Archive for May, 2010

New museum update: Video preview!

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We hope you will dig this brand-new short video about our new museum project. Produced by our friends at the City of Fort Collins Cable 14, the video debuted recently at the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado‘s Annual Celebration of Philanthropy. The architectural fly-through has us really excited — things are getting real, really fast!


3 may be a Magic Number, but 111 is a Magic Constant …

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation


… a magic constant of a 3×3 magic square of distinct primes, that is.

Don’t know what a magic constant or a magic square is? Neither did I! It turns out a magic square is an arrangement of numbers in a square where the numbers in each row, each column, and each diagonal all add up to the same number, known as the magic constant. Like this one:


Both those little tidbits, and more, I just learned after browsing What’s Special About This Number?, a site that lists every number from 0-9999 and tells us…what makes each number special. For example, I’m 27, which is the largest number that is the sum of the digits of its cube. I don’t normally say this about math sites (actually, I’ve never said this about a math site), but looking at numbers this way definitely puts the “fun” in “function.”

Did you know that some numbers are narcissistic? I wonder if that comes from the stress of trying to be perfect. And some numbers are part of an amicable pair, while others are just happy to be happy! Although if they come across a vampire number, they might not be quite so happy anymore.

One comment, though. Looking through the list, I saw numbers named after Smith, Keith, Lucas, Wilson, Carol, Leyland, and Ruth-Aaron. Where’s the Katie number? Is this something I have to discover myself, or can someone else name it after me? If it’s the latter, any mathematicians out there are welcome to contact me at the Museum …

A slick solution to a hairy situation

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Pet hair is often a problem at my house. With two dogs and two cats, I’ve found hair under the sofa, across the back of my pants, and occasionally as an unwelcome condiment at the dinner table. So as the pooches were getting ready for their big Springtime Shed Fest, I decided to take them to the local pet salon for some preemptive grooming. Not only did they emerge clean and fluffy from their day at the doggy spa, they had also done their part to help protect the environment. “Good Dogs!”

It turns out that many groomers, of both people and pets, are collecting recently shorn hair and sending it down to the Gulf of Mexico. Once the hair arrives in costal Alabama, it’s being put to good use by the volunteers of Matter of Trust, a San Francisco based charity, to create long, tubular booms affectionately called “hair sausages.” The idea first came about during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 when an Alabama based hair stylist named Phil McCory noticed the trouble volunteers were having cleaning thick blobs of oil out of the fur of sea otters.

Wondering if human hair was as good at absorbing oil as otter fur seemed to be, McCory did a little research at home. As these things so often go, the entire family ended up contributing to his experiment. First, he stuffed some “borrowed” nylon stockings with hair clippings gathered from his salon floor. He then filled his son’s wading pool with water and dirty motor oil left over from his last oil change. Finally, McCory placed the bags of hair into his impromptu oil slick and discovered that they did an admirably job of picking up the petroleum.

Phil McCory later went on to create the OttiMat, a hair-filled mat that can be deployed easily in the case of an oil spill. Products like this not only help to clean-up the environment, they actually keep waste from entering into it. With millions of pounds of human and pet hair dumped into landfills every year, finding a method of reusing it for bioremediation of oil spills is a win-win situation for everyone. While McCory holds the patent and produces the OttiMats commercially, he has given permission to the folks at Matter of Trust to create their own version to help with the clean-up efforts. So far, more than 400,000 pounds of human and pet hair have gone into the efforts to help protect the environment of the Gulf Coast.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my hair cut.

Volunteers using OttiMats on Ocean Beach San Francisco, November 9, 2007 (photo from

From the Archive: Hansen’s Café

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Fort Collins Local History Archive

Doesn’t this restaurant look great? Once located at 131 North College Avenue in Fort Collins, Hansen’s Café offered a variety of steaks and seafood to local residents in the 1960s. Despite the picture on the cover of the menu, however, I don’t see lobster as a dinner choice!

I have two favorite items: the Fat Man’s Special …

… and the Big Small Steak.

Do you remember going to Hansen’s? Share your memories by leaving a comment!

Congratulations to volunteer Jackie Smith

by Amy Scott, Volunteer Coordinator and Director of Visitor Services

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center would like to applaud our own Local History Archive volunteer Jackie Smith on earning his most recent President’s Volunteer Service Award. This award honors Americans who have served their communities with distinction. In recognition of his exemplary service, Jackie has received a lapel pin, congratulatory letter from President Obama, and a certificate of achievement.

