Sunday, June 24, 2007

El Paso, Texas - New Museum of History

I really have no idea how many museums I have been to. But probably a thousand. Maybe more. Really.

Even though I grew up in El Paso, and graduated from Austin High and UTEP, I later lived in Europe for almost 20 years. One of my favourite forms of recreation was to go visit museums. I’ve been to the British Museum in London 5 or 6 times and the Louvre in Paris at least 10 times. The Vatican museums in Rome are among the finest anywhere in the world. I’ve been to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and some excellent museums in New York City.

I have been to Roman museums, museums of natural history, geology, pottery, art, science, photography, glass, Victorian era warfare, mining, cars, butterflies, airplanes, archaeology, Holocaust museums, oil lamps, telephones, WWII, Nazi prisons and concentration camps, the battle of the bulge, the Normandy invasion, religion, Verdun, Rene’ Magritte’s house in Brussels, Juan Miro’, Picasso, etc. I have walked most of Hadrian's wall in Northern England.
I have visited the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome. The Egyptian museum in Cairo is great as are the great pyramids of Giza. I've dangled my bare feet in Lake Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee), heard fireworks in the Golan Heights, and swam in the Jordan River. I’ve even been to the UFO museum at Roswell.

I am a life member of the Columbus N.M. historical society and also a life member of the Concordia Heritage Association. The picture I'm trying to paint is that I like museums, and I like history. And I know a little bit about both.

Today I went to the just re-opened bigger and better El Paso Museum of History. El Paso has a very rich history. I am a third generation El Pasoan, and I love this city. I was really excited about visiting the new museum.

Thanks to a bond issue passed by the voters, it is housed is an absolutely stunningly beautiful building right next to the El Paso Museum of Art. This is a link to their web site:

Here is how Webster’s dictionary defines the word Museum: \myu.-'ze--*m, ': an institution devoted to the procurement, care, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; also : a place where objects are exhibited.

In other words one normally goes to museums to see objects, i.e. things. Normally old things. Virtually all of the museums I have ever been to also provide a certain amount of education, but at least 75% to 80% of a good museum experience lies in seeing old objects.

I’m afraid that the El Paso Museum of History sadly fails as a museum.

There is an old wagon, but it is only identified as one of the same type as was used back in the olden days. There are a couple of cabinets of old rifles, but they are not identified. There is a grinding stone, but the display does not in any way indicate that this particular grinding stone was one of the ones actually used at Hart’s mill.

In fact after looking at all the exhibits on both floors I walked away shaking my head in wonder and sort of in disgust. A lot of the tax payer’s money was spent on this place. El Paso is one of the poorest cities in the nation, and we don’t have a lot of spare money to waste. This is not silicon valley.

This building has some nicely done educational displays that are certainly of some value. But there is no way that this two story building qualifies as a museum, much less as a history museum. It is more a classic example of how governments are quite good at certain things. Mostly those things that qualify as natural monopolies (building roads, sewers, and schools), but worldwide governments are absolutely terrible at other things.