By STEVE QUAKENBUSH, FCHS Executive Director
Santa Claus is setting up shop at the Finney County Historical Museum in Garden City, and everyone is welcome to stop by during the upcoming holiday open house set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, with an encore exhibit featuring an antique, mechanical diorama depicting Santa’s Workshop.
Admission is free and the open house will offer a selection of seasonal snacks and beverages; unique holiday shopping, including surprises and discoveries in the Museum Gift shop; antique car rides around Finnup Park; Christmas carolers, giving live performances; and a small extravaganza of visiting vendors, in booths stocked with specialty products and craft items.
Located inside the museum, the museum store includes goods produced by southwest Kansas artisans and artists, including Sage House Soaps, Doris Walker cotton purses, Twisted Creations iron and horseshoe art, Santa Fe Trail whole bean coffees, rustic wooden Christmas signs, color Kansas landscape images by Shirley Creeden, original sketches by Robert Meyer, pottery by Brian McCallum and Kansas scenes by Images on Stone.
There are also handmade garden wheel barrows and wishing wells by Stan Bieker, photo greeting cards by Curtis Perez, whimsical creations by KK and Lulu, Kreative Stitches T-shirts by Donald Holsten, household handcrafts by Vivian Michael and outdoor furniture by Jerry Lalicker.
Visitors can also browse among books by regional authors, battery and digital-free toys inspired by past times, a growing collection of Kansas and sunflower items, Garden City souvenirs and postcards; and “This is Our Town,” the nostalgic 1953 Garden City movie on DVD. The “Hometown Kansas Christmas” CD benefit album is available too.
The antique car rides will take place at no charge this year, but those who enjoy their Christmas cruises during the open house may make free will donations if they wish to support the museum. Riders should be able to pick from a vividly painted 1954 Ford pickup, a two-tone 1955 Ford Fairlane and a Model A sedan from the 1930s.
From noon to 2:30 p.m. Christmas carolers will perform traditional favorites and other seasonal tunes in the museum’s Spirit of the Plains Gallery. The group of eight singers includes members of the Finney County Historical Society Board of Directors and other community volunteers.
The visiting vendor extravaganza is new to the open house, giving guests the chance to peruse among booths set up by local and area craft and product merchants, with things such as Premiere Jewelry, Scentsy products, LaLarue clothing, ParTea products and teas, craft goods, re-claimed wooden items and additional gifts.
The Christmas exhibit under construction in the museum’s Front Door Gallery will open a few days before the open house. It is built around the antique Santa’s Workshop diorama, which spans seven feet and was originally displayed downtown in the Garnand Furniture window each Christmas, beginning about 1950.
Dating back nearly 70 years, it includes seven moving figures of St. Nick and his elves as they prepare toys and gifts for delivery around the world.
The diorama was discovered in an old coal storage area at the historic Windsor Hotel, dirty, stained and damaged, and donated to the historical society in 2015 by the Finney County Preservation Alliance, though efforts of the late Don Harness.
Local craftsman, carpenter and toy collector Tom Herman devoted 50-60 volunteer hours to restoring the three-dimensional display, and it is now exhibited every other Christmas season.
Built by Gregory Motors, Inc., of Brooklyn, NY, it was first powered by batteries and later converted to household current. The museum knows of only three other surviving models in the U.S., one each in Iowa, Michigan and New Jersey.
This year, the workshop is being displayed with up to three dozen pieces from an extensive Coca-Cola Christmas village collection on loan from Garden City resident Linda Miller, supplemented with a few other ceramic structures and a scattering of Coca-Cola paraphernalia.
The present-day image of Santa Claus is based primarily on Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” now known as “The Night Before Christmas,” as well as colorful Coke print and billboard advertising from the 1930s through the 1950s.
The display will remain up through early January.
Blizzard & Tornado Exhibits
Another new exhibit has just opened, featuring photos of two of the community’s most dramatic weather disasters, the blizzard of 1957 and the tornado of 1967.
The blizzard struck 60 years ago on March 24, burying cars and homes with drifts rising to 27 feet in height. Record-keepers termed it the worst since the legendary snow storm of 1886, after it stranded motorists and passengers is over 500 cars between Dodge City and the Kansas-Colorado state line.
The tornado – actually a group of twisters – swooped from the sky 50 years ago on June 24, 1967, destroying or damaging over 500 homes and leaving 15 casualties, including one death. The damage was intensified by an extensive hail storm that followed the twisters.
While the holiday exhibit is going up in the Front Door Gallery, home to frequently-changing temporary displays, the tornado and blizzard exhibit will remain in place long term, including five images from the blizzard’s aftermath and nine showing tornado devastation.