Archive for July, 2009

Are you ready for the Challenge?

by Beth Higgins, Public Relations/Development Coordinator

What could be more fun than hanging out at the Museum and in Old Town Square on a warm August evening? Well, how about solving clues, eating great food, and winning prizes? Yes, you can!

It’s fun …

The Fort Collins Museum Foundation presents the Fourth Annual History Mystery Challenge on August 28 from 6 – 10 pm at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center. This crazy-fun event (unlike anything else in Fort Collins!) brings teams together for food, drinks, and sleuthing to support the Fort Collins Museum Foundation.

It’s challenging …

Teams of four to six players receive a Clue Book upon arrival. After enjoying catered hors d’oeuvres (really a light dinner) and refreshments (beer, wine and lemonade), teams assemble for the starting bell. Over twenty clues (hermetically sealed and kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnallsporch since noon that day) will lead players throughout Old Town to answer riddles. Players have only 90 minutes to return to the Museum, completed clue books in hand, to be eligible to win the impressive and coveted “Grand Prize.” While answers are tallied, participants may enjoy a second round of great food and beverages, participate in the costume contest for additional prizes, and perhaps receive a fabulous door prize from behind Curtain Number Two.

It’s a bit weird …

But that’s what makes it so much fun! The event never takes itself too seriously, and neither should the players. Cheating is not allowed: cheaters will be humilated on stage to the amusement of other, non-cheating players. Unique Team Costumes are encouraged, and unique Team Names are required (nothing like “Bill’s Team.” Yawn.) If you have less than four to six players we’ll pair you up with others, and if you can’t think of a team name, we’ll name your team (but you’ve been warned!).

Stuck on a clue? Find a strangely dressed “Clue Salesperson” and BUY a clue! (And who hasn’t wanted to do that, at one time or another?) Or, if you only have a couple of bucks, you can buy a hint. But this is a fundraiser, so please, bring your wallet!

Some necessary details…

  • Registration begins July 15 and closes August 23. Space is limited! Check the website for complete rules and registration information, or call (970) 221-6738.
  • $25 per person. Fee includes food, two drink tickets, entry into prize drawings, and potential to win fabulous and coveted prizes.
  • Must be over 21 to participate (there’s beer and wine, that’s why).

Seriously – don’t miss this one-of-a-kind, fun, crazy event. Call the Museum or check the website for details!!

A Pirate, a Sheep, and Henry Ford walk into a Bar-B-Q…

by Toby Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

With summer in full swing, it’s time to break out the grill and do some outdoor cooking. While most folks are pondering what to throw on the grill, I of course am looking at the scientific and historical nature of this activity.

Some may argue that the act of cooking outdoors goes back to the first guy that created fire, only to burn his thumb, put it in his mouth and discover that it tasted better. Going back this far may take a little longer than we have, so instead let’s look at some of the possible origins of the term, barbeque. Whether you spell it out, or shorten it to the very American Bar-B-Q, it’s still a fairly odd sounding word – so, where did it originate?

Like many words, its etymology is up for debate, but here’s one version of its introduction into current usage. The custom of slow cooking over low heat was known as bucan on the island of Hispaniola, through consonant migration as the word was introduced into different cultures the phrase shifted to, barbacan, barbacoa and eventually barbeque.

Some theories have the modern barbeque coming from the French, barbe meaning whiskers and queue which translates to tail, the combined barbe a queue literally translating to mean from whiskers to tail, the part of the animal usually cooked over the fire pit. Interestingly, most word scholars disagree with this account. The French did however use the original bucan to describe the criminals that escaped to Hispaniola as buccaneers, so named for the style of cooking popular to the region. It wouldn’t take long before the phrase buccaneer was synonymous with pirate.

Another item associated with outdoor cooking is charcoal, which brings us to the scientific part. Charcoal is created in a process known as pyrolysis, the technical term for heating wood or other organic material in the absence of oxygen. What this slow, low temperature burn creates is a rather impure variety of carbon that is lightweight, porous, and perfect for cooking a variety of meats. Perhaps further explaining its importance to certain members of the population, charcoal is also a key component of gunpowder and fireworks. (We’re men, we like to cook big slabs of meat and blow stuff up. Honestly, we can’t help it.)

While charcoal has been around for centuries, the briquette form with which we’re most familiar was patented in 1897 by Pennsylvania inventor, Ellsworth Zwoyer. While Zwoyer opened two plants to manufacture his charcoal briquettes, national distribution was an issue. In the 1920s this problem was partly solved by Henry Ford and his Model-T automobile. Ford, never one to waste an opportunity, learned that he could produce charcoal briquettes from the wood scraps left behind after making certain parts for his popular vehicle.

