Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I love small town museums.  Years ago on my first trip out West I noted in my diary some of the artifacts we saw -- different types of barbed wire!  A dime once handled by Calamity Jane!  A gramophone which belonged to Susan B. Anthony's niece!  But I really became serious about small town museums in Roslyn, Washington, which was famous at the time for being the place where the tv show "Northern Exposure" was filmed.  We went into the museum thinking to kill 15 minutes and we came out 2 hours later.

Nevada is dotted with small towns and many of them, like Roslyn, are mining towns.  Mining towns are not your midwestern small town, settled by pioneers and immigrants looking for land.  Mining towns flare up and die out.  Some of them barely last a decade.  They were inspired by greed, particularly out here in Nevada, where the land looks so unpromising for any kind of life.  They were a deliberate effort by people to to pit themselves against nature, to take as much wealth as they could, no matter how, come what may.  The effort failed, of course.  Money was made, and spent, but it was spent elsewhere, and then the mines closed, and the towns were left behind, broken buildings on the sides of a mountain.

But while that effort at wealth went on, something else was happening, and that's what you see in museums like the one in Tonopah. High school graduation day, with everyone standing in front of the school.  Sunday school picnics, the priests long figures in black.  A open-air boxing match.  High school bands, Elks, Odd Fellows, Women's leagues.  Saturday night dances.

In towns like Tonopah, or Goldfield, or Austin, I try not to think, here is a place that failed.  I try to think, here, civilization was planted.

1 comment:

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page said...

It would be fun to make a tour of the small town museums and ghosts towns. I can imagine the creative vibe they produce as all those spirits try to tell us their stories.