Archive for the 'Behind the scenes' Category

Heading towards the future

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

When we started this blog back in March 2008, we knew we’d have a lot to talk about. We’re museum geeks, so that means we’re interested in all kinds of stuff (some of them, admittedly, a little strange). We work at a museum that combines history, culture, and science, so that gives us pretty unlimited horizons too. And the world is just full of amazingly fascinating things. It’s been a blast writing about all this stuff and you have been a wonderful, and responsive, audience.

We’ve had this other little thing going on too, namely, building an all-new museum. What was just a gleam in our eyes a few years ago has grown into a huge project that is moving ahead at warp speed. We thought it would never get here, and now it’s almost upon us! Construction for the new building will be finished in three scant months; we’re working with our exhibit fabrication team to turn the wonderful designs from Gyroscope, Inc. (our exhibit master planning company) into reality; and we’re really starting to cast our minds ahead to the opening of this grand new adventure.

As exciting (and exhausting!) as this all is, it also means that we’re beginning to have to pull back on some of what we’re doing now. Running a museum while building a new one has been a unique experience of juggling and multitasking, for sure. We are planning to close our current institution at the end of this year so we can fully prepare to open the new museum in the summer of 2012.

I’m finally getting to the point, which is that for now, we are going to put this blog to bed a bit. We’re not going to take it down, but we won’t be updating it as regularly. We do plan to provide updates on the new museum project and we may squeeze in some other posts along the way, too. And when we’re open at the new museum, look for us again — we won’t be able to contain ourselves for long. The world is just too full of amazingly fascinating things.

Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center staff at the construction site, November 2010

My huge thanks to all the staff who contributed to this blog: Katie Bowell, Lesley Drayton, Linda Moore, Jason Wolvington, Treloar Bower, Toby Swaford, Tiffani Righero, Leigh Westphal, Ashley Houston, Pat Walker, Brent Carmack, Annette Geiselman, Beth Higgins, Cory Gundlach, Amy Scott, and Jayne Hansen. You all rock!

From the Collection: Can You Count the Moves?

by Leigh Westphal, Museum Coordinator

A few months back I wrote about a recent acquisition of prescription slips from the City Drug store. After completing the re-housing of prescription slips from the store’s cigar boxes to archival boxes, I was left with one burning question… where was this place? The answer- as is often the case- was not a simple one.

Boasted as “the oldest legitimate business in Fort Collins,” City Drug first opened in 1873. Its original owners were a pharmacist, M.E. Hocker, and two local business men, William C. Stover and John C. Mathews. City Drug’s first location was at the southwest corner of Jefferson and Linden streets in one of the oldest buildings in Fort Collins, known as “Old Grout” for the enthusiastic use of grout in its construction.

From Old Grout, City Drug went on to have numerous locations and owners. When the Yount Bank Building on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Linden was completed in 1874, City Drug quickly moved across the street and into it. In the same year, William Stover sold his interest in the business to his brother, Frank, who had just arrived in Fort Collins.  At this point, both W.C. Stover and Mathews retired from the drug store in order to pursue other business interests in town.  Eventually, Frank P. Stover bought out Hocker and became sole owner of City Drug.  During this time Stover moved the business again, this time to the northwest corner of Jefferson and Linden streets, where he rented a corner section of the Tedman House.  Soon after, the store made its way back to its original location, but this time it inhabited a brand new brick building since the log-walled Old Grout had been torn down and replaced at the commission of Frank Stover.

City Drug c. 1884, located at the Tedman House

Upon his retirement in 1919, Stover sold City Drug to C.L. Brewer. With Brewer at the helm, the drug store moved three more times in an attempt to be a central part of the city. In its first year of Brewer’s ownership, City Drug relocated to 143 Linden Street. Seven years later, it moved to 145 N. College Avenue and again to the “Woolworth Building” at the northwest corner of College and Mountain avenues.

City Drug c. 1906, southwest corner of Linden and Jefferson streets

In 1946, Brewer sold City Drug to brothers Arthur and Harold Grovert. The Groverts also relocated the business more than once. First, they moved to 139 N. College Avenue and again in 1967 to the southwest corner of College and Mountain Avenues.

City Drug c. 1969, 101 S. College Ave.

In 1992, City Drug was purchased by its current owners, the Wilkins family. The Wilkins continued to run the drug store at the southwest corner of College and Mountain until September of 2009, when the business made its final move to 209 N. College Avenue, formerly know as the Ghent Motors Building.

Current location of City Drug just north of LaPorte Ave.

Whew, moving makes me tired… even if it is just reading about it!

