BURLEY — Stewards of the Cassia County Historical Museum are trying to turn around a trend of local disinterest in the county’s history.
“There are a lot of people who live on this side of town who drive by here every day and they don’t know this is a museum,” said Rob Hutchison, vice president of the Cassia County Historical Society. “The board is trying to build the museum back up.”
Museum curator Janet Gorringe said the museum has one official member and that person lives in New York.
Most of the visitors come from out of town, said Gorringe, who took over the museum in April.
“We need this museum to show the young people our history,” Hutchison said.
If people are not aware of the treasures inside the museum, resources won’t be allocated to protect them, Gorringe said.
The best way to learn about county history, she said, is to visit. Several events are planned this summer, including an open house at 6:30 p.m. June 22.
The museum receives the bulk of its funding from the county with the remainder coming from grants and donations. According to the Cassia County 2019 budget the historical society received $30,940 in 2018 and $33,345 in 2019, which pays for the salaries of the part-time curator and another part-time employee, utilities and operating costs.
The amount doesn’t leave much room for repairs and maintenance on the museum, founded in 1972, Gorringe said.
The museum is looking for volunteers to accomplish repair and maintenance projects that include cleaning and painting a Union Pacific caboose and volunteers are needed to come regularly to help with general cleaning of the buildings. Volunteers are also needed to help catalog photographs.
In addition to the main building, the museum property has three cabins and a building that houses a Pullman rail car with a rather sordid past: dubbed the John Wilkes Booth Pullman.
John Wilkes Booth became infamous for shooting President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and historians sometimes disagree about what became of him.
Most believe Booth was killed a couple of weeks later in Virginia and buried in Baltimore, others said the wrong man was killed. About 40 years later a man claiming to be John Wilkes Booth committed suicide in Oklahoma, but he turned out to be a drifter named David E. George, who bore a resemblance to Booth.
George was embalmed, but his body remained unclaimed until his friend Finis L. Bates came for it. Bates convinced a judge to give him the body. He promptly wrote a book and put the man’s body, which by then had mummified on tour. The exhibit was eventually leased to a carnival and traveled around the country in the Pullman rail car.
After the carnival owner retired the rail car found its way to a potato farm in Declo and eventually made its way to the museum, where it was cleaned up and put on display.
Along with a display on the Pullman car’s history, the rail car also contains a miniature circus fashioned by a local man and a display of prehistoric bones found in the county.
There is also a large building with a local World War II display, old fire engines and a stagecoach along with the archives from the South Idaho Press. In the main building, there are displays for each of Cassia County’s seven towns.
“Every item in this museum is from Cassia County,” Gorringe said. “They represent the history of this county and we need to protect them.”
To volunteer or for more information on the museum, call 208-678-7172.