guest post: mud, mice, and mannequins

Today’s post for Emerging Museum Professionals Week is brought to you by Anna Kirchner (@a_kirchner). See other posts in the series here.

HELLO! I am Anna. I am a 24 year-old Minnesotan searching for a full-time job, and currently pursuing dual Masters’ degrees in Nonprofit Management and Business Administration. My Bachelors degrees are in History and French. My passion is history, and my career goal is to one day work for a big and exciting museum! Something with the Smithsonian, or the Museum of Science and Industry, or the Museum of Natural History. I believe that all museums are wonderful, and I love them. I have been an intern and volunteer for the Minnesota Children’s Museum, an intern and employee of the Washington County Historical Society, and am currently volunteering for the Anoka County Historical Society. I’m also currently working at Minnesota Public Radio, assisting with an archiving project. I absolutely love it, but our sweet, sweet grant funding will be up shortly….hence, my job hunt!

For two years I managed a small historic site in Minnesota. This site includes two buildings (a school house and a log cabin), and is owned and operated by a county-level historical society. When it comes to admissions, we did guided tours of the site, as well as hosted field trips and various events. General traffic was sometimes very slow, because of the rural location, and I found myself alone for hours at a time, doing small projects and planning my events. There was no internet, no television, and no radio. I once had a man tell me that it was “too bad” I wasn’t Swedish. I saw a woodchuck poop on the wheelchair ramp, make a mean face at me, and run away. I saw more wood ticks in my first season than I’d seen in all my years before then. But this post isn’t about any of that. It is about the weekend we spent cleaning out one small storage closet, and the bizarre things we found inside.

The School House

The Log Cabin

During the summer months an intern joined me. It was nice to have someone to talk to, and the extra pair of hands means that I was able to tackle larger projects at the museum…more specifically, cleaning projects.

In a historic building, it is unbelievable how quickly dirt, dust, cobwebs, and the carcasses of dead bugs accumulate on (or in) every single surface. Additionally, over the years, broken appliances, remnants from old exhibits, and a hodge-podge of other things ended up on-site. So, one weekend, I told my Intrepid Intern that we were going to clean out the closet in the log cabin. I just want to give you an idea of what we were working with:


Now, what you can’t see in that picture above is the carpet of dead leaves that had apparently blown in over several years, due to the fact that the staircase that forms the ceiling of the closet faces the outdoors when the log cabin’s doors are open. Armed with garbage bags, rags, brooms, flashlights, and a shop vac that I had brought in from home, the Intrepid Intern and I set to work. OH, WAIT – there was no electricity in that building (thanks a lot, 1860’s!), so we had to string 5 or 6 extension cords from the school house to the vacuum in order for it to reach that little closet.

Using the power of logic and the occasional phone call to the historical society’s headquarters, we determined what could be tossed (old cans of holiday air freshener, various mouse-eaten things, and a whole lot more), and what should be kept either on site (the mega creepy limb-less mannequins, in-tact clothing and fabric for interpretation, tools) or elsewhere.

There was a brief period where I posed for pictures with the terrifying sailor-child mannequin:

But, finally, we finished the big clean-out and hauled all of the trash, cords, and cleaning supplies back to where they belonged. The clean version of the closet is pictured below. It might not look stellar, but anyone who ever saw the inside of that closet, or saw the bags of debris we took out of there, would give us a hearty handshake and a heartfelt congratulations.

Running a small museum (especially a historic building) is an insane amount of work, because something has always happened. A window broke! A bat is living inside of the parlor! If a tornado comes, just run to the neighbors’! But in spite of everything (and, I think, because of everything), it really was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

I’m still really mad at that woodchuck, though.

The museum I’ve just told you all about is called the Hay Lake School and Johannes Erickson Log House Museum Complex, and it is a part of the Washington County Historical Society in Minnesota. For more information, please visit

FREE STUFF: Leave a comment on any of the posts during EMP Week (April 16 -20, 2012) to be eligible to win a copy of How to Become A Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career by Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris.The winner will be randomly selected and notified via email on April 23, 2012 (so please don’t forget to include an email in your comments).

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