GEM celebrates big 5-0

 


“I was there when they put it in, so I guess I oughta be there when they open it up,” local historian Dick Perue said, while wearing a printing smock Saturday morning.

Perue was referencing a time capsule sealed inside the cornerstone of the Grand Encampment Museum (GEM) Doc Cullerton building 49 years ago when the building was dedicated. In celebration of GEM’s 50th anniversary, that time capsule was opened up Saturday morning in front of crowd of around 150 that turned out for the occasion.

The buildup to the airing of the capsule contents was not insubstantial. GEM Board of Directors President Mark Dunning kicked the morning off with some introductory remarks and background information for attendees.

A light breeze and dappled cloud cover kept the morning cool as Dunning painted a picture of the first GEM director Vera Oldman’s inspiration for what has become a Valley institution. “(GEM founders) were seeing a lot of stuff in Encampment burning down, falling down, getting thrown away,” Dunning said of Encampment in the mid 1960s.


The historic mining town, Dunning said, risked losing its connection to a colorful past that was being left to crumble and rot forgotten in attics and basements.

In stepped Oldman and other GEM visionaries. The group donated time, money and sweat to preserving artifacts from across the Valley, assembling a collection that boasts over 80,000 items today.

After Dunning spoke, three representatives from a local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) raised Old Glory and the Wyoming State flag. Attendees recited the pledge of Allegiance together, and then turned their attention to members of the Grand Encampment choir.

As the Encampment choir did 49 years ago at the dedication of the Doc Cullerton building, the seven women and two men of the choir sang the Wyoming State song at the ceremony. Though that song was originally composed in Encampment, more attendees seemed to be familiar with “Happy Trails,” the choir’s closing sing-along selection. People were a little slow to join in, but by the last verses, many sheepish singers in the crowd had found their voices and were letting loose with their neighbors.

Speech followed song at the ceremony, and the first dignitary in line to offer his thoughts was Encampment Mayor Greg Salisbury. Salisbury’s remarks were short and sincere. “Not only is (GEM) a shining star for the Town of Encampment, but it is for the County of Carbon and the State of Wyoming,” he proclaimed.

The shining stars in the program docket were three driving forces behind the museum at its inception: Perue, who helped publicize GEM through the Saratoga Sun, as well as original board members Dick Blake and Nancy Anderson. All three peppered their speeches with wryness, knowing asides and muffled but discernible pride in what GEM had accomplished over the last 50 years.

“OSHA’d have us all in jail now,” Perue noted about the dangers involved in relocating GEM’s tram towers from their mountainside berths.

“Nancy’d done most of all the work–I was just a go-between,” Blake deflected in his speech.

“Where did all these trees come from?” Anderson asked to laughs. When GEM was founded, it was surrounded by sagebrush desert instead of the manicured park grounds it now occupies. On a more serious note, Anderson thanked “The people in the Valley for opening up their cupboards, their barns–their hearts, to give these treasures.”

With flags flying high, and all the songs sung and speeches delivered, it was time to peer into the past. Two men set to work opening up the cornerstone of the Doc Cullerton building and then pulled out two foot-long metal tubes. One canister was designated to be opened at GEM’s 100th anniversary and was replaced unopened.

From the other tube spilled a trove of historic documents on thin, yellowed paper. Included were several articles from this newspaper as well as GEM’s Articles of Incorporation.

Of particular interest was correspondence between the founding board, dating to a time when the museum was only some scattered dreams waiting to be cemented together with hard work, cooperation and a community’s generosity.

Such dreams exist everywhere, but only rarely are they cobbled together into something as real, valuable and enduring as GEM.

 

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