Current Museum Exhibit
Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street Exhibition
Jan. 17 through March 21, 2015
By Mary Alice Hobbs
The human migration into and within the United States since colonial times is explored in the Brigham City Museum’s exhibit “Journey Stories” from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street that continues through March 21. Admission is free.
“Journey Stories” looks at the experience of leaving behind everything – whether voluntarily or involuntarily – to reach a new life in a new place. Willliam Withuhn, Smithsonian curator emeritus, says, “Some people came to America dreaming of something better, while others came in chains.”
Adventurers, soldiers, famers and tradesmen came to the new continent and built towns with distinctive social, religious, political and economic styles. Diversity became an American characteristic as there were the Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden and the English Quakers of Pennsylvania, to name a few. In addition to the colonial period, the exhibit concentrates on the mobility that occurred during the mid-19th century, the start of the 20th century and post-1965.
During the 17th century, approximately 400,000 English people migrated to Colonial America. Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America during the 17th and 18th centuries arrived as indentured servants. The mid-19th century saw mainly an influx from northern Europe; the early 20th-century, mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe; post-1965, mostly from Latin America and Asia.
The stories of this complex, relocation phenomenon, specifically the harrowing journeys of Africans and Native Americans, are presented in interactive panels, artifacts, story boards and audio recordings.
Images associated with the drive for independence and freedom include “Mayflower Approaching Land,” “Daniel Boone Leads Settlers through the Cumberland Gap,” “Emigrants with Horses and Cow Travel by Flatboat,” “Settlers Crossing Appalachian Mountains,” “Nearly 70,000 Mormons Began Moving West to Escape Conflicts,” “Native Americans’ Trail of Tears” and “African American Couple Tries to Elude Slave Catchers.”
One of the stories in the exhibit is about an African American woman who shipped herself safely to Philadelphia in a wooden chest fastened with ropes to escape a cruel slave owner in Baltimore. She was on the ship 18 hours.
A central element of the exhibition is the artifacts, notably cowrie shells that were often used as money in West Africa, tobacco twists, tea bricks, a hurricane lantern, roadmaps, slave posters and driver’s goggles.
Museum Director Kaia Landon says, “While hanging the exhibit, we could almost hear such commands as ‘whoa-haw’ and the crack of ox-goads to prod oxen pulling wagons to their destination. Ox-wagons were just one of many modes of transportation for people relocating in search of fortune, their own homestead or employment.”
The museum’s companion exhibition probes the motivation of people who journeyed to, through and away from Northern Utah during the past two centuries. Local stories and artifacts highlight their motives.
“Journey Stories” is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the Utah Humanities Council which provides leadership to empower individuals and groups to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities.
***Photo: "Oregon or Bust," July 1936. Library of Congress