers keep airline history alive

Before the advent of jet power, electronic ticketing and tight airport security, airlines with propeller aircraft carried passengers around the world in style and comfort.

In Kansas City, Trans World Airlines dominated the airline scene for years. In the 1950s, TWA’s prop-driven Lockheed Super Constellation was known affectionately to pilots and crews as the Connie. Powered by four huge Wright engines, the Connie sported a distinctive tripletail that endeared it to airplane enthusiasts around the world. Wingtip tanks enabled it to serve overseas routes.

In 1986, a group of enthusiasts formed “Save-A-Connie Inc.,” and rescued The Star of America, a Lockheed Constellation, from an Arizona “aircraft graveyard” where old airliners were being reduced to scrap metal. The volunteers began the task of restoring the 1959 airliner to its original glory, and established a small museum on the east side of Kansas City’s Downtown Airport.

In 2000, the group changed its name to The Airline History Museum and moved into the former TWA Hangar at 201 NW Lou Holland Dr. on the west side of the field. The next acquisition was a Martin 404 Skyliner, a 40-passenger airliner manufactured in 1951 and used for shorter routes by Eastern and TWA during the fifties.

Today, the all-volunteer group continues to preserve, restore and exhibit propeller-driven commercial aircraft in the 40,000 square foot hangar. Its third aircraft is a Douglas DC-3, which entered the TWA fleet in 1941. The DC-3 is undergoing restoration, and the group hopes to put it on the air show circuit within a couple of years.

Foe Geldersma, president of the group, was one of the original volunteers. He flew for TWA from 1957 to 1990, in aircraft ranging from props to jets, and including the Lockheed Constellation.
During a tour, Geldersma pointed out displays of the Wright engine, dozens of photos of early airline days, including N.A.T. airmail pilots and Lindbergh’s visit to Kansas City in 1928, early instruments, uniforms, logbooks, early airline advertising, aircraft models and other artifacts. In a tour of the Connie, he noted an interior configured in a combination of seating arrangements, including overhead bunks for overseas flights.

“The Connie flies to air shows all over the country,” Geldersma said. “It just returned from an air show in Louisiana.”

Several other air shows are scheduled for 2004, with details posted on the museum’s website. The Martin 404, which shares the large hangar with the Connie and the under-restoration DC-3, don’t travel the air show circuit.

Geldersma said that the group now includes more than 600 volunteers who pay $110 per year and donate many hours of their time to keep aviation history alive. “An average of eight to ten volunteers work regular shifts at the museum,” he added.

Bill Wolf, a regular volunteer, and a sharp-as-a-tack tour guide at 93, was a pilot and flew airliners. “I flew DC-3s for TWA back in 1941,” he said, “before going into the Navy.”

An area resembling an early-day airport waiting room allows visitors to relax and enjoy “pilot talk” with volunteers. Veteran airline pilots and other volunteers provide tours of the museum, which attracts more than 12,000 visitors annually. The museum includes a well-stocked gift shop where airline-related souvenirs are sold.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission to the Museum and to tour the aircraft is $7 for age 14 and up, $6 for age 65 and up, and $3 for ages 6-13. Children under 6 are free with a paid adult admission. Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more. Call (816) 421-3401 or (800) 513-9484 for details. Other information can be found at www.airlinehistorymuseum.com.

There's no place like...

Collectors, movie buffs and Oz enthusiasts of all ages now have a place to see one of the greatest Oz collections anywhere: the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS. Tucked away in a renovated storefront building on Lincoln Street are more than 2,000 items relating to The Wizard of Oz — from the earliest books by Frank Baum to posters, movie stills, costumes and life-size tableaus of Dorothy and the Oz characters.

Life-sized depictions of the Wicked Witch of the West, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion at the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS.
Life-sized depictions of the Wicked Witch of the West, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion at the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS. (Photos by Ken Weyand.)

The museum, which opened in September 2003, houses the collection of Tod Machin, whose collecting mania began with a childhood fascination with the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie and its annual showings on CBS. The collection was first showcased in 1995 at the Columbian Theatre, Museum and Art Center, just up the street. In addition to providing a venue for fine dining and live theater, the Columbian also displays three giant murals from the 1893 Columbia Exposition.

