Saturday morning, after having breakfast with one of my oldest friends, we headed over to the brand new History Colorado Center – brand new as it opened only a couple months ago.
The new museum replaces the old facility, which looked like a typewriter and was both one of my favorite buildings in downtown Denver and was my favorite museum in Denver. The old museum was torn town in order to make way for a new, improved, justice center for Colorado, named after Governor Ralph Carr – one of Colorado’s best-ever governors (the man who opposed internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II).
With a new facility, I had high hopes – hopes that were not fulfilled.
The new museum is of the genre where everything must be interactive and everything must be accompanied by, for lack of a better description, noise.
The ground floor of the museum features a gigantic map of Colorado and an exhibition, Destination Colorado, about the small town of Keota, Colorado, which was in the north-eastern plains. My friend immediately noticed that there was, apparently, no diversity in the town. Only white settlers, despite the fact that a huge percentage of Colorado’s earliest settlers came from the south – never mind the first peoples (to borrow the Canadian term) who were happily living in Colorado long before any of the Europeans arrived.
I immediately noticed, while standing in the “school room” that I could hear at least 7 different exhibits at that one spot. That’s right: SEVEN. It’s hard to concentrate and hard to learn when you’re being bombarded with so much noise.
After finishing Keota, we headed upstairs to the Colorado Stories exhibition – which is a collection of exhibits about different spots around Colorado, along with interactive exhibitions designed to entertain and, perhaps, if you’re lucky, educate. We tried playing one of the games but found that the noise from the surrounding exhibits made it extremely difficult to hear what was going on in our game.
The best bit of this exhibition was the piece about Amache-Granada Relocation Center, the Japanese Internment camp located in south-eastern Colorado. The video introducing it contextualized it fairly well (albeit in a very shallow way), while the replica of the barracks that the Japanese-American citizens were forced to live in gave a fairly good indication of what it must have been like to live in that era.
The rest of this exhibit was a joke – perhaps the worst joke was the piece about the Sand Creek Massacre, which included a warning that children might find the exhibition about the mass murder and mutilation of Native Americans by the Colorado Territory militia in 1864. Other than quotations that flashed onto a screen, there was nothing gruesome about the exhibition. It was sterile, bland, boring, and pointless.
I was immediately taken back to my visit to the Glencoe visitor’s center in Scotland, in which explicit discussion is made about the Campbell’s massacre of the MacDonald clan was presented. There was no warning: apparently Scottish children need not be falsely protected from their ancestor’s less than perfect, peaceful history.
The museum is far from finished in having its permanent installations installed: there’s something called Denver A-to-Z opening this fall, and then, next spring, a large space will be filled with another exhibition.
We spent two hours in the museum, which was probably more time than it deserved, but I’m not returning to Denver anytime in the near future, so I wanted to make the most of my time in the city.
That said, there is a nice temporary exhibit called “Lego-rado”, which attempts to present pieces of Colorado’s past, present, and future in lego-form. The best bit is the inclusion of the cash-register building – the stupidest piece is the future Colorado piece – but then again, I detest it when history museums have pieces predicting the future—the Indiana History Museum had (has?) a colossally hideous interactive bit predicting the future of life in Indiana that made me want to scream.
Ultimately, though, I miss the old museum, in particular it’s basement, which had a wonderful assortment of stuff to look at, including a gigantic diorama of Denver in the early days, back when it was two cities and the Rocky Mountain News had built its offices on a bridge between the two cities in order to be able to sell more newspaper.
I hope the diorama returns.