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Humanities During the Pandemic

Superior Public Museums

Superior Public Museums strives to preserve the rich history of Superior, Wisconsin, and to share that history with the community to “bring the past forward,” as Executive Director Megan Meyer puts it.

 

“We have so much history of the early days of Superior within our three sites,” Meyer says. Fairlawn Mansion is the oldest of the three—a gorgeous Victorian home built in 1891 by Martin Pattison, a lumber and mining baron and three-time mayor of Superior. The Pattison family occupied the house until 1920, when it was converted into a Children’s Home. Today, the building represents both of these important historical periods.

The Museum’s other two sites include the SS Meteor, the world’s last above-ground whaleback ship (a type of vessel that used to be built in Superior), and the Old Firehouse and Police Museum, which was a working firehouse for almost 100 years and now hosts Wisconsin’s Police & Fire Hall of Fame. Meyer is proud of the diverse experience that the three sites, put together, provide. Many visitors first come as children, then keep coming back over the years. Every time, visitors can learn something new—or gain a new perspective on something familiar.

In the spring, all three sites are typically open and attracting visitors from Superior and beyond. But the spring of 2020 was anything but typical. The COVID-19 pandemic led to temporary closures and limited tours during what is usually the Museum’s busiest time of year. While museum staff was figuring out how to keep themselves and visitors safe during future tours, they were hit with another unpleasant surprise. Every year, the 80-year-old sprinkler system in Fairlawn Mansion is inspected. Most years, it’s fine—but not this year.

“It so happens that this year there’s been calcium buildup, so the system needed to be flushed out,” Meyer said. The cost was $5,000. “That was not in our budget this year, let alone when our revenue stream is so incredibly down. But we had to do it because of code, and to protect the building and the safety of our staff.”

Luckily, a solution came in the form of a Wisconsin Humanities’ CARES grant. Because these grants allow organizations to apply funds to operations costs, the Museum was able to use the grant it received to pay for the sprinkler maintenance. The quick release of grant funds solved one problem. Next came the problem of what would happen when the pipes of a 130-year-old building were flushed for the first time in 80 years.

“I used to work on pools, so I know what it’s like to push water through pipes,” Meyer said. “You don’t know what’s going to leak. We were all worried, because we have artifacts in the home that are original to the Pattison family and original to the Children’s Home that we didn’t want to damage. I had this panic that one of the pipes was going to burst and there was going to be water everywhere…but no, it went really well. Everything was just fine.”

We at Wisconsin Humanities are proud to have helped ensure Fairlawn Mansion remains an engaging, educational, and—above all—safe place to visit for everyone in the community.

Want to learn more about Superior Public Museums? Visit their website at https://superiorpublicmuseums.org.

Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.