Day at the Museum
Editor's note: The following is a first-person account of a visit to the Kensington Area Heritage Society Museum.
Several years ago there was a popular movie called Night at the Museum. It is a fantasy adventure-comedy about an unemployed single father who got a job as night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. However, a night at that museum was far from normal. After sunset, the statues came to life and other strange things happened, causing chaos for the new watchman.
That night at the museum was quite different than my recent "day at the Kensington Area Heritage Society (KAHS) Museum" in Kensington. I made arrangements for a visit in late July. There was no chaos or statues coming to life, only Mel and Mary Conrad arranging a new display and measuring for finishing details in a yet to be completed room.
Since I wrote earlier about the museum building, the former New Co-op Creamery, the intent today is to give a brief overview of its contents. The old office room near the entrance is now a gift shop with a large selection of books about the Kensington Runestone, Kensington T-shirts and other memorabilia and souvenirs.
The next room that had been a walk-in cooler has a display of old pictures on the wall and historic artifacts such as the old safe and safety deposit boxes from Kensington Bank and the Kensington telephone switchboard.
A long room at the rear of the building is now the J.A. Wedum Library funded by the J.A. Wedum Foundation and honors him as an early local businessman. That space is intended as a study and research area. As the Conrads said, "The purpose of the museum is basically to tell the story of the stone from this area's perspective. It's important to see that local citizens have frequently taken the lead in promoting the Kensington Runestone story in an honest and accurate manner."
Another large room has a row of file cabinets containing information and clippings about the runestone, local businesses and area families. Other displays change periodically and currently include the Kensington High School bass drum from days when its mascot was the Vikings.
As you would expect of a museum in Kensington, a major feature includes pictures, posters and information about the runestone and Olof Ohman, who found it in 1898. There is a seating area where visitors can look through large binders filled with hundreds of articles about the stone that was inscribed by Nordic explorers in 1362. The term "Viking" has been widely used, although the Viking Age actually ended long before that date.
During my time at the museum, I watched as the Conrads put up a new display featuring the World War I every day and dress army uniforms of Pete Reistad, an early and prominent businessman in Kensington. One of Reistad's granddaughters had the uniforms mounted in enclosed box frames and has loaned them to the museum. They are in excellent condition with interesting details of style from that era, including several army caps.
Reistad came to America from Norway in 1910, first working in Wisconsin and later at lumber yards in Evansville and Brandon. He owned the lumber yard in Farwell before moving to Kensington, where he had a thriving hardware, lumber and implement business.
Unlike Night at the Museum, the KAHS Museum has no magical Egyptian artifacts, capuchin monkeys or Tyrannosaurus skeletons. However, it does have many items and pictures of local interest and lots of information about the area's history. It's worth a visit and deserves local support.
Later, I learned that a couple hours after I left, David Barkheim of Alexandria had delivered the Kensington village jail cells that he donated to the museum. This just goes to show that there is always something new - or old - at the KAHS Museum.
Preserving the past does not happen without a great deal of volunteer help and enough funds to maintain and improve facilities. Anyone wanting to tour the museum should call (320) 965-2573 and arrange for a visit. Donations are always welcome and can be made out to the KAHS and sent to PO Box 54, Kensington, MN 56343.