I’ve worked admissions at the museum during the Defeat of Jesse James Days for 6 years now and I often see eyes rolling and sneers of disgust during Defeat weekend when visitors see that NHS charges admission to enter the museum. I’ll admit, it’s confusing when there are “Button Events” all over town. Visitors expect that a button includes museum admission. I’m not thinking of those visitors who are genuinely mistaken. I’m referring more to the visitors who believe we only charge during Defeat and that visiting the museum isn’t worth the $5 admission charge. To put it in perspective, a small cup of French Fries becomes more deserving of their $5 than the place saving the few remaining pieces of evidence of the very event the town is celebrating. You can get French Fries anywhere and everywhere! The Wheeler gun, Bob Younger’s saddle, Heywood’s ledger, and the guns dropped by the robbers exist in one place on this planet and that place is NHS.
The reality is that without the admission charge and without the generosity of friends and supporters, NHS couldn’t protect the items from the raid or anything else. The admission charge goes toward heat in the freezing MN winter and air conditioning during the humid summer, providing the items with a climate-controlled environment to help stabilize them. The admission charge pays staff to install the exhibits the public gets to enjoy, and it pays them to answer the questions of dozens of people each year from across the country who want to know some minute detail of the raid. The admission charge goes toward keeping the 150 year old Scriver building, with its limestone foundation, standing and in good repair, allowing people to visit the museum year round. The admission charge – the same price we charge year round – is important to keep history from vanishing in our lifetime.
NHS is not a circus sideshow. It is not a site that will do “anything for a buck” as I’ve heard irritated visitors say (loudly enough for the staff and volunteers to hear, mind you!) NHS is working each day to preserve the legacy of the town that our own townspeople fought to protect in 1876. NHS is preserving the evidence of the lives of those who died to keep the town from failing. If that’s not worth more than a $5 cup of French Fries, I don’t know what is!