New Museum Update – The Walls are Coming Up

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Laying down the "mud slab" at the new museum construction site

Since breaking ground in September, construction has been proceeding apace at the new museum site. Practically all of the work so far is at or below the surface — hundreds of helical foundation piers have been drilled into the ground, a low concrete wall has been poured around the perimeter of the building, runs of PVC plumbing and venting pipe have been placed, and the working floor, or “mud slab,” is being laid. Every time we go to the site, it looks amazingly different. And starting this coming Monday (12-20), it’s going to look really different — the walls are arriving!

The outer walls of the museum building will be assembled from 89 custom precast concrete sections, built by Stresscon Corporation in Dacono, Colorado. We’re using precast wall sections for several reasons: they are environmentally friendly, they last longer than other construction methods, and they provide an array of beautiful finishes to choose from. Assoc. Director Jason Wolvington and I are heading down to Stresscon this morning to watch the first batch of wall sections being loaded on flatbed trucks for delivery on-site Monday. When they arrive Monday, a giant crane will unload them and they’ll be welded onto the foundation wall. Over the next three weeks, the new museum building will look like it’s literally rising up from the ground.

Stayed tuned for updates and photos. Keep an eye on our Flickr site for photos, follow us on Facebook, and check out the panoramic photos of the construction site that we’re posting on our website. And as always, if you have any questions about what’s going on, please don’t hesitate to ask!


Month at the Museum (of Science and Industry)

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

When I was a girl, one of my favorite books was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. In the book, Claudia Kincaid and her little brother Jamie decide to leave home and, searching for adventure, run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The plot develops as Claudia and Jamie work to solve a mystery around a statue of a marble angel, which may or may not be a Michelangelo original. While I’m not going to tell you how the story ends, I will tell you that since first reading the book I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a museum. I’m pretty sure the exhibits don’t come to life at night (at least they haven’t on the nights that I work late…yet…)

Well, she probably won’t get to solve any Renaissance art mysteries, but Kate McGroarty is about to start living in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry for one month. Kate won the museum’s Month at the Museum contest, beating out over 1,500 other applicants for the chance to, in the words of the contest application,

live and breathe science 24/7 for 30 days…this person’s mission will be to experience all the fun and education that fits in this historic 14-acre building, living here and reporting [their] experience to the outside world.

Kate discovering she's the contest winner

Here’s Kate’s entry video

From October 20th through November 18th, you can follow Kate’s adventures in the Museum of Science and Industry through the project’s website, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you had the chance to live in a museum, which one would you chose? I think my choice would be a tie between the Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand) and the Natural History Museum in London.

A visit with Dr. Temple Grandin

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Dr. Temple Grandin (r) talks with Annette Geiselman (l) and Jean Lamm at the Museum

(See more pictures of Dr. Grandin’s visit on Flickr …)

Think back to when you were a kid – what kinds of things fascinated you? Sparked your curiosity? Turned you on to exploring your world? Yes, it was a long time ago, but remembering my childhood fascinations with the space program, dinosaurs, and the ancient past puts a smile on my face. I can still feel the feelings of wonder and excitement.

Getting kids turned on to exploring and understanding their world – that’s one of our core passions here at the Museum. Last week we were honored by a visit from Dr. Temple Grandin, author, animal behavior pioneer, and autism advocate, who inspired us with her own experiences as a scientist and some great advice on engaging kids.

The key, according to Dr. Grandin, is to get kids “turned on” when they’re young. “If you don’t expose kids to interesting things, they’re not going to get interested in interesting things, “ she said. “You’ve got to get them out and take them to places.”

When we shared with Dr. Grandin our plans and ideas for the new museum, she was enthusiastic. “I think it’s just wonderful that you’re building this museum,” she told us. “We have got to get school kids into the museum. The little kids, we’ve got to get them in there, because I can remember visits to the science museum when I was a kid, and, you know, it made a big impression on me.”

We were curious to hear her thoughts on our approach in the new museum, where we will be taking scientific phenomena and hands-on experiences and putting them in a cultural context – bringing in the history side of things and showing science in action. “That makes total sense,” she told us. “That’s a really good point. You’re telling me you’re going to study how gears work. I’ve seen those exhibits where they show you how gears work, but then what do you use gears for? Well, your bicycle is a good example, so why are gears important? – bicycles have them, you’ve got them in the car, too. We need to show how it works in the real world.”

Dr. Grandin is also a champion of hands-on learning. “What we’ve got to do to get kids enthusiastic about science is that we’ve got to expose them to hands-on science when they’re little kids,” she said. “You know there are programs where, even in elementary school, kids can go out and collect water samples and then they can actually be used to detect pollution levels. That’s real science. Third and fourth graders can collect water samples. We need to make science relevant. When I was a child, science is what enables you to go to the moon. I can remember when Sputnik flew overhead and everyone was all revved up about, we’ve got to really learn science because we have to get to the moon before Russia gets to the moon! It motivated the whole country.”

