FC: Museum Visit Photo Essay | Linda Chappell Exploring Museum Professions (460.601)
1: I visited the Galveston Railroad Museum on Saturday, October 19, 2013 and created this photo essay to document my visit and to illustrate various areas of the museum and the work done by museum professionals in these areas. According to the museum's mission statement, the Galveston Railroad Museum, established in 1983, is dedicated to the "restoration, observation, and the re-use of its historic facilities and equipment for the development of educational and interactive programs which support railroading and transportation initiatives serving our regional communities." Housed inside Galveston's former Santa Fe Railroad Union Station, the museum consists of interior and exterior exhibit areas and includes the largest collection of railroad dining china on display in the United States, model trains, a depot, and a variety of rail cars from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. The museum also has a visitor welcome area, a refreshment stand, a museum store called the News Stand, and an information desk. The museum has a small staff: a museum director, a sales and marketing director and events coordinator, a curator, a gift sales supervisor, ticket agents, and facilities and maintenance staff. Visits to the museum are self-guided. Special events such as model train shows and the Santa Train are held at the museum. Along with much of Galveston, the museum was devastated in September 2008 when Hurricane Ike came ashore. The museum and rail cars were flooded and sustained an enormous amount of damage. Clean-up and restoration followed, and in March 2011, the museum reopened to the public. The hurricane's effects and the subsequent restoration are documented in text and photographs on display in the depot. A marker showing the flood water line is on display near the museum store. General restoration is ongoing at the museum. For example, a broken semaphore was recently repaired by a welding and machine company. Because so much of the collection is outdoors and subject to the elements, maintenance and restoration work is never-ending. The museum also continues to bring in new acquisitions, most recently adding another sleeper car to the collection. The following images and descriptions are a record of my visit.
2: The Galveston Railroad Museum exhibits and offices are housed on the first floor of Union Station, a 10-story Art-Deco building built in 1932 (Weiskopf, 2009). Just through the entrance of the building is the visitor information desk and ticketing area. It is bright red and yellow and designed to look like a rail car. Visitors are greeted here and are given a guide and map of the museum. This area is usually staffed by the ticketing agents, but the sales and marketing director and other staff may also be there to greet visitors and sell tickets.
4: From the information desk, visitors are directed to go through the building and outside to see the first item in the museum's collection--the Waco, Beaumont, Trinity and Sabine Railroad Engine No. 1. This engine was an oil-burning locomotive built in 1920 and was taken out of service permanently in 1960.
6: The next part of the collection, the Restaurants on Rails: Dining Cars of the American Railways 1868-1970 exhibit and model trains, is indoors. Here visitors can see the country's largest collection of railroad dining china, along with a large variety of metal serving pieces and dining car menus. Instrumental music of the 1930's and 1940's can be heard throughout the rooms containing this collection, adding to the feeling of this passenger railway era. Displayed on the walls are railroad and advertising signs of the time. The museum's curator is responsible for the management of this collection, and the installation of parts of this exhibit is underway. A few of the display cases are empty.
9: The next stop is the model train display. One set of tracks has an interactive component--visitors may press a button to activate a model train traveling through a miniature town. At one point in the journey, the lights go out and the scene is illuminated to simulate nighttime. Down the hall from the model trains is a workroom with large windows on two sides so visitors can watch the curator at work. With such a small staff, the curator is required to handle a number of functions including collections management, exhibit development and maintenance, and many of the tasks typically done by a registrar. This variety illustrates how a curator's role goes beyond "caretaking" (Glaser & Zenetou, 1996) and how important it is to have breadth of knowledge as well as depth (Cocks, 2008).
10: The museum includes open spaces outdoors between the buildings and the rail cars. A gazebo, landscaping, outdoor seating areas, and walkways are maintained by the facilities staff. A refreshment stand offers food service with limited hours and outdoor seating. It is accessible from outside the main buildings. The facilities staff may also be in charge of the food service as that area sometimes falls under their purview (Schlatter, 2008).
13: Another large and impressive area of the museum is The People's Gallery in the depot. Upon entering, visitors encounter hands-on interactive controls that allow them to activate lights and a train crossing signal. What little technology that is implemented in the museum is very simple: pressing a button makes lights turn on or signals sound. The scarcity of technology fits well with the feel of the museum as it illustrates how life was decades ago. The People's Gallery was the location of the original Santa Fe carpentry shop. Since its conversion, it stands as a replica of a Victorian-era rail station. Positioned on benches and throughout the gallery are full-size plaster models of passengers and railway workers dressed as they would have been in the 1930's. The presence of these still, ghostly figures represent the past and are a tribute to the many local legends of hauntings related to accidental railway-related deaths and other strange events that took place decades ago (Brown, 2012).
14: The People's Gallery also has the museum store--the News Stand--managed by the gift sales supervisor, an information desk with brochures and membership information, and a series of telephone booths along one wall. The telephones in these booths play short audio clips of stories about prominent people of the time who would have traveled by rail.
15: Placards listing major contributors and membership benefits and events are on display in the depot. The individual known as the sales and marketing director and events coordinator is responsible for the tasks represented by these lists, including reaching out to sponsors and donors, increasing membership, and planning events and special activities.
16: In a room adjacent to the main room of the depot visitors can see a large collection of photographs documenting the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike in September 2008 and the damage sustained by the museum both inside and out. The entire museum was under water; a water line marker on display near the museum store shows the depth the flood water reached. The museum director and one volunteer returned to the museum shortly after the storm to assess the damage. It is not surprising that the director was the first staff member on the scene. According to Glaser and Zenetou (1996), a museum director "should be both leader and manager." Further, the director is ultimately responsible for the museum, and the leadership and guidance he or she provides is especially needed in times of crisis. Other staff members were asked to stay away until it was considered safe to return to the museum. Clean-up and restoration was a long and slow process, and finally in March 2011, the museum reopened to the public.
19: When visitors leave the depot and are outside again, they are invited to leisurely wander through and board the various rail cars on display. The museum guide lists 33 rail cars that date from late 19th to early 20th century--from sleeping and lounge cars to dining cars to box cars to the caboose. Many of the rail cars sustained significant damage from the hurricane and have not been fully restored. At this time, not all have reopened to visitors.
20: Acknowledgments I would like to thank the staff of the Galveston Railroad Museum for their assistance during my visit and for graciously waiving the photography fee that is normally charged.
21: References Brown, A. (2012). The big book of Texas ghost stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. Cocks, A. S. (2008, October 2). The reassuring rise of the museum curator. The Art Newspaper. Retrieved from http://theartnewspaper.com/articles/The-reassuring-rise-of-the- museum-curator/16266 Galveston Railroad Museum. (2013). About the museum. Retrieved from http://www.galvestonrrmuseum.com/about-us.html Glaser, J. R., & Zenetou, A. A. (1996). Museums: A place to work: Planning museum careers. New York, NY: Routledge. Schlatter, N. E. (2008). Museum careers: A practical guide for students and novices. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Weiskopf, D. L. (2009). Rails around Houston. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.