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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Then and Now

Thursday, November 4, 2004

2005: Another birthday besides the 150th

Nothing can make one feel one's years quite like finding oneself "a part of history," being rudely reminded that happenings which to oneself are but the doings of day-before-yesterday, not really different from those of yesterday itself, to others are "history."

As William Faulkner wrote somewhere, in most people's minds, history's a kind of bottle in which the contents are thoroughly mixed-up, quite without regard to date, save for the immediate past contained in the bottle's neck.

It's the mentality of those well-known high school graduates who, for instance, can't locate the Civil War in the right half-century. And of the wide-eyed lad who once asked me, in all seriousness, "Did you know Jesse James?" and the lass who asked, "Grandma, what were the dinosaurs like when you were a girl?"

There's no getting around it: I was "present at the creation," if not of the world at least of the Bushwhacker Museum, whose 40th anniversary we'll be marking, and one hopes celebrating, next summer, along with the 150th of Nevada and Vernon County.

Among wedding anniversaries at least, the 40th is identified with rubies. It seems there's no adjectival form of the gem's name, to match "golden" for the 50th; so 2005 will be simply the Museum's "ruby anniversary." Certainly no gifts of rubies will be spurned.

My part, as the hoary witness to the creation, as well as to Jesse James and the dinosaurs, will be simply to recall the past, to try and sort it out, unmingle those historical ingredients lying so promiscuously mixed below yesterday's bottleneck. So here goes:

Aug. 30, 1964. The county court (commission) offers the old jail for sale. Since its closing in December 1960, prisoners have been sent to the Lamar jail. Among the new Kennedy administration's makework projects to combat the recession is a new Nevada post office (though there's nothing wrong with the handsome old one!). The old one is offered to Vernon County for a new jail, so there no longer remains any reason to hang onto the old building.

Sept. 6-28. Letters to the editor offer suggestions, including blowing the place up.

Sept. 23. Harold Gray's influential letter to the editor urges making the building a tourist attraction, and suggests the name "Bushwhacker Museum."

Oct. 4. Judge Hereford Kelso recalls the old historical society, incorporated in 1938, but inactive since 1944, and suggests it be revived to buy the jail and operate it as a museum.

Oct. 6. As a surviving officer of the old Society, Judge Kelso chairs a meeting in the circuit courtroom. Two other former members are rounded up: Marvin Emery, Nevada, and Fred L. Harriman, St. Louis, who happens to be in town. They declare the Society revived.

Nov. 5. The revived Society accepts a deal made with the court by Kelso, Don Russell, James Denman, and Joe Kraft, submitting a high bid of $6,000 for the jail.

Nov. 7. The Society formally adopts the name "Bushwhacker Museum."

Nov. 8. A long letter to the editor from Harold Gray describes the jail building's historical and architectural significance.

Nov. 15. J. P. Brophy elected president; John Pickett, vice-president; Alice Hill, recording secretary; Patrick Brophy, corresponding secretary; Yana Reid, treasurer; Franklin Norman, Amy Logan, Boyd Ewing, James Denman, James Gulliford, Elsie Gilbert, Orland Martin, Irma Brown, and Joe Kraft (chairman), directors. Martin (a county judge) declines with thanks. Chester Rowton is appointed the Museum's first curator.

Nov. 28-9. A two-day open house is held at the jail. 1522 persons show up.

Jan. 14. Renovation, with volunteer labor, is in full swing, directed by Pres. J. P. Brophy.

Jan. 24. Chuck Davis, chairman of Chamber of Commerce Retail Committee, suggests a "Bushwhacker Days" celebration to coincide with Museum's proposed opening in May. But the idea is not followed up until the following year, 1966.

Mar. 15. Placing of exhibits begun by Curator Rowton and volunteer committee.

Mar. 21. Artifacts invited and accepted from the public in an evening session.

May 29-30. Museum informally opens to visitors.

June 1. The Bushwhacker Museum officially opens.

Jan. 1, 1966. The first Society newsletter issued, called "The Bushwhacker." Since many other groups use that name, it later becomes "Bushwhacker Musings."

Late May. The first "Bushwhacker Days" known as "Bushwhacker Week," takes place, jointly sponsored by the Society and the Chamber of Commerce. Bill King, Chamber president, is its driving spirit. Its declared purpose is "to promote the new Museum." One event is a street square dance in front of the jail. Society members freeze their hands off selling iced soda pop on a raw evening when hot buttered rum would have gone over better.

June 1967. "Bushwhacker Week" is shortened and renamed "Bushwhacker Days," and moves into June in search of warmer weather (and finds it!) The Society withdraws from formal sponsorship. (The official numbering of successive Bushwhacker Days is a year off because the previous Indian powwow is erroneously included as the "first.") So there you have it. Each of these events will be exactly "forty years ago" at some time in the coming months. Which to celebrate, as the Museum's official fortieth anniversary? June 1, the formal opening day, sounds the likeliest.

On the other hand it might be prudent to move it into and combine it with Bushwhacker Days, the third weekend in June, when the official observance of the Nevada and Vernon County sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) is also scheduled. Moreover, the new "Sesquicentennial History Book" is expected to be available then, or by then. The possibilities of joint celebrations are literally endless.

How to celebrate? The arrival of the museum's 25,000th visitor was observed by giving the visitor a Bushwhacker Days cup and saucer, suitably mounted with a plaque.

Certainly some kind of souvenirs should be available for free distribution. And what about a special brochure to highlight the Museum's often rocky but always forward progress through its 40 years' existence?

Again, the possibilities are endless. But we need to get going with them!

By all means, if you have any ideas, let's hear from you!