OCTOBER 7, 1996
NewsHour esssayist Jim Fisher of the Kansas City Star talks about a unique museum in the tiny town of Montezuma, Kansas.
JIM FISHER, Kansas City Star: Kansas, west of Dodge City, flat, mostly empty, except for small towns every twenty, thirty miles--like this one--railroad tracks, a sign telling rail crews where they are; the constant hum of drying fans on the massive white grain elevator; a main street, and, oddly, street signs that celebrate the people and places of Mexico. Montezuma, Kansas, population 800. Yet, there's something else here, sort of a cross between a farm house and a barn, the $1.5 million Stauth Memorial Museum, legacy of an old Kansas farm couple who traveled everywhere. Since it opened last spring, the museum has packed in ten times the population of little Montezuma. Imagine that in New York or Washington. Inside, look. This is what grade schoolers saw on a recent day--curved berber daggers, delicate cloisonnes vases, tapestries and rugs, a thumb piano from the Cameroon, and even these intricately fashioned disks some Africans disfigured their lips with to make themselves unappealing to slavers. In a word, the museum is eclectic and state of the art, laser discs, computers, automatic slide shows, motorized displays, and what are called discovery drawers, a hot new trend, the museum exhibition. You might expect this in Dallas or Phoenix, Cleveland, or Boston, but little Montezuma, therein lies a tale. Donnie Stauth, dead now three years, and her husband, Claude, who died in 1989, traveled for 40 years to 95 countries. Claude accumulated farms, starting in the 1920's. He was wealthy in land and blue chip stocks. Donnie had owned a portrait studio over in Dodge. The couple married late. There were no children. But there was travel. After harvest, Claude and Donnie would set out to everywhere. Donny, with Leica her camera, took 10,000 photographs. One of her favorite subjects was children. Tom Brown, an old friend, is the local pharmacist.
TOM BROWN: After she returned from a trip like that, why, she'd go to all the different organizations, the Lions Club, the women's church organizations and just give a lecture and a slide show of her trip. Basically it was our way of going on that trip with them.
JIM FISHER: Beside pictures, Donny and Claude brought home what they called their souvenirs--but which are clearly much more--brought home by a plain Kansas farm couple who collected with an enviable sophistication. Not surprisingly, those who seem to get the biggest kick out of these faraway treasures in this faraway town are the kids. And why not? What's here, in a word, is neat.
I'm Jim Fisher.