ANNIKA WALL, RUN THE VALLEY EDITOR
This is not a historical battlefield, it is one of the first interactive exhibits in the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, one of five sites within the Grout Museum District in Waterloo, Iowa.
Also in the district are the Grout Museum of History and Science, the Carl A. & Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, the Rensselaer Russell House Museum and the Snowden House.
All five incorporate interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages.
“It’s remarkable to say the least,” Tom Morris, a visitor at the Sullivan Brothers museum, said. “It’s hard to get kids interested in something that doesn’t have a screen these days. The museum has some of those, but to appeal to the kids. It’s meant for more than just people my age.”
As patrons enter the museum, they receive a dog tag from one of 18 different personas. At stations around the museum, visitors experience individual perspectives during times of war. There are a variety of exhibits that start with soldiers in the trenches, include exploration of a family of sailors’ living room and end with a display of the homefront efforts in America during World War I and World War II.
“If you are going from a narrow, small town environment, you only get one part of that picture,” Bob Nymeyer, the historian of the Grout Museum District, said. “By telling a story in a facility such as this, we are able to tell a much larger story.”
The family of sailors, the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, served in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The brothers insisted on sticking together while in the service. All five brothers were lost when the USS Juneau was torpedoed on Nov. 13, 1942.
The incident remains the largest single loss for a family in American military history, according to groutmuseumdistrict.org.
“Some of my favorite exhibits, one was we worked with the city [in] developing an anniversary of the sinking of the USS Juneau and the Sullivan’s when there were still some survivors living,” Billie Bailey, executive director of the Grout Museum District, said. “We’ve done one about Vietnam, one about the Korean War. Those were very fulfilling because those honored people who haven’t been held up in the past. It’s hard for me to pick any one favorite. The variety is what’s been fun.”
Nymeyer found that a variety of veteran experiences appealed to a wider audience and began to collect oral histories in 2003. Currently he has collected more than 1,500 interviews from 70 Iowa counties.
“Getting veteran’s oral histories was not only a good idea, but a necessity, so we started to do interviews and incorporated those into the panels,” Nymeyer said. “Because they were so compelling, we did video segments. Those have been particularly appealing to younger people.” Nearby are two more museums in the district; the Rensselaer Russell House Museum and the Carl A. & Peggy J. Bluedorn Science Imaginarium.
The Russell House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can be experienced via guided tour and is cited as Iowa’s finest example of Italian architecture, according to groutmuseumdistrict.org. In comparison, the Imaginarium is three stories of interactive science exhibits. Individuals have the chance to pet a 12-foot python, create a laser show or fire an air cannon.
For more information, including hours of operation, go to groutmuseumdistrict.org.