Kansas City’s Attic: A Special Report
Heather Claybrook, Fox 4 News
KANSAS CITY, MO. – Think of all the items you store in the basement, attic or some other storage facility. Would any of those items be a great conversation piece? FOX 4’s Heather Claybrook got the chance to see some odd and fascinating items with historical value. And, the public rarely gets a chance to see them.
In Union Station these days, you step into a building that is part of Kansas City’s history. But, there’s more history there than meets the eye. Inside Union Station, you’ll find the historic attic of Kansas City, where the city’s past is stored, or sorted, or studied out of sight.
Lisa Shockley, Union Station employee, said “It’s absolutely great! Obviously, to work in a situation like this you have to be someone who’s really, really interested in history. It’s great.”
One of the collections that’s fascinated Lisa is the one on the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department and its fire chief George Hale.
Shockley said, “I opened up the box and… oh this is sooo neat.”
It was this badge that Hale wore as fire chief from 1888 to 1902. Chief Hale lead the Kansas City Missouri Fire Department to international competitions and won several trophies, like one in Glasgow, Scotland and, Paris, France. Chief Hale was also innovative. He developed the fire house pole and, much more.
Shockley said, “He’s also very important to the history of motion pictures.” He developed a movie-ride that was the forerunner of the motion simulator. Shockley told FOX 4, “…And, its the forerunner of the IMAX type of technology and a lot of the rides they have at Disney World.”
And, did you know, Kansas City is home to one of the first big named stars of Broadway and the opera? Alice Nielson grew up in Kansas City and before her death donated many of her costumes to Union Station. Also, Union Station is home to one of the largest Native American collections.
Lisa Shockley said, “We have one of the best examples of Navaho and Arapaho bead work anywhere in the country.” We wondered, why not display all of these interesting items? Shockley says the average museum only displays about two to five percent of its collections due to space and preservation. “I think museums in general, you would never want to exhibit everything that you have because of light issues. Once something becomes light damaged it can’t ever be repaired.” That’s why museums are so dark, to protect the items on display from harsh lights.
Lisa Shockley told us, “There are other reasons to save things other than just to exhibit.” And, just because it’s not on permanent display doesn’t mean the public can’t view it. Researchers often make requests to view collections stored in a museum. And, that research may include all sorts of media like old television footage.
Researcher Kara Kelly told us “It’s an excellent collection. And anyone who’s doing research on that time, it’s just a very visual way to look at history.” WDAF-TV donated its film archives to Union Station to help preserve Kansas City history.
Go behind the scenes of the Truman Library, there are more presidential artifacts than you can imagine, about 28,000 pieces. Again, space and preservation are the issues as to why they’re stored in the basement and not on permanent display. It’s an interesting collection of sorts, mainly gifts to President Harry Truman.
Clay Bauske, Truman Library Curator said, “Harry Truman was a very common man, very ordinary man. So, he relished getting gifts from ordinary people.” Gifts like an inlaid wood portrait of himself, or an ashtray from Preston Tucker, the automobile manufacturer, or the most unusual gift, a coconut carved sculpture of President Truman.
Bauske said, “It’s a really funny piece because its got a smile on it. You really see Harry Truman and his levity in that piece.”
And, then, there are pieces that are more significant in terms of their place in history. There is a safety plug from the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Clay Bauske remarked, “It’s sad and it’s tragic because you know what that bomb did and at the same time you feel a sense of connectedness with that part of history. So, it’s a very poignant moment when you hold something like that in your hands.”
But, not all of Kansas City’s stored treasures are for the public’s eyes. Some treasures are stored in more than a basement. There is actually a 150 foot underground bank vault of sorts. There you will find a large collection of Hollywood films and television shows. For security reasons, employees can’t discuss the thousands of movie and TV shows that are stored in the caves at the Hunt Midwest Subtropolis. And, that’s why working here takes on even more of a wow-factor as employees walk down the aisles.
Chris Eden said, “Every time I come through here, walking down the aisles… it’s like watching your childhood all over again. You’re reliving every moment in front of a TV or movie screen because you’re seeing all of them. It’s sitting in cans waiting to be watched by future generations.”
Some of the titles, they can mention; “Gone with the Wind,” “Ben Hur,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and the “MASH” television series.
Eden said, “It is amazing. You look to the left and there’s ‘Ben Hur’ and you look to the right and there’s ‘Gone with the Wind.’ It’s an amazing facility.”
So, amazing, and so secure. But, they can’t discuss the security. They can only say it is pretty significant.
Eden said, ” ‘Gone With The Wind’ is a piece of invaluable art. You can’t assign a dollar figure to it. You have to put it in a tremendously secure facility.”
All of these stored items are under lock and key. While, some are rarely seen. The rest we can only talk about. But, all call Kansas City home.