- Associated Press - Sunday, September 24, 2017

HARRISON, Neb. (AP) - As Sandra Reddish wanders through the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Fort Robinson History Center’s museum, she points out things she would like to change to make the museum more appealing to everyone who visits.

As historic sites coordinator for the NSHS, it is part of Reddish’s job to make sure NSHS sites are engaging the public in history, the Scottsbluff Star Herald reported . Many of the museum’s exhibits haven’t been updated in decades. Some lack information. Others need a little sprucing up. And there’s space for more interactive exhibits. Reddish’s eye for detail can pick out the smallest changes that need to be made to create a better overall experience for visitors.

On a sunny Wednesday morning, Reddish is responding to emails before taking another trip through the museum to note some changes she has in mind. She grabs a fly swatter and dispenses with the insect quickly before turning her attention to another.

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“Don’t mind me,” she said. “I’m just killing flies.”

With a minor annoyance gone, she returns to replying to emails.

A tour through the museum reveals several minor flaws the general public may not notice. Reddish stops at a display of the 1880s and what a soldier would have carried. She notices a mess kit and questions its inclusion. The sign simply says “mess kit,” but Reddish is skeptical.

“I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “I think that’s a World War I kit. I’m going to have to double check on that one.”

The museum needs a major facelift, Reddish said. Walking through the museum, she points out worn off lettering and the use of old fonts, creating a stagnant atmosphere. There’s too much text. It needs to be better, she said.

“Look at how Legacy (of the Plains Museum) did theirs,” she said. “That’s right up to speed. It’s 21st century. This is 1980s and 1990s.”

Reddish is also looking to bring in interactive items to give visitors some hands-on experience. She already has plans for next year, which include bringing in an 1873 Springfield trap door and a saver for people to handle.

As baby boomers are retiring, more of them are traveling to historical sites around the country. Attendance and revenue generated by boomers will help Reddish in her push for more staff on site. More staff on site means more people at the locations the NSHS cares for and more information being disseminated to visitors.

Among the ideas Reddish is hoping to make a reality is finding donors who are willing to donate items, such as uniforms from different periods for visitors to try on. While at Ft. Riley, Reddish was able to try on a British World War II wool uniform.

“It’s heavy. It’s hot. I started itching like crazy,” she said. “I don’t know how those guys didn’t go crazy itching.”

She points out some places where descriptions of items could be improved. Some have lettering worn off. Others leave the visitor with more questions than answers. One visitor notes the prescriptions from Dr. Walter Reed are nice, but there isn’t enough context and the visitor can’t read his handwriting to know what kind of things were being prescribed at the fort.

The museum doesn’t have much to offer about World War I. She’d like to change that. She would also like to have more interactive items so visitors will linger and ponder the information and history inside the museum.

“You’d be amazed how fast some people go through here,” she said.

Reddish would like to add volunteers who dress in period costume to greet visitors.

“I want to have people in different periods,” she said. “Maybe from the Indian Wars, the 1930s, World War II.”

The museum is always trying to upgrade and the plans Reddish has will create a modern museum to entertain visitors while engaging them in history. Reddish would like to get a fiberglass horse or mule and a harness.

“You can have people try to figure out how to hitch them as an interactive,” she said.

Small finds, such as dog tags for dogs from World War II are an opportunity. A vendor in Lincoln is creating new dog tags for dogs that will say “Fort Robinson Vaccination 1943” and will be available for sale in the near future.

As she walks through the second floor of the museum, Reddish points out areas that are bare. She notes there is a lot of space that could be used, but is currently empty. She’s encountered the same issue at Chimney Rock where she is also in charge of updating the museum.

“All this empty space could be used,” she said. “It could be something cool for people to touch or maybe have a knapsack you can fill up and have people try to lift it.”

The decisions Reddish makes will impact the future of the museum. She hopes it will be a positive one for the NSHS and for visitors.


Information from: Star-Herald, https://www.starherald.com

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