The Kingsford Company was formed when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford’s, brokered the site selection for Ford’s new charcoal manufacturing plant. The company, originally called Ford Charcoal, was renamed Kingsford Charcoal in his honor. For many years, Kingsford Charcoal was only available at Ford automobile dealerships.

While barbeques are great ways to bring family and friends together, they can occasionally unite entire towns. Such was the case on Wednesday, September 29, 1909 when Fort Collins celebrated the first annual Lamb Day. The event kicked off with the ringing of the town bell at noon and ended with 8,500 pounds of lamb, 500 pounds of beef, 3,200 loaves of bread, 1,000 gallons of coffee, and two barrels of pickles being served to over 10,000 townsfolk and tourists.

People had come from as far away as Chicago and the West Coast to enjoy the fattened barbequed lambs that were roasted in an enormous pit. How big was it? Believe it or not, the cooking area of the pit ran the length of an entire city block. College students and local butchers stood on their feet for many hours serving the donated food, until the last person in line filled their plate.

Why Lamb Day? Well, in 1889, lamb finishing (or fattening) became one of the most profitable agricultural ventures in Fort Collins. The sheep grazed on the vast, open lands of the region, flourishing in the mild climate. Initially, farmers who raised lambs finished them on local alfalfa and corn. However, around the turn of the 20th century, the boom of the sugar beet industry in the region produced byproducts in the form of beet tops and beet pulp ready made for use as sheep feed. By 1904, over 400,000 sheep from the Fort Collins district were shipped to Chicago and Omaha, making Fort Collins an important player in the sheep industry.

Food for thought the next time you fire up the grill.

Images below courtesy of the Local History Archive

Scene from the great Lamb Day Bar-B-Q

Scene from the great Lamb Day Bar-B-Q

A color postcard commemorating the "Lamb Feast"

A color postcard commemorating the "Lamb Feast"

Poster advertising Lamb Day 1909

Poster advertising Lamb Day 1909

Moon memories

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

July 20th, 1969 —

I remember sitting on the brightly-striped multi-colored carpet (it was the Sixties, after all) of our family room, with my brother Mark, my Mom and Dad, as we watched the ghostly black and white images of the first Moon landing. When we heard the words “Tranquility Base here — the Eagle has landed,” I looked over at my Mom, sitting in her favorite chair, and saw tears streaming down her face. I was only eight years old — mostly I couldn’t begin to figure out how we could see TV pictures from the Moon, since clearly there weren’t any TV stations up there — but remembering that moment, shared with my family, brings tears to my eyes now, forty years later.

Okay, if you’re like me, you can’t even believe that it’s been 40 years. To celebrate the anniversary, the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center is hosting “To the Moon and Back,” an exhibit of NASA artifacts, opening Saturday, July 25th and running through August 29th. The day the exhibit opens will be full of hands-on space activities, live video broadcasts from Space Center Houston, and opportunities for those of us who were “there” those 40 years ago to share our memories of the event. Not quite that long in the tooth? Then we hope you’ll share your visions and hopes for what space travel can be in the future.

But if you can’t be here at the Museum to share your memories on July 25th, you can share them through this blog. Just click the “Comment” link up at the top of this post and tell your story (and read other people’s stories). Again, if you weren’t there in ’69, you can describe your vision of space travel in the future — and we’d love to hear from kids, too! In return for sharing your story, we’d like to offer you a buy-one-get-one-free admission for you and a friend to come see “To the Moon and Back” — to celebrate — to remember — to dream — to wonder.

nasa banner

From the Archive: Mouse ears for the inmates!

by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Local History Archive 

I was scrolling through microfilm of the old Fort Collins Triangle Review newspaper and came across this article from August 25, 1976 with the following headline:

county jail headline

Naturally, I had to read this article, and so do you. Here are some highlights:

One Fort Collins resident is anxiously awaiting to hear if she has won a trip to California, a new car, or cash. What makes her different is she is Mrs. Larimer County Jail.

Is the county jail a “missus” or even a woman for that matter? According to McCall’s Magazine’s latest sweepstakes contest, she is both.

Sheriff’s Capt. Jack Colwell, who is in charge of the jail, said he always wondered about Mrs. Jail’s gender until he received a letter from McCall’s. “Just think what $35,000 cash can do for you, Mrs. Jail. We would send off a check to you in Fort Collins for the full $35,000—yours to use at once.”

