Faron Wahl, Manager
I’m a purist at heart. In past years as a scale railroading hobbyist, it disturbed me greatly to allow any details of questionable authenticity or mixed-era into a created miniature scene. Just when I thought a project would pass the legitimacy test, I’d spot and weed out another fine detail that didn’t genuinely fit the exact time and date.
So Prairie Village is a conundrum to me. I love this place just as it is, but sometimes the perfectionist in me longs for a firm, fixed date of representation, with every featured building and artifact having only appeared in the world on that exact date or prior to it. What an off-the-charts historic re-creation we’d have if we allowed absolutely no time period variants, it seems.
For example, let’s just say we chose to represent precisely the year 1906 here. It follows that you simply couldn’t display a doily crocheted in 1908 on a dresser, because the doily didn’t exist yet in that 1906 world. In a perfectly-framed era, you wouldn’t dream of tolerating an advertisement that might have been printed in 1917 on the wall of an “as it was in 1906” Main Street building. For that item to have appeared in a structure in 1906 would have required a time machine (putting us hopelessly out of whack).
It’s fun to imagine preserved historic depiction so specific that you could traverse our grounds and only smell the scents and hear the sounds that could have occurred on or before the exact point in time represented. Chew on that concept for a minute. If I could dream up a way to truly re-create a chosen year’s precise grass, soil and crop conditions, while piping in historically matching weather to each of that year’s calendar days, all the better.
An impossible concept? Of course. And there are other sound reasons why being so rigid on our offerings wouldn’t be good for us anyway. Prairie Village camping is one example why.
I’ve been told our campers detract from the historic intent of the village. After all, 38-foot 5th wheels certainly weren’t perched within line-of-sight of the Junius Bank in the early 1900’s. But those camping families have produced a renewed and critical drive of interest in what we offer here. You can bet the lion’s share of these wonderful campers wouldn’t be coming out to take part in what we do weekend after weekend all summer if you took the camping factor out of the equation. There are simply too many other entertainment options today pulling people in unlimited directions.
As with most things in practical life, a careful balance is the solution. Camping is here to stay, as it brings many great folks (including young people) through our gates to experience history while also boosting our revenue stream, both facets of which help assure our future. But outside of Jamboree, I am very picky about not allowing regular campers within our primary historic village district – sort of a sacred zone. Yes, maybe you can spot a distant Laredo travel trailer from the door of the Junius Bank, but we sure don’t need one parked next to it. That’s historic Main Street, and it needs to remain that way.
Similar cases can be made for – or against – later-genre concerts in the Opera House, the consignment auction, and the items we sell in our gift shop (see an upcoming column for that one). But everything going on here serves a larger purpose and provides us net gain in the long picture, even amidst the obvious discussion points. If we’re going to be here years from now, much less hoping to thrive, we must preserve history thoughtfully and with full respect to those before us while also meeting the current needs and interests of the very public we need to be our partner.
A careful line to walk? You bet, always involving thoughtful choices. Our varied events and some modern guest opportunities, melded with great care in how we present rural history, are key to our continued growth.
And I can be content with that post-dated doily.