The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum will open something different next month — a traveling exhibit.
It’s unusual for the museum, which focuses solely on local history, to host traveling exhibits. But the topic is sure to strike a chord with most Kansans: “Our Lives, Our Stories: America’s Greatest Generation” is based on a five-year initiative by the Minnesota Historical Society to honor the men and women who experienced the Great Depression and World War II.
The exhibit will open Jan. 29, Kansas Day, and will run through March 16. It will be placed on the museum’s fourth floor.
“We think it is great that it is going on the fourth floor,” said Abby Miller, museum educator. “That’s where our Spirit of Wichita exhibit is. We don’t get into the war with the Spirit of Wichita exhibit and our thought process is that this will be a great continuation of the story.
“We want the people from America’s Greatest Generation to bring in their kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for them to experience and see what life was like and open up a conversation.”
The exhibit has been shown throughout the nation, most recently in Little Rock; Charlotte, N.C.; Brigham City, Utah; and Baton Rouge, La.
Miller said the exhibit opens inside an ice cream parlor where visitors will hear cheerful sounds of music and conversations — and then, a bomb exploding. Everything changes from that moment on the home front.
“The exhibit encompasses growing up in the Great Depression and what that was like and then, how quickly life changes after this one event thrust us into a whole new life,” Miller said.
Besides the ice cream parlor, the exhibit includes five freestanding photo murals, small object cases, a jungle gym and a 1950s kitchen. It looks at the lives of the women and children who stayed at home — and what they sacrificed. The exhibit will be interspersed with photos from the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum archives.
The exhibit also takes people into the 1950s and shows how the war changed America for generations to come through the gadgets that came into their homes — televisions, toasters, dishwashers and more. The returning servicemen and women married at extraordinary rates and set about raising families. The U.S. birth rate reached 4 million babies — a peak — in 1957.
“This exhibit is very comprehensive — it’s a blockbuster,” said Eric Cale, director of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. “We produce most of our own exhibits here just because no one else is producing exhibits about Wichita and Sedgwick County. But to find a traveling exhibit that fits with our mission — and to get the grants to get it to happen is even greater.”
The exhibit is underwritten by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the NEH On the Road program. The cost to the museum was $1,000 plus $1,000 for shipping. The museum also received a $1,000 grant for programming.
“Typically exhibits of this scope and size cost from $20,000 to $30,000,” said Jami Frazier Tracy, the museum’s curator of collections. “The NEH On the Road program was designed for communities of all sizes to experience some of the best exhibitions funded by the NEH.”