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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Museum of North Idaho celebrates 50 years with ‘Keeping History Alive’ exhibit

This penny-farthing bicycle, also called a high wheel, is in the collection of the Museum of North Idaho. The bicycle’s previous owner rode in parades and on special occasions before falling off and breaking his arm. He then donated the bicycle to the historical society, which was donated to the museum. (Sophie Bress/The Spokesman-Review)
This penny-farthing bicycle, also called a high wheel, is in the collection of the Museum of North Idaho. The bicycle’s previous owner rode in parades and on special occasions before falling off and breaking his arm. He then donated the bicycle to the historical society, which was donated to the museum. (Sophie Bress/The Spokesman-Review)

A visit to the Museum of North Idaho reminds us that history is not entirely a story of the past; it’s our story and the story of our community.

“It’s good to know your past to understand the present,” said Robert Singletary, the museum’s program and marketing director. “History is alive; it’s not something that’s dead. It’s still part of us.”

This philosophy has served the museum well; they celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. This milestone inspired the museum’s current exhibit, titled “Keeping History Alive.”

The exhibit features a wide variety of historical objects and artifacts from the region. The museum wanted to provide local audiences with “a sampling from a lot of the different aspects of our local history,” said museum director Dorothy Dahlgren.

Items of specific interest include a high-wheel bicycle and a Permanent Wave machine used from 1937-1942 in the local Dorothy’s Beauty Parlor.

“Keeping History Alive” also displays historical photographs, including some of objects in the museum collection that are too large to exhibit. Examples of such artifacts include a logging jammer dating from the mid-1930s and a lifeboat from the cruise ship Miss Spokane.

“We wanted to have a sampling from a lot of the different aspects of our local history,” said Dahlgren.

In addition to being the 50th anniversary, 2018 brings another milestone for the museum. They were awarded the Esto Perpetua Award by the Idaho State Historical Society.

The name for the award comes from the Idaho state motto: “Let it be Perpetual,” and is awarded to individuals and organizations who devote themselves to promoting and preserving the state history.

“We’ve been doing a good job up here for many, many years and it just really pleases us that we’re recognized in this way,” Dahlgren said.

Singletary added that North Idaho often feels isolated from the rest of the state and the recognition has been a long time coming. “Part of our history as the North has been somewhat isolated geographically from the South and we have felt that we, in our own rights, had a very well-run, well supported museum,” he said. “Finally somebody in the state level has recognized we’re a pretty good museum up here in the north. We’re a very well run museum and we’ve got some very dedicated people.”

Dahlgren and Singletary agree that the accomplishments of the museum are partly due to their outreach programs. These programs include monthly presentations in conjunction with the library, walking tours of historical sights in Coeur d’Alene and Fort Sherman and history presentations to local middle and high school students.

The museum also houses a collection of more than 35,000 historic photos of the region. These images are used around the community and surrounding region to decorate signs, electrical power boxes and businesses, as well as accompany articles in local magazines.

“History happens outside these walls,” Dahlgren said of the museum’s outreach.

MNI also publishes more than 20 books on local history. This amount of publication is “quite extensive for a small museum,” according to Singletary.

Both Dahlgren and Singletary marvelled at the amount of growth that the museum has experienced since they came on board. The museum continues to grow, both in terms of programming and collection. In order to support this growth, plans and fundraising for a new museum building are in the works.

Through all the programs and projects the museum takes on, their goal remains the same: getting people interested in history.

“History gives us a sense of place. By knowing the history of this place, it creates a pride in our community,” said Dahlgren. “It gives you a connection to your community by knowing this history and that we all got here through this history.”

Singletary likens this importance to the way a family values their photo album or scrapbook. “We are the community scrapbook,” he said.

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