By Jennifer Pund
The Gilpin Historical Society invites the public to explore two new exhibits on display at the Gilpin Museum until Labor Day. In honor of our current election season, “We Want Willkie” celebrates 1940 Republican nominee Wendell Willkie’s campaign visit to Central City while “All the World’s Fair, 1876, Centennial Exposition” focuses on the event where Colorado was first acknowledged as a state.
You never know what might spark inspiration. For Museum Director David Forsythe, it was a Wendell Willkie artifact on eBay that inspired the political exhibit. “I think the biggest surprise of the Willkie exhibit was just finding out that he was here,” Forsythe said. “I was unaware of his visit, and if not for seeing a photo for sale on eBay, I might never have found out about it.”
Forsythe created the “We Want Willkie” exhibit as a nod to the current election cycle and to commemorate the last presidential candidate to visit Central City. “I thought it would be fitting with the campaign season upon us,” he said. “I don’t think you can really compare the 1940 election with the current one, but one might be that Willkie had been a Democrat and only switched to the Republican party shortly before he was nominated.”
Willkie was the 1940 Republican nominee against Franklin D Roosevelt for his third term and lost. He was considered a “dark horse” candidate who ran on the platform against Roosevelt’s “perceived failure to end the depression” and “perceived eagerness for war.” Willkie was said to revive Republican strength in some Midwest and Northeast areas like Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine and Wisconsin. During the election, Willkie campaigned in Central City and ended up winning the state’s vote.
Another exhibit not to be missed is “All the World’s a Fair: The 1876 Centennial Exposition.” In celebration of the 140th anniversary of the expo, the exhibit includes the history of the fair, the buildings, grounds and souvenirs that were available. “The exposition was a huge event in American History and the first so-called World’s Fair held in the United States. I think people might be surprised to learn how elaborate the Exposition was,” Forsythe said. “Colorado became a state during the exposition, so check out the part dedicated to the Kansas and Colorado Building that was at the fair. I think the most interesting thing was that Hire’s Root Beer, Heinz Ketchup and the banana were first introduced at the Centennial Exposition. Things like that are so common, that you don’t think of them as being introduced, but they were.”
While at the museum, try a Hire’s Root Beer, available for sale for a limited time. “It’s a rare chance to taste it,” Forsythe explained. “It’s getting harder and harder to find, so we had to special order a couple of cases of it for the exhibit.”
The Gilpin History Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets are just $6 per person or just $3 on July 4 when all local museums and tours are half price. Children 12 and under are always free. The Gilpin Historical Society offers tours of Washington Hall, Coeur d’Alene Mine Shaft House and Thomas House in Central City.
The Gilpin History Museum is located at 228 E. 1st High St. in Central City. Visit http://www.gilpinhistory.org or call 303-582-5283 for more information.
Originally published in the July 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly