When you live in a city like Montgomery for as long as Paula and I have (more than four decades), you often find yourself in a rut when it comes to things the city has to offer. Paula and I found ourselves looking for something to do just the other weekend.
In an off-the-cuff remark I suggested we take in some of the offerings of the "Museum of Alabama" — in the Archives and History Department building in downtown Montgomery. Paula agreed with me. So we piled in the car and headed to the ADAH building.
We went on a Saturday afternoon. The weather was perfect, the size of the crowd in the building was small and the attractions most appealing.
As museums go, the ADAH is not that old. It was created by an act of the legislature in 1901... 82 years after Alabama became a state. But believe it or not, it's the oldest state-funded archives in the U.S.
The building is most impressive, with more granite-per-square foot than you can imagine. And it has lots of beautiful columns that fill the lobby that faces the circle of flags of the 50 states on the south side of the State Capitol building.
Once you settle into the Archives, you find yourself learning about Alabamians from all walks of life — those whose fame came from the cotton field, the science lab, the operating room, political backrooms, business and industry — just to name a few.
If you're into genealogy, you have a wonderful resource in the research rooms at the ADAH. For instance, the staff there can help you with statewide newspapers that have been transferred into searchable microfilm and original newspapers that are in large oversized volumes.
Just for grins while preparing for this week's conversation, I searched the online version of the newspapers and found my hometown paper dating back to 1914! Check it out if you get a moment.
You can get lots of information about soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and others right on up to the Vietnam Conflict.
One of the exhibits I found fascinating was the room and exhibits dedicated to soldiers, their weapons and uniforms. You get to read letters from soldiers away serving their country. You'll see the uniforms worn by doctors, nurses and medics who had their own kinds of wars to fight. Plus, there are many exhibits dedicated to the weapons of war.
When I was reporting a story about the Archives, I was shown the extensive collection of flags carried in many of the units in the Civil War. Some are tattered to the point of falling apart — but each tells a story about the men who fought on both sides of the war.
There are historical collections dedicated to maps, churches and synagogues, several databases dealing with voter registration and local, county, and state records, too.
It was more than I could imagine taking in during less than a week's stay! And that was on just on the first floor.. LOL.
The second floor has a unique, multi-media exhibit called Alabama Voices. If you don't have time to visit any other parts of the Archives, make it the second floor. They call it "300 years of Alabama's story" and it's worth the time you dedicate to it.
In an article describing the Alabama Voices exhibit, ADAH writes, "More than 800 artifacts, hundreds of images and documents, and 22 audio-visual programs tell the story of struggles over the land, the rise of a cotton economy, the Civil War, industrialization, world wars, civil rights the races to the moon, and more. Voices taken from diaries, letters, speeches, songs and other sources convey the experiences of Alabamians who lived through and shaped the history of these periods."
And, yes, you need to check out the gift shop on the first floor. It's a great place if you're looking for a unique, Alabama-themed gift for that special someone.
If you know the story of funding for the Alabama Department of Archives and History, you know the staff and management have done an outstanding job of "making do" with oftentimes paltry state budgets. Keep that in mind when visiting some of the well-worn exhibits. My hat's off to them for their efforts and I think yours will be, too, after your visit in person or on line.
Until our next conversation.