The History Colorado Center has received rave reviews since opening a few months ago. I finally made it to check out the new museum for myself when I had some extra time during the Travel Blog Exchange Conference. And what I found was nothing short of both amazing and disappointing. Exciting stories I knew nothing about were told in wonderful fashions, yet less than savory history about Denver and Colorado appeared to be completely omitted. This saddened me, since Colorado history is hardly made only of waves of grain and purple mountains majesty.
Even though the old Colorado history museum was more than out of date, and in incredible need of more space, I liked it. I felt it gave me a good dose of the state’s bad history with all of the good things for which Colorado is known. For example, there were wonderful exhibits on mining and the 10th Mountain Division right next to the mention of how the mayor of Denver in the 1930s and ‘40s, Benjamin Stapleton, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The new History Colorado Center says nothing of the sort.
In my opinion, the exhibit on Colorado’s black history seemed to only show how black families lived in their own neighborhoods with occasional retreats to areas of the mountains they were allowed to visit. Sure, there was a Ku Klux Klan outfit on display next to the other multimedia displays, but it felt underdone and only there out of necessity. I saw nothing of a connection with Stapleton.
Other exhibits were quiet thorough and well done, though. For example, the history about the Japanese Americans who were transferred from the Pacific Coast states to camps farther inland during World War II was displayed and explained really well. But, at least for Colorado, this history has more of a rosy complexion than in other states; Gov. Ralph Carr refused to allow Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado to be a prison camp. Instead he took guards off the towers and allowed residents to leave on area work programs. It most certainly wasn’t ideal for those who were forcibly relocated, but better than it was – at least so I’ve read – at other camps around the country.
Now, as I said, this wasn’t an ideal situation for those who were forcibly relocated. But it was the best Gov. Carr could do, I believe, under the circumstances and supervision of the federal government. And the way the story is told in the new History Colorado Center seems to completely and accurately lay out the situation.
The sad history of the Sand Creek Massacre was also well told. And the exhibit is nothing short of spectacular, challenging the National Park Service to do a better job of how they display the accounts of what happened at the location. What is currently at the massacre site is lacking, a simple stone monument sits at the end of a short trail up a hill overlooking the area. And that may be all the ancestors of those who were massacred want, I don’t know, but a better and more complete display should be created at the visitor center – not a temporary trailer with a few books for sale.
A projection display at the History Colorado Center explains what happened at the Sand Creek location. Running with it through the winding hallway is a short history of some of those who were involved, on both sides of the attack. And like the exhibit on Camp Amache, it is a thorough display that is well done.
Other such wonderfully updated displays that have excellent hands-on opportunities for children are the mining exhibit and what is called Destination Colorado. The story told in this hall is of the small agricultural town of Keota, which was once was a blip on the map in northeast Colorado. It is gone now, but a recreation of the town was fantastically put together. And it was done with lots of opportunities for kids to really get their hands on things and get excited about history. Too often it is taught from the boring pages of a text book, opposed to excited and well-thought ways like the mining and Destination Colorado exhibits at the history center.
Many other areas of the History Colorado Center are still being put together – the Living West hall is currently occupied by a LEGO exhibit of the history and future of Colorado. I was disappointed that more exhibitions, like this one and one for the 10th Mountain Division, weren’t already in place. The history center had been under construction for so long that I felt things should have been more complete. So instead of what could be a really impressive display on Living West, there is a toy that someone put together without an opportunity for kids to construct their own images of Colorado out of LEGOs; this is completely hands off.
I left with that one impression, disappointment that more was not completed. Yes, there is certainly more to look forward to as the History Colorado Center fills in the gaps. I am excited about those possibilities. But I felt more should have been finished by this time, and some of it – like the section on black history in Colorado – better done and more thorough. Still though, as I said, it is an amazing new center and one that I am excited to return to as more exhibitions are completed. The History Colorado Center definitely has the possibility, as well as the space, to expand and be one of the best history museums in the country.