Sunday, July 26, 2015

A basic truism

If your museum has only one visitor on any given day, that visitor will walk through the door 30 seconds before it's time to put the Closed sign up.

I'm not complaining, at least not much. A late in the afternoon visitor beats no visitors at all. Granted, having a visitor show up 3 minutes before I was planning to be at the Baraga post office means one Ebay buyer is getting his piece of Civil War memorabilia a day later than planned, but given the vagaries of the postal service these days he's not likely to either notice or complain. Plus I got to tell the story of a local family using the warming oven on their wood-burning kitchen range as an isolette for a premature infant, which is one of my personal favorite anecdotes when pretending to be a competent docent. That, and talking about how many adults have walked into the museum, seen the dental exhibit complete with the drill that looks like an instrument of torture (it was), and been prompted to reminisce about the time they bit Dr. Guy hard enough to draw blood. Apparently he didn't have much patience with unhappy children. I can relate. I was one of those kids whose parents got told "Find a different dentist." Not that I drew blood when I bit him -- I wanted to but to my ever-lasting regret did not succeed.

That dental drill illustrates nicely how things have changed. Thanks to just about everyone under the age of 50 or having been exposed to fluoride in infancy and childhood, quite a few people have to ask me what it is. Older adults recognize it and shudder; people under the age of 40 generally have never seen one in use. Although seeing one in use wasn't nearly as hideous an experience as hearing the dental drill. . . even if it didn't last long, there was something profoundly strange about hearing something happening inside your own head.

The Dr. Guy Collection consists of basically the entire contents of Dr. Louis Guy's dental office minus the chair and a few other odds and ends. Dr. Guy opened his dental practice in L'Anse in the 1930's. I'm not sure when he retired from dentistry, but he died in 1998. At some point, the contents of his office went to the historical society. Most of it has yet to be cataloged. There's so much stuff in the display case I'm not anxious to get started on it. I have begun sorting through the boxes of other stuff, things that did not make it into the display case, and jettisoning things that aren't worth keeping. I have, for example, pitched out most of the impressions (plaster casts of people's mouths) that came with the collection. It's good to have a few as examples, but we really didn't need to hang on to several hundred of them.

What I actually need to do for the Dr. Guy exhibit is create some interpretive signage. Right now we've got a case full of dental stuff but no explanation of who Dr. Guy was, not even a copy of his obituary. As long as we're not dealing with many visitors, it's easy for the docent to provide a quick explanation, but if we get busy? Not so much.

We have been slowly updating labels and doing more signage in general, but it's a slow process. Compared to some of the other issues we've dealt with lately, labels seem fairly low priority.

But, getting back to the subject of only one visitor, back when I first started volunteering, I suggested that the museum be open on Saturdays. It just seemed like commonsense. Saturday is a day when tourists are more likely to be around as well as local people with a day off. It was a day people had for leisure, for spending time with the grandkids, whatever. Well, after multiple summers I'm thinking I was wrong. Saturdays are dead. The busy day at the museum tends to be Friday. I'm not sure why that would be true, but the numbers don't lie. Lots of Saturdays over the past several summers with zero visitors, not a soul, no one, not even someone stopping in for directions or to use the restroom. Our busy day tends to be Friday. Strikes me as a bit odd, but Saturdays in general have been so slow that I'm going to suggest that we not bother with them next year.


  1. In Port Angeles there are a lot of people fussing about fluoride in the water, the fluoride debate is a big issue there.

  2. Bet the same people worrying about fluoride in their drinking water never give a thought to having it in their toothpaste or mouthwash.

  3. I'll pull my own teeth thanks..

  4. Where I work we routinely state our closing time a full half hour before we actually close because people do wait until the last moment to come in. The owners were always threatening us to not pay overtime even if we had to deal with last minute customers.

  5. Oh, how I remember that damn drill. Can't for the life of me remember his name but he used that drill on me in the 1950's.
    I had a good dentist in Regina for 20 years though my kids called him Dr. Death.
    If I have to do last minute shopping, it is only if I need one thing. Why last minute to a museum? My late wife could do a museum in a minute but I usually need all day.


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