Saturday, August 1, 2009

Calamity Stephanie (South Dakota, Day 3)

Today we drove out to Deadwood, once famous as the most lawless, immoral city in the USA. It was also once the home of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock, two colorful characters about whom I have often enjoyed studying. (And of course, I have spent many happy hours watching the films "Calamity Jane" and "The Plainsman" over and over and over...)

To begin our visit to that famous, or rather, infamous, city, we started out at the Days of '76 Museum, which I had read very little about in the numerous South Dakota tourism literature that I have perused on and prior to this trip. In fact, the only reason I wanted to visit was because I had heard that they currently possess the original Deadwood Stage (stagecoach), and I wanted to see that. I had no warning that we were about to enter one of the best museums I have ever had the privilege of exploring.

The Days of '76 Museum runs on donations, not admission, which automatically endears me to any museum or historic site. I believe that history belongs to the people, as they are the progenitors and authors of it, and thus it is unfair, even unethical, to charge exorbitant prices to view it. Certainly it takes money to run and maintain a site, but I believe that this money should be earned through the donations of grateful visitors and through gift shop sales. It pains and irritates me when I am unable to share in the wealth of knowledge that a museum or historical site has to offer, merely because the price tag on such an experience is too costly for a poor little schoolteacher. Okay, soapbox over!

As I said, this museum had the laudable trait of accepting donations rather than admission fees. Now again, I was not expecting anything spectacular yet, as none of the tourism literature had had much to say on this particular museum. Well, the literature needs to be rewritten. South Dakota is housing yet another hidden gem, and that gem is the Days of '76 Museum!

We first viewed the fifty-three coaches/wagons/phaetons in the museums possession, many of which have been beautifully restored. An endearingly sweet and knowledgeable older gentleman conducted the three of us through the entire museum, telling us far more than we could have otherwise learned. Following the wagons and such, we moved on to room after room, all filled to the brim with pioneer, Native American, and military paraphernalia. It was an astounding collection that would certainly have the Smithsonian drooling eagerly, had they any idea of the riches held in those rooms. Upon learning that I am a teacher, our excellent guide gave me some extra tidbits of information to color my lectures with, and then followed that up by giving me a piece of sinew to show to my students (sinew comes from a tendon on the back of a buffalo, and was used by the Native Americans as thread).

After such a treasure of a museum, the rest of Deadwood was rather disappointing. History is overcrowded by casinos and saloons in Deadwood. Although these industries helped found the town in the past, it is sad to see these vices now crowding out the chance to really see and experience history. So much could be done with that town, and so much isn't.

The Adam's museum, which we visited next, is another museum filled with treasures. However, it paled when compared to the Days of '76 Museum, so I would advise other visitors to see the Adam's Museum first, so as to enjoy it more. It houses an excellent collection which taught not only Deadwood's history, but also history of American westward expansion. Unfortunately, the layout is not chronological, and comes across as just a jumbled collection of items with some traits in common. There really is little obvious purpose or message in the way or order in the exhibits are assembled and displayed. By placing numbers by each item, and then having books in which the visitors must look up the numbers if they wish to know about the item, the museum is limiting how much visitors can and will learn. I really hope that someday soon one or more of the curators wakes up to this fact. Being a self-guided museum does nothing to help the confusing layout.

Following the Adam's Museum, we went to Mount Moriah Cemetery, where both Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock are buried, side by side (as per Calamity Jane's dying request). This attractive cemetery boasts stunning views of the South Dakota countryside. Sadly for klutzes like me, however, it also boasts extremely steep paths and roads. On the way down from the steep hike up to the grave of Seth Bullock (the justifiably celebrated first sheriff of Deadwood and a close friend of Teddy Roosevelt), my right ankle twisted around, and down I fell! I landed with full force on my knees, which did not appreciate their introduction to the gravel-covered asphalt. As a result of my collision with the ground, I now have a twisted and swollen ankle, two skinned-up knees, and a skinned hand as souvenirs. The unfortunate klutz lives on!

Tomorrow, regardless of my physical pain (which is considerable at the moment), I will be journeying to Jewel Cave with my parents. I am looking forward to a 1930's style lantern tour, although my excitement is somewhat dampened by the knowledge that, with my luck, I'll most likely leave with further painful "souvenirs."

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"