Budgets and Boats

Before I get to the actual content of this post, I want to share the dinner I just made…

ImageThis is what happens when you accidentally cook 3/4 of a bag of dried beans the night before (that’s a lot of beans), then get back to your rental place and realize that you only have that, slightly stale (homemade) bread, a fridge full of expired condiments (belonging to the house’s owner–most expired between 2008 and 2010), and cheese. Baked beans on toast, ladies and gentlemen, and it took me about 15 minutes to throw together. I guess the British are onto something.

Groceries are expensive here in Alaska–they’re not lying about that. Milk is something like $6.50 a gallon, and ice cream that’s not the cheap-o store brand mostly made out of emulsifiers is darned pricey. Cheese is also a precious commodity, but I think I’d be dead without it, so I can justify the expense. Emily and I have had fun throwing together dinners on the cheap, though last night, we were so exhausted that we just went to Al’s Salmon Shack and got us some fish and chips (…it just occurred to me that that’s also a British thing. Hm.)

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Delicious, delicious grease in a basket.

Al’s Salmon Shack, by the by, is a food truck. They serve halibut, salmon, and rockfish, all deep fried, accompanied either with fries or served on a bun with coleslaw. It’s one of the cheapest dinners that you’ll find in town, although a basket of fish and chips will run you anywhere from $10 (salmon) to $14.50 (halibut). They do have bzillions of condiments available with their fish, however, so they get a pass from me. Last night, the girl running the shack told us about growing up in Alaska. She’s home from school in Anchorage and is gearing up for a hunting trip with her father. When I asked her what they would be hunting, we got into a discussion about game meat. Moose, apparently, is perfectly edible and tastes a lot like beef. Caribou is also good. Bear, however, is super gamey and tastes awful, particularly grizzlies, who eat a lot of fish.  You learn something new every day. I don’t get the impressions that vegetarians do too well here…good thing I eat fish!

OK, so onto the actual point of this post…why were Emily and I so exhausted last night? Well, it was Wednesday, and it was the first cruise ship day of the season. Haines gets one ship per week, and it happens every week on Wednesday.  It’s a big day in town, as you might imagine.  By numbers: Normally the Hammer Museum is open from 10 to 5, but we opened at 8:15 yesterday and closed at 6.  Yesterday, we had 92 visitors. Today, we had 9. On Tuesday, we had 4.

Dave, the museum’s founder, is also a longshoreman, so he spent the day running to and from the boat. He had to be up at 4 AM in order to dock the ship (they use his boat to tie up the lines and bring the ship in), and throughout the day, he and his crew had to adjust the gangplank because the cruise ship raises and lowers with the tide.  The crew then has to wait around for the ship to leave, which can be anywhere between 8 and 10 PM, so it’s a long day for Dave.  Emily and I are still learning the ropes (figuratively), so he also gave all seven tours yesterday while we watched, gave mini side tours, kept track of attendance, and sold merchandise and tickets. Carol stayed until about 6 to give the last tour because they always insist that we leave at 5. Along with being awesome, they are also incredibly nice.

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Dave gives a tour

The museum has been open for 13 seasons now, so Dave and Carol have been the life blood of the Hammer Museum for a long time. When they first opened in 2002 and Dave had another job, Carol staffed it by herself 7 days a week, 4 years in a row.  Dave originally started the museum with his own collection–he was intrigued by the stories and history contained within each hammer he collected, so he made it his mission to preserve and share the history of the hammer. The museum is roughly categorized by industry, and most of them are from bygone days (cobbler, barrel-maker, horseshoer, cobblestone paver, etc.).  Emily and I have discovered that most visitors who come through enjoy the experience more if Dave is there to give a tour (and he gives a colorful, wonderful tour), which just goes to show how connected he is to the place.

The level of devotion Dave and Carol have to this place is almost endless. They’ve gone to conferences and undergone a lot of museum-specific training, turned the museum into a non-profit in 2004, and they have gotten grants for professionals to write collections management and business plans.  Their overall goal right now is to get the museum to a place where it will continue to exist should he or Carol “get hit by a bus” (his words, not mine). That’s a tough goal when the institution has been built around and by them, when they’re only open for a few months each year, when they rotate out interns every summer, and when the budget is quite small.

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The museum has a lot of neat donated objects, like these mannequins from the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

All the right pieces are in place, however. Their board is made up of caring and devoted people, grants exist, and the documentation that they do have is pretty thorough–though there are thousands of hammers that need to be catalogued, and a higher level of year-to-year continuity (through a permanent paid staff member) is really needed.

So Emily and I have our work cut out for us. Right now, we’re working on improving some of the exhibits in the museum–mainly writing, improving, and re-printing labels.  Honestly, it’s difficult to figure out what sort of lasting impact we’re going to have since we’re only there for a few short months.  At least starting next week, we’ll be able to give the tours to the cruise ship passengers to give Dave and Carol a little bit of a break.  We’d also like to come up with some sort of interactive where visitors can watch videos of Dave telling stories and/or demonstrating some of the hammers, but we’ve yet to run that by him…

Either way, this is a completely different ball of wax from interning at the Museum of Natural History. The neat thing about small museums is that you get to see how all parts of the museum fit (or don’t fit) together, and you get to wear a lot of different hats.  The Hammer Museum really is a treasure, and I’m happy that I get to be here this summer.  By the way, please check out the website.

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You can see the hammer patent wall here.

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This was found underneath the building.

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Dave put this together (along with other nifty artwork around the museum)

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First cruise ship I’ve ever seen. They’re huge.

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