By Lisa Talley | email@example.com
Who are we without our memory? It’s a loaded question no one ever wants to know the answer to because the weight of it would crush us with its truth. We’d be but an empty vessel, a thin shadow of our former selves that would quickly vanish with the faintest of breezes – as if we’d never existed at all.
The same could be said for every city, whether a sprawling metropolis or a quaint, picturesque small town. Where families and friends would keep the memories of the individual alive, it’s the museums that become the caretakers of history – the memory that keeps the soul of a city alive.
But for the Hanford Carnegie Museum, it could all disappear without a trace in a matter of months.
Gifted to the City of Hanford by the steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie, in 1905, the museum began its tenure as the city’s free public library. It served the community in that capacity for nearly 70 years until it was converted into a museum. Nestled in the quiet, historic neighborhood of downtown Hanford, the museum is a Romanesque stone building that is home to artifacts dating back to the late 1800s.
Most notably, a suitcase and dress left behind by Amelia Earhart that was designed by the famed pilot herself.
“Amelia used to teach at the Chandler Airport, it was only for a couple of months, but while she was there, she became close friends with Mary Packwood – a Hanford native, and Amelia would come to visit here often. The luggage was left behind when she went missing,” explains Museum Manager, Patricia Dickerson, “Having these here is a big deal for Kings County.”
The Smithsonian Institute has been after the Earhart items for years, with offers to purchase them from the Hanford Carnegie Museum but to no avail.
Other displays showcase items and uniforms of local military veterans throughout the different war periods; bomber jackets, flight suits, dress uniforms, along with photos, and newspaper clippings. On the second story of the museum are smaller displays housing historical photos and items from the Hanford Fire Department, Sheriff’s Department, and the Native American communities. Of particular interest are the riding saddles from the original Hanford Sheriff’s Posse of the 1890s that visitors are welcome to touch. Unlike most of the items on display, they aren’t sequestered behind a sheet of glass or velvet rope – but positioned in the room where attendees can trace the intricate and finely detailed designs with their hands. The Hanford Carnegie Museum literally puts history at its guests’ fingertips.
It’s a wonder why the City of Hanford appears to be working against them.
“Some members of the community, in my view, cannot stomach the new draw that the museum is bringing in… and that’s the youth,” shares board president and Latina playwright, Silvia Gonzalez S.
The museum has come under fire from select members of Hanford’s community who disagree with some of the changes that have taken place recently. According to both the board president and museum manager, it’s due to the rise in the number of the younger generation flowing in and out of the establishment.
“It’s the younger generation that is going to inherit this place. In all reality, as the older generations leave, the youth are next in line to take care of it all. We need them to get involved, so we’ve been trying to encourage activities that bring them in and get them engaged here,” explains Dickerson.
Activities such as a free acting class once a week, a sensory room for kids, theater productions, and a Pokémon Go group that meets at the museum as a starting point before walking around town together, simultaneously gaming. The augmented reality app even identifies nearby historical landmarks while they play, giving the group more opportunities to learn about their city.
Ever-vigilant ‘concerned citizens’ have lobbied complaints to the City Council about various youth spotted frequenting the museum – and without any understanding as to who they are. One guest happened to be a teacher inquiring about a field trip for her grade school students, and another sits on the museum’s board. Grand assumptions of delinquency or disrespect must line the malcontent behind these ‘concerned citizens’ complaints. But none of the museum board or staff would know since not one of these protests has been brought to their direct attention. Instead, they receive the backlash later, after the City Council has tired of hearing the repeated grievances.
The Hanford Carnegie Museum is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was saved from destruction and renovated in 1974, and is the placeholder of Hanford’s diverse history. It would be in the city’s best interest to work with, preserve, and protect the museum. Instead, it chooses to squeeze them dry through strict enforcement of regulations and unrealistic timelines.
A laundry list of eighteen items for correction was sent to the board, ranging from general grounds keeping to structural repairs such as cracks in the building’s walls – all to be completed within 10 days. The museum has only one full-time staff member. The notice held no consideration for a third-party repair company’s availability or the specification that any updates to the building required the City’s approval to make sure repairs were “consistent with the nature of the historic building.”
What’s more, the city owns the property – the lease cleverly puts the responsibility of the property’s maintenance and large-scale repairs onto the museum.
The board has been doing its best to meet the requirements, but a step forward has been three steps back. Among the long list of repairs, fresh sod was needed in the back courtyard to meet the City’s landscaping regulations. They did, but mother nature struck them with a fungal disease that wiped out their new grass in a matter of weeks – over $3,000 down the drain. The board is looking at starting over again, but this time, laying the sod themselves with a group of volunteers to save on costs. And, at the time of this article, with thirty days to ensure its success.
As the call for repairs and updates continue to stack up, and the timelines shorten – the board’s resources dwindle.
“I think it’s going to close the museum, to be honest with you,” Gonzalez shares.
Losing the museum would mean losing the connective thread that bridge the current generation to those of the past. And not only for the City of Hanford but for those Central Valley families who are longtime residents, as well. But the team is determined, hopeful that the broader community will come together and show their support for such an iconic piece of Hanford’s history.
As part of a fundraising effort, the Hanford Carnegie Museum will host Haunted Flashlight Tours on the weekends (Friday-Sunday) on October 11-13, 19-20, and 25-27. The tours will start at 7 pm and take place at the museum. A donation of $5 is encouraged.
Reflecting on the anticipated long road ahead, Gonzalez and Dickerson try to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Their hope is weighted with exhaustion, frustration, and melancholy. Yet, even still, they have faith. They need to. Otherwise, they’d have to accept the genuine and pressing alternative – shutting down.
When asked how she thought Hanford would suffer without its museum, Gonzalez said, “Closing the museum would mean closing up the history of [our] people.”
Gonzalez, Dickerson, and the rest of the board welcome you to visit the museum, to become members, and support their efforts to help ensure that the Hanford Carnegie Museum continues to be a pillar of the community for many years to come.