Exhibit tells story of ‘Difficult Times’

Posted 4/24/09

Sometimes the history of a community includes heartbreak. April 20 was the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy and the Littleton …

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Exhibit tells story of ‘Difficult Times’


Sometimes the history of a community includes heartbreak.

April 20 was the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy and the Littleton Museum recognizes the event with it’s new exhibit “Difficult Times— Difficult Choices,” which explores a professional museum’s responsibilities as a repository of information and artifacts.

In April 1999, Clement Park, which stretches along West Bowles Avenue from Pierce Street almost to Wadsworth Boulevard, was a colorful sea of flowers, teddy bears, candles, crosses in all sizes, wind chimes, beads, Bibles, books, a bike, sweaters and jackets, letters, signs and handmade tributes, including what must have been 10,000 Japanese paper cranes, an American Indian dream catcher. There was a student-built podium painted in Columbine colors which held a guest book for people to record names and thoughts.

A small separate case recognizes the two young killers, who are certainly also part of the story.

There are photographs in the museum’s exhibit that show how Clement Park looked then. Snow and rain fell in the following week. Candles tipped over and burned some items. What to do?

Foothills Park and Recreation Department, which maintains the park, wanted to save a small selection of items, which left a dilemma. What artifacts best tell the story from the thousands of objects left at Clement Park by grieving families, friends, neighbors and some visitors from afar? Who should preserve a record and what could anyone do with what remained?

Since Jefferson County did not have a historical museum, Littleton was asked to help. Also involved: the Colorado Historical Society, the Colorado-Wyoming Museum Association, the Smithsonian Museum, the Jefferson County Archives. Families of the victims were given an opportunity to select anything they wanted. Firefighters made potpourri from flowers, dehumidification equipment was needed and a dry cleaner volunteered to clean the soggy stuffed animals, according to Littleton Museum curator Lorena Donohue, who was in a lead position to make decisions.

Materials were hauled to an available space at the Federal Center, where more than 400 volunteers began to sort and inventory them by victim and location, although the inventory was never completed. Three institutions looked at all the items: Littleton Museum and Colorado Historical Society, which chose a small representation of artifacts and Smithsonian, which decided not to collect. Ultimately, many objects ended in a landfill

The Littleton Museum exhibit illustrates how a museum conserves things: plastic covers for teddy bears, special boxes for ornamental wind chimes, transparent covers for individual paper items…

For visitors who need to sit awhile and process what they see, a pair of comfortable sofas rest in a corner of the gallery, fronted by a coffee table with a collection of books about Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Virginia Tech and other disasters.

Bring tissues.

If you go:

“Difficult Times _ Dificult Choices” runs through Sept. 20. The Littleton Museum is located at 6028 S. Gallup St. in Littleton. Admissionis free. Hours: 8 a.m. to5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays (Closed Mondays).


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