Super volunteer Jackie Smith at work in the Local HIstory Archive

Jackie began volunteering in the Local History Archive in 2002, when it was still located at the Fort Collins Public Library. Over the years, he has scanned and written up information from thousands of tax records for inclusion in the Archive’s collection. He has also worked extensively with a collection of several thousand negatives donated by Eugene Hancock, a photographer and editor of the Fort Collins Express newspaper.

An invaluable volunteer, Jackie continues scanning collections of old photos in the Local History Archive at its present location in the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center. He has put in approximately 3,300 hours in the Archive so far. According to Local History Archive Curator Lesley Drayton, “Jackie is an incredible volunteer in the Local History Archive. He’s the one who scans all of the wonderful historic Fort Collins photographs that can be found on the History Connection website. He’s amazingly organized and efficient; this year alone he has scanned over 600 images that we have added to our database. This work simply couldn’t get done without his time and effort, and he does it all with a great sense of humor and a smile.”

Jackie has great interest in the photographs he scans, and he enjoys seeing the progression of Fort Collins history though them. What he likes best about volunteering, however, is working with the people he has met. They become like family, Jackie says. Well, we are certainly proud to have Jackie in our Museum family, and we join the President in thanking him for the difference he has made in the Local History Archive and in our community. Bravo!

Elephants never forget … that they’re scared of bees

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a swarm (groan) of bee stories hitting the news lately? Earlier this spring the museum had our own bee encounter, and it’s a good thing we don’t have any elephants in our courtyard, because the situation could have gotten even stickier (sticky, like honey. See what I did there?).

Two Elephants

In a study published in the journal for the Public Library of Science, animal behaviorist Lucy King demonstrates that elephants are afraid of bees, moving away from them and even sounding an alarm to warn other elephants (you can read the abstract of King’s paper here).

In King’s first study, elephants that were played recordings of bee noises would move away and stay away from the sound. King also noticed that other elephants, too far away to hear the recording, would also move, leading her to suspect that the elephants near the bee playback were calling out a warning to the other elephants, but in a register that the human ear can’t detect. In King’s second experiment, sensitive microphones were used to record the elephant warnings, “rumblings” that could be heard by people when the sound was manipulated. When King played those rumblings to other elephants, the elephants quickly left the area.

Along with furthering our knowledge of elephant communication and behavior, King’s research may help protect farmer’s crops from elephants, and protect the elephants, too. Conflict between elephants and humans is common in those parts of Africa where their ranges overlap. One hungry elephant can eat a farmer’s entire crop in a night, and farmers have been known to kill elephants to protect their harvest. Regular fencing isn’t enough to keep the elephants out, but bee fences might just do the trick.

Elephants near a traditional electric fence

King recommends setting up bee fences made of hives spaced approximately 10 feet apart around areas where people don’t want elephants entering. More research needs to be done, but bee fences might be the perfect solution to keep both people and elephants safe.

Beautiful quirks

by Amy Scott, Visitor Services Coordinator

Is there a Punnett square for this?  Alas, I do not know. I never excelled in the subjects of Botany or Genetics. What I do know is that mutations occurring in the plant world can result in visually stunning anomalies. Take this sweet little tulip I picked from the yard. See how one of the leaves has sprouted two velvety red petals that curl up like ribbons? If you have ever been fortunate enough to find a four-leaf clover, you too have had an encounter with a plant mutation. Take a look at this Flickr photo gallery of some other mutant flowers whose spunk and originality will surprise and delight you.

From the Archive: Summer Camp

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Fort Collins Local History Archive

Getting ready to go to camp this summer?

Recently, while going through a box of letters, postcards, and other ephemera donated to the Museum from a Fort Collins resident, I came across a batch of 1960s promotional material for the High Trails Ranch girls’ camp, still located and operating in Florissant, Colorado. I found this “Recipe for a Memory” from a 1962 brochure too charming to keep to myself:

Summer Camp Recipe for a Memory

I especially enjoy the “stock in trade” at the top of the page that includes boxes of sunsets, campfires, and pack trips, with an additional canister of horses and a bottle of skit night. Sign me up for camp!

Behind the scenes: K-12 Education

This installment of “Behind the Scenes” takes a look at K-12 education at the Museum with K-12 Education Coordinator Toby Swaford.

K-12 Education Coordinator Toby Swaford leads a squid dissection lab

More to Explore: You had a big event last week. What was that all about?

