The Wichitan

Downtown museum helps residents rediscover history

Dakota Mize

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With cowboy hats, vintage instruments and Vietnam War artifacts, the history of Wichita Falls can be rediscovered through the exhibits at the Museum of North Texas History.

“We’ve got a lot of students here that aren’t from Wichita Falls. [The museum] gives them a unique perspective into the Wichita Falls character,” said  Leanna Ray, museum curator, said. They come in and they see cowboy hats from the old feedlot. We tell them the story about ‘Nat’s Hats’, and how cowboys still come in and visit their hats because a cowboy’s hat was everything to him; his water bucket, sunscreen, best friend, cover to sleep under. They remember stories about what they did with their hats; some of them they can tell, some of them can’t. They’re near and dear to them. It gives them a little more insight into the cowboy perspective of this area.”

Ray is a graduate assistant of the history department who is working on loan to Moffett Library.

“We also have the ‘Oil and Gas’ area where they can see how Wichita Falls grew hugely within a decade,” Ray said. “It just exploded from a very small village into a huge bustling city. It gives them a unique perspective of the area and maybe they can appreciate it a little bit more.”

Ray said the “Jenny to Jet” exhibit, located in the Wichita Falls Regional Airport, “is open anytime the Airport is open, and it’s also free. It’s got insight into the military part of Wichita Falls, all the way back to World War I and current.”

Charles Campbell, executive director, said, “The museum is unique here in Wichita Falls because this is the only general history museum in town. A reason why Midwestern students should be interested in coming here relates to what we view as one of our central messages. History is relevant to the present day, and it is also relevant to the future because it shows you what is possible. If you know what has been down before, the same thing or something similar can happen again. I don’t know if you get a sense of that anywhere else but through history.”

According to the museum’s website, the permanent collections “represent elements which built North Texas and are still part of our lives.”

Campbell said, “We try to change up some of the smaller exhibit areas so that we have some things that are here all of the time and other things that change throughout the year so that we don’t remain static and play into everyone’s stereotype that history is dull, boring, and musty. That’s another reason for students to come here, to really get a sense of the importance of history. It’s not just dates and events. It’s not tied to any particular time. What happened last week is technically history, as well as what happened 100 to 150 years ago. One of the things we try to do is to show the relevance of history, and that history, despite of the fact that it’s history, is also dynamic.”

Campbell said he hopes that the museum inspires students and that “It’s not just about history; it’s about life. You can find inspiration in many places, and we would hope that people can find some inspiration by learning the history of an area.”

“We have a main exhibit room that we change throughout the year three or four times depending on what’s going on,” Ray said. “For example, with February being Black History Month, we have a Black History Month exhibit in our main room right now. It’s got the historical markers from the Texas Historical Commission all through Wichita Falls that include African Americans in our past.”

The “Leaving a Mark on History: Black History Month” exhibit has a large section devoted to the MSU desegregation marker that was recently unveiled. Campbell said the Black History Month Exhibit would only be up for the rest of this week, and that the next main exhibit would be on farming and ranching.

“You can learn more about this area and how unique it truly is because Midwestern, over the years, has really grown. It has become a more attractive university for people outside of the area. It used to be that almost everyone that went to Midwestern came from this area,” Campbell said. “The university has really made an effort to diversify its curriculum, and improve in some specific areas so that this really is a destination place. There is a good bit going on here. Part of the way you learn that is through the history.”

Campbell said it was important for students to realize that “there is more to this area than the university.”

The museum’s newest permanent exhibit is the “Mary Thomas Doll & Toy Collection.”

Ray said, “We have members of the museum that support us with membership dues, and we have a board that organizes fundraising activities. Donations area accepted of course, but we don’t charge admission because we want everyone to be able to come and enjoy it.”

The museum is hosting the “Tribute to Merle Haggard” event on April 6 and “Cruisin’ Kemp Car Show” on April 22.

Campbell said, “We cover a wide variety of subjects. Part of what makes us unique is that the history of Wichita Falls and the North Texas area is unique. There are so many things that have happened here that have had, quite literally, a global impact. A lot of people think that nothing ever happens here or nothing good comes out of here, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We get to show that here, and that’s what is part of what makes us unique.”

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Downtown museum helps residents rediscover history