What’s more, McCall’s offered a possible trip to Disneyland or Disney World, with travel and lodgings on them. “I’d like to see them find accommodations for Mrs. Jail,” says Capt. Colwell. “The transportation costs alone would be terrific.”

Since Mrs. Jail is made of brick and is half a block long, Capt. Colwell doubts she will fit in the two-door sports coupe she might win, but he is interested in the seventh place prize of “very exclusive scarves.”

He said, “If they have a scarf big enough to fit Mrs. Jail, we’ll take it.”

While the jail staff isn’t sure if they will actually enter McCall’s contest, one thing is for sure. The cold steel bars will never be the same.

I scrolled ahead a few weeks through the microfilm, and it looks like Mrs. Larimer County Jail never won that trip to Disneyland. It’s too bad, really; I bet she would have loved Pirates of the Caribbean.

Take a trip to the Moon and back at the Museum

by Deb Price, Science Educator

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center is opening a temporary exhibit, “To the Moon and Back,” Saturday, July 25 with a variety of special activities and programs. The event celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Live video broadcasts from Space Center Houston at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, and 12:30 pm will revisit the historical significance of that first touchdown on the Moon, plus provide a glimpse of upcoming missions to the Moon and to Mars. Interactive, hands-on space activities will be offered from 11 am to 2 pm in the gallery and the Museum courtyard.

Visitors will also have a chance to share memories of the first moon landing, and children are invited to share their vision for future space missions.

The temporary exhibit features artifacts on loan from NASA, including space helmets from the Apollo and space shuttle flights, moon rock replicas, in-flight space suit, astronaut food, and photographs of astronauts and other space scientists. The exhibit will be at the Museum through the end of August. The Museum is offering the exhibit and special activities through its partnership with Virtual Space Community, an outreach program through Space Center Houston.

All July 25th activities are included in the price of admission: $4 for adults, $3 for children (ages 3-12) and seniors (60+). Children 2 and under are free. The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center is at 200 Mathews St. in downtown Fort Collins. For more information, go to the website at or call 970-221-6738.

From the Archive: Workin’ up a sweat

by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Local History Archive 

Check out this fantastic image of physical fitness for women during the early 20th century. It’s from the Archive’s oversize photograph collection and dates to the early 1900s. The caption on the back of the original photograph states that the ladies are from a gym class at Colorado Agricultural College, present-day Colorado State University.

Perhaps the most charming part of this photograph is what is found alongside it: a piece of paper attached to a scrap of royal purple felt-like fabric. The paper reads “The suits were made of this material + each leg of the costume was two full widths of the material.”

Well, Spandex it is not….but it still looks like these ladies meant business when it came to fitness. 

Fighting illegal artifact looting: “A new kind of respect”

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This past March I wrote about artifacts; specifically, what to do when you come across an artifact or cultural resource in one of our parks, trails, or natural spaces. The main message of the post was “you can look, but you can’t collect.” Collecting historic and prehistoric artifacts on public land is illegal under Colorado law, and transporting illegally collected artifacts across state lines is against federal law. However, even though it’s been over 100 years since the federal government passed the first laws protecting artifacts, illegal collecting still happens all over the country. And while some  illegally collected artifacts may end up on a mantel, others enter the stream of a robust black market that has ties to, among other things, the drug trade.

Last month, 24 people in Blanding, Utah, were indicted on charges of collecting and selling illegally acquired Native American artifacts, part of that very lucrative black market that exists for objects removed from archaeological sites.

NPR’s Howard Berkes wrote about the arrests here and the divided opinions within Blanding after the arrests here (be sure to check out the Photo Gallery “The Lure of Ancient Artifacts”).

I can understand the frustrations some people have over the current laws protecting artifacts; in our not-too-distant past collecting was legal and quite common. I also understand the bonds that people can feel towards artifacts; objects connect you to the past and, ultimately, to people and that is an invaluable experience. However, those reasonings don’t excuse the fact that, to quote Craig Childs, collecting “is a form of archaeological genocide, erasing the record of people from a place.” I hope that here, in Fort Collins, we will treat our archaeological sites with respect and take care of them for the future.

Anne O’Brien, a commentator on Berkes’ second article, put it well. “… it’s still hard to look down, see an arrow point or a pot uncovered by rain or a painted shard and leave it alone. That’s a new kind of respect.”

July 2009
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