Cutting budgets is a tough job, especially for the city which is affected by state cuts and is prohibited from asking local citizens to tax priorities locally. The city believes it can “save” $157,000 by closing Fort Caspar Museum during the winter months.
Whether they will “save,” considering what is likely to happen if the museum is closed, is an important question, but there are other considerations that are even more important. Central to the museum’s designation as one of the outstanding museums in the west is the quality of their displays, and these exhibits are planned during the winter when the number of visitors decreases.
The summer displays do not just show up by rubbing a genie lamp or ordering them from elsewhere. The winter months are absolutely essential to the quality and diversity of the museum. It is during these winter months that the professional staff collect, catalogue, research and build new exhibits.
For example, Discovery Trunks are prepared and sent to schools in Casper. They contain teacher packets, historical objects and hands-on activities for students. Kitchen as well as hunting instruments are included so that students get a sense of how people lived in early Casper. The trunks not only have to be packed and delivered, but records must be kept about where they are, and what needs to be replaced when they return.
The Casper Drum and Bugle Corps exhibit had to be collected, researched, designed and installed before it could be exhibited. It took hours and the collection is still in progress, and could hardly be done during the height of the tourist season.
Many of the traveling exhibits such as the American Bison photos had to be arranged in advance during the winter. They are not simply hung on a peg in the wall, but arranged to tell a story. Records must be kept and conditions noted before packing them for their next destination.
In addition, the three full-time and two half-time staff spend their winter months repairing and cataloging collections and writing grants that enhance their resources to historical materials. Only .07 percent of their budget is provided by the city. They also assist volunteers in planning and manning a Christmas candlelight event at the Fort that draws 900-1,000 visitors here in Casper.
Fort Caspar is site-specific and has researched the history of the Platte crossing and the Mormon ferry and the later bridge. We gaze at the river today and are awed by what the pioneers faced as they attempted to cross a stream that was 1,000 feet wide before dams were built. It took Brigham Young and company 111 days to make the trek west, and 10 days alone to cross the Platte.
What could be more important to a city than its heritage? Fort Caspar Museum is more than a building in which important objects are stored and/or exhibited. It is our passport into the past.
Keeping the museum open and growing in excellence is a matter not of economics or competition with other resources, but of preserving our knowledge of and appreciation for our persistence, dedication and bravery as human beings, especially those daring enough and strong enough to make the journey.
If we view a museum as simply a storage place for objects randomly selected and preserved, we don’t need thinking and planning time. We can all just drop off our high button shoes and have little or no concern if they are protected, preserved, exhibited or tell a story.
I can’t think of a more important time to remind ourselves of our story. It’s a record of hardship and daring, of community and independence, conquest and loss. It is our unique history here in Casper, and we need to be sure we do nothing that diminishes the discovery or the significance of that epic.