It's disappointing that those who are in charge at the Missouri History Museum seem to have forgotten an important rule when it comes to history: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As they apparently played fast and loose with taxpayer dollars in a suspect land deal with a former board member, maybe they should have given a thought to Raymond F. Pisney, the former head of the museum, who was fired when his negligence, arrogance or greed resulted in a number of artifacts missing from the collection.
I've been disappointed with the Missouri History Museum for several years, and my lack of regard has nothing to do with a $1 million deal for a vacant lot on Delmar Boulevard. I'm disappointed because the History Museum doesn't act very much like a museum, much less one that is focused on Missouri.
Consider a few of the recent exhibitions at the facility in Forest Park: "Hunger and Resilience." "Mammoths and Mastodons." "The ADA After 20 Years." "Treasures of Napoleon." "The Splendors of the Vatican." And now on view: "Underneath It All," an exhibit about underwear.
While some of these may have been interesting and valuable, and receipts undoubtedly added to the bottom line, I have a hard time linking them with Missouri history.
Meanwhile, as viewers contemplate antique underwear, thousands of Missouri treasures are locked away in the museum's storage facility. Post-Dispatch reporter Matthew Hathaway wrote about some of them in a story printed on April 16, 2011. He described a "priceless cache of more than 150,000 artifacts chronicling the story of St. Louis and the history of the Midwest." Treasures range from a pocket watch owned by Meriwether Lewis to a piano owned by William Tecumseh Sherman. Ninety percent of the items owned by the museum are kept in storage and cannot be seen by taxpayers in the St. Louis Zoo-Museum district.
Dr. Robert R. Archibald, the current head of the museum, was once quoted as saying that he "transformed a traditional historical organization into a nationally recognized model of a community- oriented institution."
In making this transformation, leaders of the museum seem to have violated what was once the very purpose of the institution. According to a statement by the Museums Association (a national organization), "museums enable people to explore collections for inspection, learning and enjoyment. They collect, safeguard and make accessible artifacts and specimens, which …