“Hey kids! Let’s go to the Arizona Historical Society!” Sounds a little dull, doesn’t it? Like “Let’s read through our old tax returns!” For most folks, the word “history” has a dry and bookish connotation. Housed in Tempe, within a stoic brick exterior, the Historical Society’s Papago Park Museum does nothing to dispel that notion … until you’re inside.
“Hey kids! Let’s go to the Arizona Historical Society!”
Sounds a little dull, doesn’t it? Like “Let’s read through our old tax returns!” For most folks, the word “history” has a dry and bookish connotation. Housed in Tempe, within a stoic brick exterior, the Historical Society’s Papago Park Museum does nothing to dispel that notion … until you’re inside.
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Then you realize that history — like any story — requires only a proper telling.
“We use every means we can to tell our story,” David Tatum explains. The curator of the AHS’s Papago Park museum wants history out of dusty archives and into people’s imaginations. “We have our share of plaques. But you’ll also find interactive exhibits, multimedia exhibits. Things you can see or touch or even climb on. People learn in different ways.”
Those include antiquated telephones that tell you about construction of the Roosevelt Dam; an electronic game board that challenges kids to read the weather like a Valley farmer and a spartan camp dwelling mockup that plays a video on Japanese-Americans interned at the Poston and Gila River camps.
The Papago Park Museum is unique in its focus, too. In a state replete with geological wonders, ancient peoples and museums chronicling them, Papago Park tracks backward from “now.” A sweep of the museum’s desert cities exhibit takes Arizona from wartime prosperity, through the steady trickle of postwar retirees, to the emergence of air conditioning, the rise of Sun City and the Central Arizona Project water that made us an urban frontier. The “Wallace and Ladmo” exhibit frames the iconic Arizona kids show in 1950s-era suburbia.
“Chances are that you moved here at some point,” Tatum says. “This shows them how it became what it was when you arrived.”
With more than 25,000 separate objects — dating back as far as 3,000 years — the AHS archives remain a primary resource for the state’s historians and scholars. But their galleries make an inexpensive and generously air-conditioned stop for families who are tired of the heat, done with water parks, and anxious to exercise their minds for a little while.
The Arizona Historical Society is at 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, $3 for kids 12 to 18. Children 12 and under get in free. For more information on the Arizona Historical Society’s Papago Park Museum, call (480) 929-0292 or visit them online at www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org.