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Hoover Museum: Providing "Living History" At Its Finest

Timothy Walch

Iowa City Press-Citizen

March 8, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

A recent Press-Citizen editorial said it all: "Hoover site is one of area's surprise boons" (Feb. 18). That's hardly controversial. When asked to name great places to visit, most Iowans will include the Hoover site.

But the editorial also highlighted a disheartening trend. The number of visitors to West Branch is declining. It seems that many folks appreciate the site, but never seem to get there.

This trend is not unique. Other Iowa museums are also struggling. And recent news that The History Center in Cedar Rapids has closed for two months is sobering. A majority of the nation's presidential museums also have had the same experience as Hoover.

What's going on? The decline is tied to several factors. Foremost is the hurried pace of everyday life. With soccer, dance, scouts, music and lots of other activities, there isn't much time to visit museums.

Many parents assume that their children visit museums on school field trips. That certainly was the case in West Branch until recently. Today, however, sending a single school bus to a museum costs well over $100, and many districts don't have the money. The unfortunate result is the cancellation of field trips.

And time is just as precious as money. Increasing numbers of schools are under pressure to meet the standards of "No Child Left Behind." Principals won't release students for field trips when test scores are at risk.

What can we do about declining visitation? I can tell you what we are doing in West Branch. We are providing more popular exhibits and programs. This year, for example, we will celebrate the "swingin' sixties" in an exhibit featuring fast cars, rock stars, sports heroes and outrageous fashion.

A second exhibit, "The White House in Miniature" will be the highlight of the summer. From July 15 though Sept. 15, visitors will ogle at a spectacular 40-foot re-creation of America's House. Your jaw will drop when you see it.

On selected weekends, actors will dress in historic costume and provide tours of historic West Branch. Visitors will have the chance to experience community life in the nineteenth century. It will be "living history" at its finest.

In response to the decline in the number of field trips, our education staff is sending out a "presidential troupe" of volunteers who dress as well-known historical characters and visit Iowa schools; the children love the experience. We also conduct specialized workshops to stimulate historical thinking among young people.

And don't miss the spectacular programs and games on our Web site. Everyone should try "Lou Henry Hoover's Cross Country Adventure" at

As director of the Hoover museum, I'm blessed with a determined and talented staff that will spare no effort to make history come alive in a multitude of ways for a diverse audience. Come enjoy the future of the past in West Branch.

Timothy Walch has been the director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum since 1993. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society of Iowa.