The Museum of the Mountain West consists of a main building full of storefronts and reconstructed businesses, and several separate buildings that have been moved here from all over the state. I joined a docent-led tour in progress. I had scheduled two hours for this tour, and was told that my allotment was probably optimistic.
Docents are literally walking history books, and this one was no exception. The two hours only got me halfway through his tour, and I didn’t get into any of the rooms in the main building. But a self guided tour would not have been nearly as informative. Had I toured solo, I would have stood outside each room, looking in. With the docent, the chains came down and we were allowed to walk into rooms and get up-close and personal with the artifacts that he covered in great detail.
In the General store, I was able to closely inspect hats and clothing:
This black dress was particularly interesting for it’s sheer sleeves, and the detailing on the back. The front and skirt were elsewise unremarkable, and the ruffly thing is the edge of a parasol. I have no idea what decade this ensemble dates from.
In the Chinese laundry, the docent picked up a small pot, and told us it was an iron – the “pot” was filled with coal, and the brass bottom was burnished after years of smoothing wrinkles from sheets, shirts and dresses. I asked if I could get a photo of it, and was very surprised when he handed it to me. It was heavily ornamented iron with a short wooden handle and a brass bottom. I think it would have required skill and strong wrists to use.
Like I said, docents are walking history books. Ours provided some pretty fun facts:
- I learned that the front of the counter at the general store displayed the variety of beans that were for sale. You made your selection and the clerk would fetch your requested number of of bushels from the back. That is where the term “bean counter” came from.
- The railroad men at night used red lanterns to inspect the tracks, because red light is less disruptive to your night vision. When they went into town, those who visited the bordellos and brothels left their lanterns outside the door, which is where “Red Light District” got its name.
- The docent showed off some guns, and said that on a stagecoach, they guy next to the driver carried a sawed off shotgun because it was more maneuverable than a long rifle. It’s where “riding shotgun” originated.
- In the county jail, he pointed out the holes in the metal bedframes, where ropes were run through to act as a bedspring, with a blanket on top instead of a mattress. The ropes brought the expression “sleep tight” into our lexicon.
I was sad to break away, but I had an appointment with some historians in Gunnison. So I ran through the remaining rooms, though in my haste, my photographs through the glass windows and doors did not come out well, and I did not learn about the individual objects contained therein.
Just as I was leaving, one of the staff took one look at my dress, and decided I needed to be introduced to the man who built the museum. That’s a fun little story I will relate in a future post at Mainly Museums.