Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dan and Mary, Thanks for the Memories.

Thanks in part to Dan and Mary Hess, proprietors of Ashton's Hess Heritage Museum, I got the Idaho Press Club Rookie of the Year award in 1997, the first year out of college and the first year of professional newspaper work.

I've since left newspapering behind. And with the passing of Dan in 2006 and Mary in 2007, the Hess Heritage Museum -- an old farmhouse with outbuildings, a collection of odd and old farm machinery, bric-a-brac from the Boy Scouts of America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, frontier schoolrooms and an inexplicably odd Polynesian Room -- is being shuttered and its collection auctioned off.

The Polynesian Room always fascinated me. It wasn't much -- a few dresses, leis and other sundry items mostly from Hawaii. But to see it in the context of a restored 1890s farmhouse smack in the middle of nowhere (actually, about two miles southwest of Ashton) was a bit mind-boggling. Yes, there is that certain Mormon fascination with Hawaii, so in that case it makes sense, but it's just an odd bit of exotic culture to see plopped in among the frontier butter churns, old-fashioned wood cooking stoves and other such stuff.

I got my rookie of the year in part because of a story I did on the museum shortly after I began writing for the Fremont County Herald Chronicle in nearby St. Anthony, Idaho. That was back when journalism was actually fun and engaging. Dan and Mary showed me around the place, I dutifully took notes and snapped a few pictures -- I could easily have been writing for a frontier newspaper at the time, the only difference being I had a little point-and-shoot, not one of those massive betripoded cameras with the big tray of exploding powder for added light.

I've got a scan of the article somewhere -- the paper copy long ago went up the chimney -- but I can't find it in my labyrinthine filing system. No matter.

Did the Hesses really have a first edition of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland?" They said they did. I never bothered to check. And it's not showing up at the PrimeTime Auctions preview website, either, so either they didn't have it or it's not being sold. The Apollo mission-era space suit (from 1976) is being sold. How much fun would it be to own that?

The Hess' personal 1950 Studebaker, with less than 10,000 miles on it, is being sold. I'd love to buy it. But I have no money. No money for the 1924 Model T Ford either.

I'm sure the Hesses hoped that once they passed on their family, or someone else, would be able to keep the museum open. That's obviously not happening. And it sounds like some people are bitter that they're not getting back the stuff that they donated to the museum -- an unfortunate situation; I'm sure Dan and Mary would be appalled. But apparently scant or poor records were kept, so the lawyers working with the family have only the word of people to go on. Maybe fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, that might have meant something. In this day and age, however, it means less.

Dan and Mary were wonderful people -- out of another era, really, full of grace, openness and humility you don't see much of any more. I won't say their collection of stuff was spectacular -- it's the detritus of a life well lived, for certain. Maybe when I kick off I'll have such a legacy of, let's face it, junk. Mostly books, by the looks of things right now.

Auctions of the stuff start on Friday. I think I'm going to go. Probably not to buy anything; I'm broke. But to look. And maybe sit in that Studebaker.


Anonymous said...

There were many family members who would have loved to maintain that museum, but Dan and Mary's will disinherited many family members who, otherwise, would have gladly preserved it all.

Mister Fweem said...

I'd heard that was the case. It's too bad. It was a fun place to visit.