Coincidentally, the Exposition’s “White City” was the inspiration for Baum’s Emerald City — emerald-colored only for visitors who were required to wear green glasses. During the three months the Oz collection was on exhibit at the Columbian, it attracted 20,000 visitors from all over the world.

Visitors to the Oz Museum begin their journey along a path that takes them literally through time, beginning with delightful pictures from the earliest book by Baum. The route continues through displays of film memorabilia, life-size figures representing Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Good Witch, the Haunted Forest and finally to an area which features memorabilia, costuming, posters and other displays from The Wiz starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

A major grant from the State of Kansas made the museum possible, along with generous donations from the community and thousands of hours of volunteer time by local citizens. Jim Ginavan, an art education graduate from Kansas State University, serves as the museum’s curator.
Ginavan designed and assembled the museum displays and takes pride in showing visitors the state-of-the-art facility. “The museum means a lot to Wamego,” he said. “Visitors have come from several states to see the collection.”

The museum’s value as a tourism attraction is appreciated by the state. Officials estimate that 45,000 to 60,000 people will visit the museum in its inaugural year.

The Oz Museum is located at 511 Lincoln in Wamego. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7 for ages 13 and up, $4 for children 4 to 12, and free for children under three. For more information call (866) 458-TOTO or visit www.Ozmuseum.com.

Pioneer Village honors Nebraska pioneers

Described as the “largest private collection of Americana anywhere,” Pioneer Village in Minden, NE, covers 20 acres and 120 years of history. Some 28 buildings tell the story of America’s development from homestead days to the present.

Cars, planes, trains, home furnishings, fine art, tools, toys and many other items — more than 50,000 different objects in all — make up Pioneer Village. More than five million people visited the museum since Harold Warp founded it in 1953 as a tribute to his Norwegian immigrant parents.

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Orphaned at 11, Warp lived with various families and finally was taken in by an older brother. By the time he finished high school he had written a cookbook for home economics teachers that he printed himself and sold by mail order. Warp’s business career blossomed with his invention of Flex-O-Glass, a plastic material first used to protect chicken houses and later used by many Americans to replace storm windows. Warp continued to actively manage the Flex-O-Glass business (along with developing the museum) until his death in 1995. His son Skip runs the business today.

Marshall S. Nelson, the museum’s general manager, said that although the museum has felt the effects of Sept. 11, 2001 and the resulting downturn in travel, nearly 70,000 people visit Pioneer Village each year. “Most are families who enjoy remembering what they enjoyed as children, and seeing how their parents and grandparents lived,” he said.

Nelson, with a 25-year background in law enforcement, is a Minden native with blood ties to Pioneer Village. A cousin of Skip Warp, Harold Warp’s son, he also has family members that have worked at the museum. Nelson is the museum’s fifth general manager and clearly enjoys his work.

“I really grew up with the museum,” he said.

Since 1983, Pioneer Village has been owned by a non-profit educational foundation dedicated to carrying on the work started by Harold Warp.

“We add hundreds of items a year,” Nelson said. “Although we maintain warehouse space, we try hard to put all items on display as soon as possible.”

Recent acquisitions include a 1949 Studebaker truck in excellent condition. A homebuilt aircraft, recently donated by its builder, will become a hands-on, interactive exhibit that will teach youngsters about the mechanics of flight.

The museum is not resting on its laurels. “We are currently working on developing an exhibit that will portray ‘shade tree mechanics’ and small shops where people took their cars for repairs in the days before computers,” Nelson said. “Our theme this year is ‘One Small Step,’ celebrating the 35th anniversary of the lunar landing.”

The oldest Buick in existence, this 1905 beauty is prominently displayed at the Pioneer Village museum's entrance.
The oldest Buick in existence, this 1905 beauty is prominently displayed at the Pioneer Village museum's entrance. (Photo by Ken Weyand.)

Twelve historic buildings, hauled in from original sites in rural Nebraska and elsewhere, surround a circular “green”. On display and within easy walking distance is a frontier fort built in 1869 and used to defend pioneer families from Indian raids in Webster County. An authentic Pony Express Station reminds visitors of the brief but exciting days of the cross-country mail service. An early-day railroad depot is on display, complete with two locomotives. A sod house, with walls three feet thick, demonstrates how many homesteaders lived on the Nebraska prairie. A general store and toy store are filled with items that delighted children and their homesteader parents in the 1800s.

