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 they hold in trust for society. …