Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Idaho State Museum Brings History to Life
Crank this baby to see Shoshone Falls come to life.
Saturday, January 5, 2019


All it takes is a push of the button.

Suddenly, fire crackles across a screen stretching across the easternmost wall of the Idaho State Museum. And within seconds it has grown to a raging inferno that will test the infant Forest Service in its fifth year.

The breathtaking spectacle tells the story of the Big Burn of 1910 when the night sky over the Bitterroot Mountains near Wallace exploded into flames until, one woman said, “It seemed like the whole world was afire.” Even in this display the roar of the burning forest resembles a storm at sea and spectators can feel the heat.

This horse snowshoe was used during the early 1900s.

The Idaho State Museum, which recently reopened in Boise, after four years of redesign and rebuilding, invites people to “Experience.”

And it lives up to its billing with immersive hands-on experiences in its 80,000 square feet of exhibit space. Those in charge of the project went to every corner of Idaho, including Sun Valley, to see what should be in it. And the wish list took shape with a $17 million project funded by state and private partnerships, including more than 500 donors.

A digitized map—part of an interactive touch table--greets people as they enter the museum, which was originally constructed in 1950.

The Origins Gallery talks about Idaho’s lifeblood—its water. And it boasts a theater that tells the stories of Idaho’s five federal recognized Native tribes.

Chances are your elementary school didn’t have a pencil sharpener like this one, which helped government workers do the state’s business!

Visitors can examine a two-hide Native American red, white and black beaded dress—with tail--believed to have been made of two animal skins during the 1800s. And they can design their own partfleche—a rawhide container or envelope that Native Americans used to carry feathered bonnets, dried meats, pemmican and maps.

A giant magnifying glass allows viewers to examine the details of the day the state capitol was stolen from Lewiston.

Visitors can turn a crank to turn on the water at Shoshone Falls which, at 212 feet, is taller than Niagara Falls. And they can view a gnarly looking hatchet believed to have been part of the Wilson Price Hunt fur trapping expedition whose canoes capsized at nearby Caldron Linn on the Snake River in 1811.

There’s a giant pencil sharpener used in the Capitol Building during the early 1900s, and a display showing how a ski lift was used to ferry logs, not people.

Mary Haines wore the gown on the right.

There are artifacts from the bomb triggered by a revolver to assassinate Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenenberg in 1905 after he had President McKinley send in federal troops to restore orders among miners demanding better working conditions.

The North Idaho Gallery features the tale of the Big Burn, which burnt a swath of land larger than Connecticut and sparked debate on fire management that still rages today. And it features displays on Idaho’s lumber industry.

Visitors will learn that the odors of logging camps were indescribable, thanks to “all the odors of hardworking men who seldom took a bath or changed their clothes.” They’ll learn that the Potlatch Lumber Company built the world’s largest sawmill—a football field long, it took 500 men to operate.

And they’ll learn that the Lewiston sawmill was the first to turn sawdust into bleached paperboard for milk cartons.

This exhibit invites you to delve into the mystery of Idaho’s missing state Capitol.

Boomtown allows visitors to don a hard hat to explore a mine shaft and detonate their own dynamite.

A History Lab allows visitors to build their own midcentury modern house.

And the Central Idaho section spotlighting Sun Valley allows people to sit in one of Sun Valley’s early chairlifts invented by Union Pacific Railroad while watching a video featuring Penelope Street, one of Sun Valley’s first hot dog skiers, and historic video footage of America’s first destination ski resort.

Giant interactive postcards allows people to learn about vacation spots around the state. And there’s a fun interactive cartoon display for youngsters to learn the story of Lonesome Larry, the single salmon who returned to Redfish Lake in 1992 opening the eyes of the world to the rapid decline of Idaho’s salmon runs.

An interactive touch quiz allows visitors to test their knowledge of Idaho’s agriculture. Did you know, for instance, that Idaho is one of the nation’s biggest wheat producers with farmers growing wheat in 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties?

The two wheatless counties? Shoshone and Boise counties.

There’s Nell Shipman’s silent film camera and Buckskin Billy’s medieval-style helmet, along with artifacts from Polly Bemis, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River China woman who inspired the book “Thousand Pieces of Gold.”

And visitors will learn how the United States signed a treaty with Mexico to bring braceros, or “one who works using his arms,” to fill labor shortages during World War II. Poor treatment of the manual laborers ended the program. But the pipeline had been opened and, even today, workers continue to stream into Idaho to do work that might otherwise go undone.

There’s a model of the Experimental Breeder Reactor near Arco that was the world’s first nuclear power plant. And a chance to take a hands-on mountain bike ride through Boise’s Hulls Gulch.

One room shows off clothing worn at presidential and statewide inaugurations. Among them, a pink cupcake-style ball gown worn by Idaho’s first lady Lucille Smylie at her husband’s inauguration in 1956. And be sure to check out the amazing gown featuring cerise chenille roses and rhinestones worn by Mary Haines to her husband’s 1913 inauguration.

And, while much is new, a few favorites remain from the original museum. There’s a Jefferson Peace Medal carried by Lewis and Clark, for instance, and the keyboard of Idaho rock star Paul Revere whose  Paul Revere and the Raiders left their mark on the pop charts during the 1960s and early 1970s.

And, of course, who could forget Deja-Moo? The popular two-headed calf, born in 1950 to a rancher in Gooding, is now featured as part of a Penny Arcade.


The Idaho State Museum is located at 610 Julia Davis Drive in Boise.

It’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for veterans and seniors 60 and older, $8 for students with IDs, $5 for children and free to museum members.


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