Dr. Grandin’s already busy life – in addition to teaching at Colorado State University, she travels extensively as an animal welfare consultant and a speaker at autism conferences – has become even more hectic since the HBO movie “Temple Grandin” came out (the movie recently was honored with seven Emmy Awards). While acknowledging the many demands on her time, Dr. Grandin said that “One thing I have tried to do is answer all the letters, especially when little kids write in to me. Make sure I answer all of those and tell them to study hard and achieve your dreams.”

Found in the Collection: Prescriptions…for Cigars?!

by Leigh Westphal, Museum Coordinator

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center recently acquired a lovely collection of cigar boxes from, what might seem today, a very unlikely source.  The boxes were found in the basement of the former City Drug building at the southwest corner of College and Mountain Avenues when City Drug moved to their new location. The  old builing was being prepared for renovation and they found cigar boxes. A LOT of cigar boxes.

However, this was not just a simple collection of novelty boxes (nor the trail of a cigar afficianado),  because inside each box was a stack of papers and the exterior of each box was labeled with a strip of tape with a set of numbers hand-written on it. This was the filing system for the drug store’s filled prescriptions  dating all the way back to 1919.  Genius!  In an age when computers were non-existant, someone came up with a cohesive, compact, and organized fashion of storing these documents.

One of the earlier boxes, circa 1919

So, why did City Drug keep the prescription slips in the first place and why would the museum want them now?  The slips contain private medical information about individuals within the community that would have been difficult to disposed of in a discreet manner.  Moreover, as fellow collections staff member Ashley Houston and I cleared the dust off this collection – literally – we also uncovered trends for Fort Collins, such as population growth, the appearance of female doctors, spikes in prescriptions in relation to certain times/months/seasons  of the year, and the popularity of certain drugs during specific time periods.

Collections Assistant Ashley Houston in her "hazmat" gear getting all those numbered boxes in order

As lovely as the cigar boxes may have been, the prescription slips were removed, cleaned and rehoused in archival boxes to be stored in the museum.

Crime Scene Insects mini-camp

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The "crime scene"! (Trust me, you don't want to see a close-up!)

We’ve introduced a pretty unorthodox summer camp for middle school-aged kids this summer: CSI: Crime Scene Insects. Clearly, awareness of crime scene investigation is on the rise, as evidenced by the popularity of many TV shows (CSI, NCIS, Bones, and many more) with this focus. But beyond entertainment, forensic investigations can create a context for engaging students in science and mathematics (disciplines where many U.S. students lag behind those in other countries). So we’re jumping on the bandwagon (or maybe I should say coroner’s van?) to make science and math interesting, challenging, and fun through forensics.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. M. Lee Goff in the summer of 2004, when the museum where I worked hosted an exhibit about forensic entomology (loosely translated: the study of insects as they pertain to the law and crime investigation). Dr. Goff is one of the foremost forensic entomologists in the world and is the person on which the Gil Grissom character of CSI is based. Dr. Goff consulted with me on the creation of a forensic entomology program, which I have refined and re-introduced here as a three-day long “mini-camp” for students between 5th and 8th grades.

For the camp, students learn about the various species of arthropods that aid in the recycling of remains back to the environment. The arrival of these species to bodies, human or animal, follows predictable patterns and durations. With consideration to the variables present at each crime scene (temperature, relative humidity, and more), an accurate time frame since the death event can be determined for remains.

CSI mini-camp students use a field guide to identify insects

CSI mini-camp students observe insects under the video microscope

During the camp, the students try to determine the “time since death” for two case studies based on insect specimens we collect from the rats and identify with the aid of a microscope. To create our “crime scene,” we placed humanely euthanized rats (sold at the pet store as reptile food) in cages to prevent larger scavengers from accessing the remains, and allowed the insects and other arthropods do their work. The first fly arrived within 7 minutes of placing the first rat outside.

Yes, it can be “gross” and yes, the smell at the end of the bloat stage can be pretty strong, but the process of decay is fascinating. Our civilized society has made decomposition a taboo subject of conversation, not talked about or even acknowledged. Certainly, very few of us have observed decomposition beyond accidentally coming across a deceased critter while on a hike. Death is a scary and uncomfortable subject, but it is part of life and decomposition is a natural process. Sometimes, a scary subject is more so because we lack knowledge about it, and I think we are helping to lift the veil off this taboo subject. The students in our camp now have more knowledge about this part of the cycle of life and death, and we snuck lessons in science and math, too.

If you are in town and wish to see our “crime scene,” stop by the Museum during our regular business hours! The next session of “Crime Scene Insects” is June 28-30.


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