Digging into vast, historic collection, MDC preps curiosities exhibit

Allyse Freeman, museum curator at MDC is pictured here with an old and somewhat “creepy”  Resuscitation Annie doll, once used for training in the mines. The doll is among the unique items from MDC’s inventory to be part of a temporary display.  The yet to be named display is anticipated to open this fall.

CHISHOLM — Along with its many permanent displays to tell the story of the Iron Range region, Minnesota Discovery Center (MDC) is working on a new temporary exhibit, comprised of components from its massive collection.

Since the 1980s MDC, formerly known as Ironworld, has been acquiring a vast number of donationated items. Many of these items tucked away in storage complement MDC’s permanent displays, telling the story of, “The Land, The Mines, The People and The Work.” There are also some random items that have been donated throughout the years.

Alysse Freeman, MDC curator, said in a recent interview that this temporary exhibit, yet to be named, is anticipated to open sometime this fall.

“It’s going to have a little creepy aspect to it, so it will fit right in with a Halloween theme,” said Freeman. She described it as a form of a “curiosities display.”

The idea of a curiosities display Freeman said, came from the early days of museums hundreds of years ago, where people would collect random things to show off. It just so happened that the Hibbing Historical Society is also working on a curiosities exhibit, so the two museums plan to partner on this effort.

“So, we took that idea and we said let’s show off the random, cooky, creepy thing that would not be on display otherwise.

“It’ll include 3-Dimentional objects, photographs — there will be sounds and we’re going to be playing with lighting a lot,” said Freeman.

Another thing the staff at MDC is looking to do with this exhibit is to provide some personal or funny stories to go along with the items on display.

One of the items slated for this display is an old Resuscitation Annie doll that was used in the mines at one point for CPR training. To fit inside its case, the doll’s legs are bent upward around its head.

Freeman told the story of an unsuspecting MDC inventory assistant who was startled by the doll’s appearance when he opened its case.

“All of the sudden that Resuscitation Annie face pops out at him,” she said with a laugh.

Along with the training doll, MDC has in its collection an old stretcher, dating back to the days of underground mining.

“It’s kind of this weird, cage, stretcher looking thing,” said Freeman. A photo of a similar stretcher being used in a mine from Michigan will accompany it in the display.

The doll and the stretcher complement the underground mine that is part of the permanent display at MDC.

A wooden dynamite box to be included in the temporary exhibit caused quite a stir about seven years ago. At that time, Freeman’s predecessor happened to discover the box contained actual sticks of dynamite. As a precaution, the bomb squad was called to MDC.

“It’s generally one of those things you don’t like to find in your collection,” said Freeman.

As unwelcome as the real dynamite was, MDC has a simulated blasting booth in its permanent display that lets out a “boom” when the lever is lowered. It and a crane game, simulating a mine truck being loaded with pellets are quite popular with the younger visitors, said Freeman.

There are some items that will be included in the temporary display with a caution of “viewer discretion.”

A set of tools once used for the purpose of bloodletting in the saunas of Finnish immigrants falls under that category. The set and photos of how it were used are part of MDC’s inventory.

Freeman said the idea of displaying the tools and photos of how they were used isn’t to misrepresent or be disrespectful, but rather to show it existed.

On the lighter side, there are a bunch of items tied to the late Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich. The Iron Range governor was instrumental in getting the former Ironworld, which evolved into MDC off the ground in the late 70s.

Freeman said during his travels, Perpich received many gifts that he in turn donated, and are now in the MDC collection. Among them are a collection of hats.

Perpich was a dentist, and some of his dental tools are in the inventory at MDC and will be included in the exhibit.

There are some items in MDC’s collection that have Freeman and other staff there scratching their heads as to how they came to be. One such item is an old International Cat Show brochure, featuring the actress Betty White.

As to how many items from MDC’s inventory will be part of this temporary exhibit, Freeman said they plan to “cram” as much as possible into it without making it overwhelming.

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