Sorting through storage, museum discovers treasures
Our Town Iron Mountain
IRON MOUNTAIN — The Menominee Range Historical Museum in Iron Mountain has begun to relocate some of its archives to its new home less than a mile away.
“It’s been somewhat of a treasure hunt,” said Guy Forstrom, Menominee Range Historical Foundation Board treasurer, who started the task of hauling the dusty boxes about a month ago.
Although the future museum — the “C” Ludington Shaft of the Chapin Mine sandstone dry building south of the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum — is still under construction, Forstrom felt it was time to begin the process.
“Most of the items haven’t been looked at since they were brought it by its donor,” Museum Manager Dianne Castelaz-Chiapusio said. “We have already came across so many uncommon things, like a miner lunch box.”
The Menominee Range Historical Museum collections now are housed in the former Carnegie Public Library on East Ludington in Iron Mountain, with all of its undisplayed pieces stored upstairs in the 1902 structure.
Although the work has been time consuming, it has also been rewarding.
As they go through each artifact, Castelaz-Chiapusio checks to make sure it’s cataloged, which includes its identity, year, donor, its location in the museum, etc. She then makes the change to the location to either the dry storage building or on display. She has been in the process of converting all paper records to the computer, with hopes to eventually have everything entered.
“As we started opening up these boxes, we discovered there was some really neat pieces — especially some great military items,” said Forstrom, who’s knowledgeable in the military field.
They even came across a few rare finds, including a World War II German hat with rabbit fur lining and two German World War I helmets. The first is a 1915 Kurassier (heavy calvary) Metalhelme steel helmet from 1915 with a beaver tail on the back and a point on the top that was designed to deflect sword blows. The second is a “Pickelhaube” helmet, which translates to “point” and “bonnet.” The Pickelhaube is made of pressed felt and was abandoned during war because it provided soldiers with little protection.
The headgear is now displayed in a special case of German and Japanese war items in the World War II Glider and Military Museum.
One piece Forstrom was especially excited to discover was an original 1945 war loan poster of the famous photograph of the Marines raising the American flag over Iwo Jima during World War II, on the bottom noting U.S. government printing office.
“This is such a unique piece — I recognized it right away,” Forstrom said. “It’s definitely worth displaying.”
Other military museum additions from the new finds are a speed graphic 4-by-5 camera, and a K-13 compensating gun sight. The camera is typical of what a World War II war correspondent would have used. The sight was used at the waist of a gunner’s position on B-17, B-24, B-25 and B-26 bombers during World War II.
Another notable piece was a homemade wooden rocket someone had made in Iron Mountain during World War II to advertise buying Defense Stamps and Bonds, Forstrom said.
Each addition that goes on display has an identification tag with information on what it is and what it was used for, Forstrom said.
“The military stuff is what we have been focused on recently,” he said.
Even the little finds can add to a display. Now hanging in the museum’s replica Sinclair gas station is a Krist beverage light-up clock, a 1949 Coke calendar and 1945 Rudy Lundholm Standard Station calendar.
A few of the artifacts have them stumped, but they are determined to figure them out.
Forstrom is researching a German military tin and a green knitted sweater with a tag that reads “Compliments of the American Red Cross.”
“The sweater is military but doesn’t match anything we found — possibly a homemade homefront sweater given to the Red Cross to give to a soldier to keep him warm,” he said.
He found a piece of paper with German writing in the bottom of the military tin that he plans to translate in hopes to identify the piece.
“I have many books, but the internet is an endless source,” he said. “I’m retired, so I have a lot more time now. I’m having a ball — I love this stuff.”
Pieces that go back into storage now will be separated by era and/or category, making it much easier for them to locate when they want to add pieces or change up a display in the future.
They plan to do rotating displays once the new museum opens. Breitung Township School donated four glass display cases that are perfect for that, Forstrom noted.
“What we are doing now is enhancing the displays we do have,” he adds.
No timeline has been set for opening the new museum, but the board hopes to have it completed within the next couple of years.
“It depends on the money that comes in. We have been fortunate to have had some very generous donors,” Forstrom said. “These donations have kept the project moving forward.”
The framing of the display rooms is complete, with the electrical and drywall next to be installed.
“The board’s vice president, Jim Hartwell, has been so important in getting things going,” Forstrom said. “If it wasn’t for our dedicated members and volunteers, we wouldn’t have any of this.”
Museum ticket sales have declined over the past several years, which they believe is due to it not being handicap accessible and the inconvenience of the location.
The Iron Mountain School District actually owns the former Carnegie Public Library building. In 1971, the Iron Mountain School Board allowed the foundation to use the structure as a museum, with the foundation covering all maintenance and operating expenses.
“It needs a lot of work, including a new roof,” Forstrom said. “It’s important to get to the finished state so they can start moving displays over.”
At this time, the board is unsure of an opening date for the museums due to the pandemic. They hope to have a decision in the next couple months.
Forstrom and Castelaz-Chiapusio do encourage local residents to visit the museums once they are able to reopen their doors to the public.
“You will be surprised what is behind these walls,” Forstrom said.