Smithsonian exhibit arrives in Franklin, Kan.

Latest in developments at new museum

FRANKLIN, Kan. - There was excitement in the air as the rental truck pulled up.

The 12 crates that came out of it were from the Smithsonian, and they contained something of the future of this tiny southeast Kansas town.

The town was hit by a tornado 10 years ago this month, nearly wiping the place off the map.

"Really left very little in its path. Everything was gone," recalled resident Phyllis Bitner.

One of the first things they built was a community center on the site of the old miners union hall. Mining was the backbone of this area's development for nearly 100 years, digging the coal that ran this nation's industry.

It brought immigrants from various ethnic groups together, and they lived, worked and sometimes died together in the mines that are cut all through this part of the state. There are some freestanding memorials, but there was no place dedicated to telling their story, until last year.

"There are several outdoor facilities where you can go and see a little bit but there was not an indoor museum where the story could really be told," Bitner said.

So, they opened the Miners Hall Museum inside the community center one year ago. It has proven very successful, bringing in curious people from 36 states. Bitner is on the board and has seen it grow.

"We've had over 7,000 visitors in the first year," she bragged.

That's why the Smithsonian decided it would be a perfect place to visit with their traveling exhibit "The Way We Worked."

Now those local men who worked so hard are taking their place in the Smithsonian's spotlight, thanks to the hard work of present day residents who never gave up.

"That mentality that the immigrants brought to this area is obviously still alive and well in this area in southeast Kansas and Franklin is a good example of that," observed B J Harris, of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors bureau.

And they continue building on to the permanent exhibits, working a rich seam of American history in a way that those tough men who came before them would no doubt appreciate.

The Smithsonian exhibit officially opens Saturday, May 11.

During it's six-week run, the museum will also feature plenty of events, including speakers, music, a car show and art show.


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