Toby Swaford: It’s the biggest event we do each year; it’s the 4th grade Rendezvous for the students of the Poudre School District. Fourth grade is the year that students in the state of Colorado learn the state’s history, and this event is the culmination of all the things they’ve been learning in the course of the year. It’s a really good way to reinforce what they’ve been studying. And to help us do that we bring in a lot of volunteers from the community, people that are interested and well-versed in so many different aspects of history, whether it be the railroad or the Civil War, handicrafts like quilt making, farm craft, and those people come in and they share their experience and their interests and their passions with those students. And so it’s a nice meeting of different generations and just a good chance to share a lot of different things with the students.

MtE: How many students participate in Rendezvous?

TS: This year it was a 2-day event, it ran on Thursday and Friday, with a total of about 1,300 students over the course of those two days.

MtE: What kinds of reactions do you see with the kids?

TS:  I think the biggest reaction I get from the students is surprise. A lot of them don’t know what they’re getting into and they’re not sure what to expect, and suddenly they get transported to a different place, a different time. We’re not able to bring in an actual train from the late 1800s, early 1900s, but our railmen do such a good job of re-creating the story of the train, whether it be having the students load up a boxcar, or sort mail, and talk about how the trains were used to connect the various towns in northern Colorado to one another, to having the students themselves become the ties and the track and space themselves out and see exactly how the rails were put into place. It’s a lot of fun, it’s very interactive, it’s a really good chance for the students to see what went into creating the world we live in today. The other nice thing to see is how to relate the things of the past to the modern world, whether it be looking at the history of the subject that got us to where we are now, or the science of the subject, the science behind how something like a steam engine works or how a bullet comes out of a Civil War-era rifle, or the math and geometry involved in putting together a quilt. So they really see real-world applications of what they’re learning in school and how those things get used on a daily basis.

MtE: What do you try to accomplish with the K-12 programs here at the Museum?

TS: The majority of the students who come through for the history programs are 2nd grade in the Poudre School District; that’s when they do their local history, and we are a good repository for the story of Fort Collins. So in that case we’re really able to show the students homes of the people they’re learning about, whether it be Elizabeth Stone, better known as Auntie Stone, or Antoine Janis who helped to start the town that became Laporte. But with the addition of the science center coming in, so many things are meshing and gelling into something that’s completely new and very unique. So we’re able to move from a history program about Elizabeth Stone or what going to a one-room school house in 1905 would have been like, that same group of students may then move to an experience of being able to go into the StarLab and learning about our place in the Solar System, or going into a dissection course where they can learn about history in the morning and do a heart dissection or a squid dissection in the afternoon. So what we really try to do more than anything else is to provide opportunities and those experiences students might not be able to get in the classroom. I think that’s the service we not only provide for the students, but for the teachers as well. We’re a really good resource and a really good extension for the classes out there.

MtE: What are you looking forward to in the new museum?

TS: So many things to look forward to in the new museum! I’ve got a pretty good classroom here already in that I’m able to utilize the entire building and courtyard and surrounding environment. But to be in a new facility that’s really designed to be utilized as a museum and therefore an extension of the educational process, to have dedicated classroom space, to have resources like the digital dome–where instead of just pointing out a planet we can do a fly-over of the surface of Mars, really transport the students to another time and another place–I think that it’s just going to be an amazing tool to use to educate and enlighten and get people excited about learning history and science and culture and all the other things we need to know to be the best that we can be out there.

“Howe” did this get here? Part 2: Finding the trail of the Howe lynching

by Ashley Houston, Collections Assistant

In the first installment of this post, I talked about two mysterious items we found in our collection: a knife and a piece of rope that have been traced to the hanging of James Howe, Fort Collins’ only lynching.

To round out my research on Fort Collins’ only lynching, I went with my coworker Museum Coordinator Leigh Westphal to find the modern-day sites of where the murder happened, where the house is now, and the location of the hanging. As it turns out, the house that the Howes lived in is still standing…though not in its original location. You might recognize the original location, though — it’s on Walnut Street in Old Town where the former Goodwill building is now standing.

The Howes’ house was moved in 1947 to W. Myrtle where it still resembles its original form, except a second door on the front has been filled in and a porch roof has been added.

Original Howe house on Walnut Street

Howe house in its current location on Myrtle Street

Next stop was to find the courthouse. The courthouse that was standing at the time of the lynching has since been torn down and rebuilt, but the modern edition stands in the same place as the original. Howe was hung from a derrick used during the construction of the old courthouse. It is the one you can see to the right if you look close enough in this old picture. The derrick was standing at the south end of the building where the entrance is now located.

Original courthouse under construction

Current courthouse, same orientation

Another view of the south side of the Larimer County courthouse

So while we tracked down some of the mysteries surrounding the knife and rope that the Museum has in its possession, many questions still remain. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to learn something new about Fort Collins history — hopefully you learned something new, too!

May 2010

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