Hidden treasure tries free admission
SUPERIOR, Wis. - Nestled in this city's east end is a treasure trove of history. The Old Fire House & Police Museum offers a little something for everyone. And, for this year only, admission is free.
Match your height against Superior's tallest police officer. See turn of the century fire fighting rigs and look through a hall of heroes. Walk into a jail cell, scan rows of police department badges and view a slice of fire hall life. Then, if you'd like, do it again. It's free.
The decision to ax admission this year is meant to draw more people to the site, which gets far less traffic that Superior's Fairlawn Mansion and the SS Meteor Whaleback.
"We're hoping word-of-mouth and free admission will show the public what a little gem we have here," said Susan Anderson, executive director of Superior Public Museums Inc., which runs all three sites.
The idea has already shown promise. The museum, which opened May 15, has welcomed 50 percent more visitors than last year at this time. In an effort to offset the lack of admission, an expanded gift shop has been added at the museum. Items available include T-shirts, sparkling pinwheels, and of course, fire trucks. But selling items isn't the point.
"Our main goal is to get people through here," said Sara Jackson, administrative coordinator for SPM.
If you've been to the museum before, this summer is a perfect time to take another look. Both the police exhibit and the State of Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame are fairly new exhibits. A wood carving created by Justin Howland of Grizzworks for the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition segment filmed in Douglas County last summer rests beside the fire engines on the main floor. The camera crew filmed a Five for Fighting concert at the fire hall museum for the show.
For Denise McDonald, events coordinator for SPM, the main floor collection of fire rigs is the heart of the museum.
"I love the fire engines downstairs," she said. Except for the 1919 ladder truck, the collection was used by the Superior Fire Department.
A buggy and cutter, used at the turn of the century, still have S.F.D. painted on the sides. The chief would ride ahead in the sturdy buggy, or in snow, cutter to get to the fire. In those days, Jackson noted, firefighters focused on "defensive firefighting -- preventing the fire from spreading to other buildings instead of trying to douse the house on fire. A leather bucket in the buggy is a reminder of how far fire fighting has come. The collection of trucks includes a horse-drawn pumper cart with a coal-fired steamer and a World-War II era Mack pumper with an electric start and back-up crank. Hoses hang in the two-story round tower and at the rear of the building are communication systems used to alert firefighters to trouble.
The Gamewell System sent a series of bells to the fire hall. Later, phone boxes were left out for general use. Jackson said more than once, they were used to hail a cab instead of call in a fire.
Upstairs is the police exhibit, with gleaming badges, a jail cell and a life-size photo of Gust Anderson, a 7-foot-4 police officer who worked for the Superior Police Department.
The captain's room holds beds and desks as well as a chair with a special history. Jackson said that firefighters used to give folks haircuts in that chair. A ping-pong table and asbestos fire fighting suit share a larger room with other firefighting devices - from portable extinguishers and hose nozzles to a display of carbon tetrachloride suppression systems.
"I like the community connections," Jackson said. "The ping-pong, the barber's chair, the fact that this was part of the neighborhood when the firefighters were here."
With the promise of free admission, she hopes people will discover the museum is still part of the East End community.
The site is not handicap accessible.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit www.superiorpublicmuseums.org or call 394-5712.
Maria Lockwood is a reporter at the Superior (Wis.) Telegram, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.