Iowa State Historical Museum

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The third stop of our trip, just 6 minutes' drive from Pioneer Park and in front of the capitol building, was the State Historical Museum.  The museum, open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM Monday-Saturday, has no admission fee and occupies the spacious State of Iowa Historical Building.

Upon entering, the visitor is confronted by a huge skeletal mammoth replica and a decent selection of bones and bone replicas.

In the adjoining room, there are Iowa starfish fossils.  The American Mastodon femur (upper leg bone) shown below was found near Algona, Iowa.  

We saw Native American headdress and clothing, and tools of the pioneers--including a collection of millstones.  Native American and pioneer themes can be found throughout the building.  After seeing a 2-row planter and a 1 furrow plow, I'm sure all farmers are thankful for their modern farm equipment!

  The coal mining exhibit was in a dark room made to look like (guess what?) a coal mine.  Nearby, a film played telling the history of coal mining in Iowa.

Wildlife displays were next.  The moose behind me are from Alaska and Minnesota.

The 520 pound male bear lived in Grand View Park, Des Moines in 1916.  There were numerous bear sightings in Iowa during the 1800s and early 1900s.  Also on display were elk, buffalo, Iowa brush wolves,  wild turkeys, prairie chickens, hawks, foxes, and raccoons.  It was interesting, but also evoked the inevitable "Poor animals--why did they have to be stuffed?" feeling (especially the little fox kits and fledgling hawks).

Upstairs there was an insect display with butterflies and insects from Iowa as well as exotic butterflies from Peru, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  

The section of spruce below is from Washington state.  It was unloaded in Des Moines by mistake on its way to the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago.

Currently, the museum has a temporary exhibit on the Civil War.  The exhibit depicts camp life and has special sections for weapons, prison life, and civil war music.


Across the hall is a room specifically dedicated to the Confederacy.

These flags, which read "Independence or Death" and "Southern Rights" are 2 of several southern flags displayed in the room.  

We were pressed for time and therefore skipped a visit to the library and historic preservation rooms on the first floor, instead heading upstairs.  From the staircase, we had a good view of the three vintage airplanes suspended from the ceiling.

The Solbrig is a benoist biplane that was built and flown Oscar and Mary Solbrig in Davenport, Iowa before 1910.  

A Curtiss-Klein pusher (1910) is on the left and a Bleriot XI monoplane (1909) on the right.

Aviation buffs can also find a Hat-in-the-Ring painting made from a scrap from a wing of one of Eddie Rickenbacker's planes.  (Rickenbacker was the top American ace in World War I, leading the Hat-in-the-Ring squadron).  You can also see the jacket that Colfax, Iowa native James Norman Hall (a friend of Rickenbacker's) was wearing when he was shot down and crash landed in Germany during World War I.  (James Norman Hall became a successful author, writing many books, including Mutiny on the Bounty).
(Ouch...I'm sure glad Jimmy Hall survived that one!)

On the second floor there are many beautiful portraits of famous Iowans as well as paintings by famous artists.  In the museum there are also musical instruments including an organ, bugle, and melodean--an instrument developed in the 1840s as a more affordable alternative to a piano.
A melodean
Other interesting artifacts include Daniel Boone's rifle, a pair of glasses that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln, and a rocking chair President Theodore Roosevelt sat in on a visit to Iowa. 

A pretty wedding dress caught my eye as well.  Around the time of World War II there was a silk shortage and the bride-to-be could not find silk to make a wedding dress.  No problem!  Her prospective groom was in the air force and flew over his fiancee's house, dropping a parachute to her father.  The dress was made from parachute silk!

The museum covers life from cradle to grave.  In search of an old-fashioned hearse?  The museum has that too--you'll just have to find a horse!

Need to find an iron lung?  Let's hope not!  But just in case...

And who could live without a Frank-A-Matic?  Oddly situated in the museum right beside the iron lung, this may not be as much of a life-saver, but it certainly was a time-saver!

Used in Des Moines in 1964 by the meatpacking industry, the Frank-A-Matic could stuff and link 35,000 frankfurters and sausages an hour.

The third floor of the museum houses a silver plated ware collection and Barratta's restaurant.

By the time our self-guided tour was over, it was near closing time.  After a long day, our feet were tired.  We had a lot of fun, and the trip was very worthwhile.

We bade farewell to the beautiful golden-domed capitol and headed home.