Transportation exhibits make up a large part of the museum. Beginning with an 1822 ox cart, exhibits include a “prairie schooner” wagon, stage coach, steam train, omnibus, horse-drawn street car, San Francisco cable car and electric trolley car. A variety of buggies, carriages, coaches and carts can be seen in the livery stable. Also shown are an ice wagon, sleigh, street sprinkler, peddler’s wagon and gypsy wagon.

Car enthusiasts can see antique vehicles — some 350 automobiles — at Pioneer Village, more than at any other comparable museum in the U.S. Organized in chronological order beginning with an 1897 steam car, the collection includes the oldest Buick in existence, which occupies a prominent position near the museum’s entrance.

The history of flight includes a full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer and the first Bell P-59 jet. Several other aircraft are on display, including a 1909 monoplane, an early Sikorsky helicopter, a Pitcairn autogyro, a Taylor J-2 Cub, an ultralight, Harold Warp’s personal Ercoupe, and others, including the recently acquired homebuilt.

A large tractor exhibit, with steam tractors and earthmovers, represents agricultural development. More than 500 pieces of farm equipment -- reapers, plows, etc. -- are exhibited in their order of development.

Pioneer Village is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the year, including all major holidays except Christmas Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $4 for children 6-12, and free for children 5 and under. Every admission includes a free pass for the following day. For more information call (800) 445-4447 or (308) 832-1181. Or visit www.pioneervillage.org.

Home of the High Plains 'copter

America’s first patented helicopter and one of the first automobiles in western Kansas are two of the exhibits that distinguish the High Plains Museum in Goodland, KS. History-changing events such as the Depression and dustbowl days are depicted with tools, toys, furnishings, clothing and other artifacts, and numerous old photographs.

Established in 1959 by the City of Goodland, the museum preserves the history of Sherman County. More than 8,000 artifacts fill the museum’s 5,000 square feet of exhibit space. Pioneer life, including the 1867 Kidder Massacre, is depicted in life size displays and HO scale dioramas. Permanent exhibits chronicle the lives of early settlers — from the pioneer family in a sod house to the businessman in town.

The centerpiece of the museum is its full size, automated replica of the first patented U.S. helicopter, invented and built in 1909 by W. J. Purvis and C. A. Wilson of Goodland, a pair of Goodland railroad engineers. After an initial trial with power provided by a threshing machine, the cumbersome contraption lifted off the ground. The inventors sold stock in their Goodland Aviation Company, raised some $30,000 from optimistic investors, and ordered two engines to power the helicopter. Then the inventors scheduled a second exhibition. Big mistake.

The helicopter, which had no provision for lateral control, suffered a spectacular crash, demolishing itself and the fledgling Goodland Aviation Company. One writer stated that the rotors crashed into the town’s water tower, sending a cascade of water and helicopter parts onto the stunned crowd. The machine was never rebuilt. The inventors, faced with the wrath of the stockholders, soon left town. The museum’s replica was built from patent drawings and the only known photo of the helicopter. Visitors delight in pressing a button, which activates the giant twin rotors.

The first automobile in Sherman County, owned by Dr. A. C. Gulick, is on display. Restored by a local antique automobile club, the 1902 Holsman boasted a carriage body, tiller steering and solid tires. A 2-cylinder engine powered the car by means of a rope pulley. Top speed was 25 mph, and the vehicle was purported to be an efficient hill-climber. The Chicago-based Holsman firm was out of business by 1910.

Linda Holton, the museum’s director, said that plans are in the works to expand the museum. “We have more artifacts than we have room for,” she said. “Some are in storage, waiting for a larger building.”

Is a new building possible? “We have plans for a new facility from a well-respected architect,” she said, “and a local family has donated 14 acres near the Interstate. We’re short of funds for such a project, and it’s a slow process. But a local person is working on getting grants, and we’re optimistic about the future.”

The High Plains Museum is located at 1717 Cherry Ave., accessible from I-70, Exit 19. Admission is by donation, with donations placed in an endowment trust fund. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. From May through September, the museum is open Sundays, 1-4 p.m. (All times Mountain Time Zone.) For more information call (785) 899-4595 or visit www.goodland.com/museum.

Have a comment or remembrance to go with this feature? Email publisher@discoverypub.com or write: Publisher, Discover Mid-America, 104 E. 5th St., Suite 201, Kansas City, MO 64106.


Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at kweyand@gbronline.com.


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