Tuesday, January 31, 2012

RESEARCHING AT MONTANA MUSEUMS



My guest for today's blog post is Meg Justus, whose book Repeating History is a fascinating look at the adventures of a young man who visits Grand Geyser in Yellowstone National Park and ends up with an exciting adventure in the past. She shares with us only a few of the museums she visited in her quest to "get everything right," for this enthralling tale. Welcome, Meg.

Thank you, Velda, for having me guest on your blog.  This has been a week.  We had snow, then ice, then wind, rain, and flooding this week here near Seattle, and I was lucky to get my electricity back as soon as I did.  My internet connection just came back online after several days. 

But on to the reason I'm here, which is to talk about some of the wonderful museums and archives that I was fortunate enough to visit during the research of my novel RepeatingHistory  which I published last summer on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords

Repeating History is set in Yellowstone National Park and Helena, Montana, in 1959 and 1877.  It is the story of a young man who, by dint of being in absolutely the wrong place -- Grand Geyser -- at absolutely the wrong time -- the night of the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake -- winds up eighty-two years in the past, in his great-grandfather's shoes, in the middle of an Indian war.  To do right by my hero I had to do a great deal of research.  Fortunately, I can think of few things I would rather do more.

The first place I visited was the Yellowstone HeritageCenter, then in the basement of the visitor center at Mammoth Hot Springs, now in a beautiful new building in the town of Gardiner, Montana.  This is mostly an archive, but there are seasonally changing displays in the lobby, and the library is open for anyone to use.  It is full of fascinating historical documents like the Old Faithful Ranger station logbook from 1903 pictured below, and they also collect every book on Yellowstone they can, including fiction.  And they, like every other library and archive I visited in Montana, have very helpful librarians.
 












Heading north from the park itself, the next museum I visited was in the city of Bozeman, Montana.  Anyone who can manage to pass through Bozeman should go to the Museum of the Rockies.   

In addition to an entire wing devoted to an award-winning collection of Montana's ancient fossil dinosaur heritage, there is a living history village open in the summer and many excellent displays on early life in the Gallatin Valley (see the tiny sleigh called a cutter, or, as my hero called it, an 1870s sports car) in the photo below).



Bozeman also has two other excellent research resources, the Pioneer Museum of the Gallatin County Historical Society , housed in the old jail, has a terrific museum and a very good research library, and the Montana Room at the Montana State University library owns documents unavailable anywhere else.

I have left my two favorite Montana museums for last.  One, the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, is in Livingston, in the old schoolhouse there.  It is a good old-fashioned historical society museum, with enormous collections in cases and on the walls where a person can wander for hours and never run out of things to see.  This museum is, among many other fascinating nuggets of information, where I learned that in the old days, people used to hang all sorts of things, from horseshoes to hair combs, in the water at Mammoth Hot Springs, and in a few days would come back to find them coated with the travertine that created the springs.  These items were sold as souvenirs in the early days of the park. 

My other favorite Montana museum is in the state capital, Helena, the Montana Historical Society museum .  The exhibits are fascinating, and tell the story of Montana from the dinosaurs to present times, and there is a terrific collection of Charles Russell paintings as well as traveling displays. But the best part of the Society for a researcher is upstairs past the stuffed albino bison, and that is the research library, inhabited by, and I'm speaking as a former librarian, some of the most helpful reference librarians I've ever met.  The Montana Historical Society library is a treasure trove of history, from collections of letters to microfilmed newspapers to government documents.  Even if you're primarily there to see the museum, the library is well worth a look-see.  And do take a gander at that white bison.  It was an incredible beast.

Thank you so much, Meg. I'm sure everyone enjoyed reading about these fabulous museums as much as I did. Montana is a special place and its history is so rich. I knew that people who liked my Montana books would enjoy yours and find it fascinating to see where you conducted much of your research. 

14 comments:

Andrea Downing said...

Thanks for hosting this, Velda. Meg, you've certainly given me a list of museums to visit on my next trip to MT!

Velda Brotherton said...

Thanks, Andi, for commenting.

Eunice Boeve said...

Good info on the museums. I've visited several Montana museums, including the Montana Historical Museum at Helena, which I love. In fact they haven't created/built a museum I didn't like. Shades of Will Rogers. :-)
I've read Meg's Repeating History. She gives us readers an interesting concept... To live in the shoes of great-grandpa.

Julie said...

Meg and Velda, Thanks for such an interesting visit and blog. Next time I'm in Montana, I'll have a look-see at some of these museums! And I'll look forward to reading Meg's book. As a side note, that earthquake was felt in northern Idaho as well. I was practicing piano that night and the piano began to shake. I thought it was the power of my playing!

Julie

Arletta Dawdy said...

Lovely post, Meg and Velda. I've traveled in much of Montana, taking in museums everywhere we went. I enjoyed doing it again vicariously with you and look forward to reading your books.

Heidiwriter said...

Wonderful! I love reading about my native home state of Montana, and I look forward to reading your book, Meg!

Velda Brotherton said...

I appreciate all the comments on this blog and my guest Meg Justus. Thanks to everyone for dropping by.

M. M. Justus said...

Andrea, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

M. M. Justus said...

Hi, Eunie!

I agree wholeheartedly with you about museums (I'd better, considering my other life [g]).

Although I have to say I like history and science museums more than I do art museums.

M. M. Justus said...

Wow, Julie, I've never "met" anyone who actually felt that earthquake before. I grew up in California, and I live near Seattle, so I've been through a few, too.

I hope you like Repeating History.

M. M. Justus said...

Hello, Arletta,

Montana does a terrific job with its museums. Almost as good a job as it does providing a wonderful great outdoors [g].

M. M. Justus said...

Hello, Heidi,

Lucky you, to have Montana as a home state. I hope you enjoy Repeating History.

M. M. Justus said...

Thank you so much for hosting me, Velda.

Liz Flaherty said...

The blog post was an interesting trip unto itself. Did you do it all in one trip or did you keep going back?