Cardinal Cadence Fall 2012

Boomtown boom

Conservator inspects museum clothingFrom Wildcatter Weekends to daily forays into living history, Lamar’s Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum is the place to be for education and entertainment. Cardinal Cadence asked museum director Mark Osborne for an update on growth, outreach and innovations at the museum.

Q: What is the significance of the museum?

A. The discovery of oil at Spindletop on Jan. 10, 1901, truly was epic. Texas emerged as an industrial powerhouse, fueling everything from cars to trains to ships and factories. The story we tell at the museum is also epic with great characters, like Patillo Higgins and Capt. Anthony Lucas. While the ideas are somewhat early in development at this time, we will be growing in ways that, ultimately, will make us even more significant to the university and the surrounding community.

Q: What are the most important accomplishments since you became director in March 2011?

A. The accomplishment that is most important to me is putting together a community of people who work to make the museum the very best. Besides our paid staff, we have a small, but active, group of volunteers. Plus, we have reconvened a museum advisory council, which will begin meeting in November. Then there are friends and advocates in the community like our museum and tourism colleagues who have supported and promoted what we’ve been doing.

Q: How has the number of visitors increased?

A: By the end of fiscal year 2012 (August 2012), we counted 8,500 visitors – a 30 percent increase over fiscal year 2011. The increase is, in part, a result of a major increase in special events, advertising, media attention and a general openness, if you will, to be available as a meeting space, especially, to Lamar students, faculty and staff.

Q: What are some of the events you have instituted?

A: When I arrived at the museum, I often heard that people didn’t know we were even open. So, with the help of our education coordinator, we put together the monthly Wildcatter Weekends, which centered on a theme, like buttons or cars or kites. This year, the Wildcatter Weekends are more about the Spindletop story. In October, we celebrated the Hamill Brothers, talking with children about setting goals and, like the Hamills, never giving up. Other events include the annual Spindletop Anniversary Celebration in January, which will have a novel twist in 2013; The Boomtown Ruckus in April celebrating Beaumont before the oil boom; and Great Outdoors Day in June will get families outdoors, flying kites, playing games and more.

Q: What is your vision for Gladys City?

A. Ultimately, the vision for the museum will need to come from a conversation with our many stakeholders, but, for now I want us to be the very best we can be. Conservation efforts are a first step. Over the next year, we will be doing much to improve the overall guest experience through better exhibits and programming. In the long-term, Gladys City can, and should be, a real asset to Lamar. I can see a day when the museum functions as a living laboratory for Lamar students and faculty across disciplines, including history, the arts, business, consumer science, engineering and education. 

Preserving the past

The primary purpose of any museum is stewardship.

“Our job is to care for the objects – and, in our case, buildings – so that they may continue to educate and be used by future generations,” said Mark Osborne. “Our goal this year is to improve all aspects of conservation and care.”

First, the museum repurposed the old information center/gift shop into a Conservation Lab, a semi-public space where museum staff can update collections records, perform minor cleaning and repairs of objects and educate guests on conservation efforts and challenges in the museum. In October, as part of this effort, the museum hosted a textile conservator who assessed the condition of more than 100 pieces of clothing, quilts, needlepoint work and more.

“In early 2013, we plan to have a wood conservator on-site to assess all of the wood furnishings in the buildings,” Osborne said. “Likewise, in the spring, we will be installing high-quality window shades in most of the buildings to cut down on the amount of UV light to which the objects are exposed.

Another Lucas ‘discovery’

A fortuitous discovery added a whole new dimension to a weekend honoring Capt. Anthony F. Lucas—namesake for the history-changing oil gusher that blew in Jan. 10, 1901, at Spindletop.

During Anthony Lucas Day Sept. 8, Lamar’s Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum celebrated Lucas’s Sept. 9, 1855, birthday with an exhibit of some of his recently discovered correspondence and photos, dating from 1899 to 1910. Lucas was a mining engineer considered to be the father of modern petroleum reservoir engineering.

“These papers had never been seen before by the public,” said Osborne. “It wasn’t until we started reading through them that we came across letterhead showing they were from other historical figures from Spindletop, including the Hamill brothers, who actually did the drilling.”

by Louise Wood
October 2012