Tri States Public Radio Staff
International Museum Day
Thu May 17, 2012
Learning Something New at Museums of the Tri States
The 35th Annual International Museum Day is being celebrated on Friday, May 18, 2012. To mark the occasion, the WIUM/WIUW news staff visited some of the museums of the tri states.
The Old Lincoln Courtroom & Museum in Beardstown
This red brick, two-story building can be found at Third and State on Beardstown's downtown square. The museum is part of the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Trail. In fact, Beardstown boasts seven wayside exhibit sites as part of the trail.
The building is next to the current city hall, which is a former Carnegie Library. The museum building once housed city hall, the fire department, and the police department. One of the exhibits gives visitors a look at what the old jail looked like. The names and artistic creations of some past inmates are carved into the jail's soft metal walls.
The museum has something you cannot find anywhere else: it's home to the only courtroom used by Abraham Lincoln that is still used today.
“There are two floors underneath the one we're standing on,” said Museum Commission Chair Paula Woods. “An architectural historian says probably that the bottom one was the original - one on which Lincoln walked.”
She hopes the two floors over it can eventually be removed.
Sunlight pours through the large, 12 pane windows in the courtroom. Wooden benches are available for those who come to watch trials, though Woods guesses that chairs were probably set up in Lincoln's day.
“We have no idea what it really looked like when Lincoln was practicing law here. No photographs, of course, and as far as we know no drawings or written descriptions of it,” said Woods.
Even though most court activity in Cass County now takes place at the county courthouse in Virginia, the room is still used for some cases.
Woods said Lincoln frequently practiced law in the courtroom. He argued one of his best-known cases in this room in 1858. It's known as the Almanac trial.
In that trial, Lincoln defended Duff Armstrong, who was the son of a family friend on Lincoln's. Armstrong was accused of a murder at a camp meeting in neighboring Mason County. A witness for the prosecution swore he was the murderous act by the light of the full moon.
“Lincoln questioned him two or three times to make sure he said 'Oh yes,' he saw it by the light of the full moon. Then Lincoln produced the almanac which showed that there was no full moon that night,” Woods said.
Armstrong was acquitted. Afterward, Lincoln was persuaded to sit for a picture.
“It is the only known portrait of Lincoln in a white suit,” Woods said.
A copy of it hangs in the courtroom today.
The museum is divided into about a dozen rooms over its two floors. One of those rooms is dedicated to city founder Thomas Beard (1794 - 1849).
“He settled here in 1819,” said Woods. “Platted the town in 1829.”
Small displays highlight some of the well-known people who came from Beardstown, including US Senator William Dieterich, swing musician Red Norvo, and cancer researcher Stan Korsmeyer.
There is also a display about Francis and Russell Halligan. During the early days of aviation, the brothers tried to invent a vertical lift airplane. Several models of those planes are displayed.
The Old Lincoln Courtroom & Museum in Beardstown is open 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, Monday - Saturday, April through November.
The Log Cabin Museum in Ursa
A hand-painted sign in front of a log cabin on the south edge of Ursa proclaims it “The Future Home of the North Adams Historical Society.” The cabin will also serve as the group's museum.
Rosemary Tenvorde worked for 40 years to generate interest in restoring the cabin. It was a labor of love mixed with a bit of family pride. Her great-grandparents, William and Susan Smith, built the cabin in 1848.
Volunteers started the restoration by stripping the cabin down to its bare walls. The work prepared the cabin for the move to its new “home.” Its original location was a quarter-mile west of Highway 96. The lightened cabin, which still weighed 50 tons, was lifted onto a low-boy for transport. It now sits on a donated one-acre lot adjacent to the highway.
The cabin is a fitting museum. Its has its own stories to tell.
Tenvorde has spent most of her free time working on the interior of the cabin. She has pulled out hundreds nails that supported the wood lathe and plaster.
She said they are worthy of display in the museum. The old nails were hand-made -- no two are exactly alike.
She also found an unexpected treasure in the kitchen-wallpaper from the 1920s.
“It looks like kind of an art-deco wall in the making right now," Tenvorde said. "And I don't know if we're going to keep it. I'd hope that they would, just because it is art-deco.”
Art-deco wallpaper is part of the cabin's own history. Tenvorde says the explanation is that the cabin was used as a home until 1963.
The upstairs served as bedrooms for the Smith children. The girls bedroom was, by far, the larger for the two. The rooms will be restored and will be a featured part of the museum.
An addition that housed the hired hands will be re-attached later this year. One of those hands was named “Jim.” He was a former slave.
“He must have been very important because he's listed on the birth page of the family Bible,” Tenvorde said.
Volunteers expect to work right up to opening day. Tenvorde said the original goal was to open the museum this fall. She said the amount of work needed to restore the cabin will delay the opening until spring of 2013.
The George M. Verity Riverboat Museum in Keokuk
This is not your typical museum. Instead of being a building filled with displays about riverboats, it is a former steamboat that has been restored and maintained over the years.
The George M. Verity started out as the S. S. Thorpe. It was built in 1927 by the federal government for use in moving barges up and down the Mississippi River.
It was purchased by Armco Steel Corporation in 1940 and transported to the Ohio River, where it would spend its next 20 years.
Museum Commission Chairman Chuck Pietscher said Armco Steel decided to retire the George M. Verity in 1960 to make room for more diesel powered boats. He said that is when Keokuk residents started working to bring the steamboat back to the Mississippi River.
“In the end, the citizens of Keokuk persuaded (the company) to donate the boat to Keokuk for $1,” said Pietscher.
Pietscher said the citizens wanted to turn it into a museum. He says it was decided that the easiest way to do that was to dry-dock it at its current location in Victory Park.
“During a period of high water in 1961 or 1962, it was floated into a spot on the riverfront on concrete pilings,” Pietscher said, “and it has been here ever since.”
The interior of the George M. Verity Riverboat Museum takes a visitor back in time.
Pietscher said you can walk from room to room and see the equipment used to move the steamboat up and down the river.
“All of the machinery on the main deck is still there,” said Pietscher. “The engines, the boilers and all of the auxiliary machinery. On the upper deck is the living space for the crew.”
There is also a wall of photographs in the museum’s office area that depicts the history of the steamboat. Several show the George M. Verity surrounded by water during the historic Floods of 1993 and 2008.
Pietscher said the damage to the steamboat was substantial.
“Anytime you have a flood on the Mississippi River, you have a lot of mud, as well as paint popping off of steel because water gets behind it. (That lead) to a significant clean-up.”
Visitors come from across the country and around the world.
Volunteers keep the George M. Verity Riverboat Museum open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It is also open for a few weekends leading up to Memorial Day and following Labor Day.
However, Pietscher said it is currently closed right now to allow for some repairs to be made to the roof. He hopes to have the work done in time for upcoming celebrations related to Keokuk’s Lock & Dam.