Alice Sliger spent most of her 103 years amassing a priceless collection of Western art and iconic baseball memorabilia from players who wintered in her Buckhorn Baths resort in Mesa.
Archivists continue to be amazed at discoveries they’ve made since Sliger died in 2010, but some of the most treasured finds are at the heart of a new museum that’s opened in downtown Mesa.
The Mesa Historical Museum debuted a new location on Main Street about a week ago, with three exhibits featuring items that have never been seen by the public. Aside from baseball and Western art, the museum displays a Boeing Company exhibit with a piece of the Spruce Goose. Pieces of the wooden plane built by billionaire Howard Hughes have never been available outside the company’s headquarters or a museum in the Northwest, said Lisa Anderson, the museum’s president.
“This is a museum of firsts in many ways,” Anderson said.
The Boeing collection showcases a delicate rib from the Spruce Goose, which made just one famous flight with Hughes at the controls. Other items include medals or one-of-a-kind keepsakes Boeing received after selling aircraft to nations such as the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.
“These items have never been seen outside of Boeing,” Anderson said.
The exhibit tells the story of why the aerospace giant came to Mesa in 1982. It manufactures the Apache attack helicopter from a campus inspired by Hughes, but built after his death.
The Cactus League exhibit is one of many to appear across the Valley since the museum began the concept four years ago with 100 items. More than 4,000 items have been amassed, including items Sliger donated upon her death. Sliger and her husband, Ted, founded the Buckhorn in 1939 and for decades hosted teams for spring training.
The Sligers kept every registry until the hotel closed in 1999. The logs reveal that before John F. Kennedy was president, he spent several months at the Buckhorn in World War II while recovering from a PT boat collision.
“We just found that out,” Anderson said. “It’s a huge story. We’re still trying to pinpoint the story behind that.”
Archivists also discovered the Sligers were even closer to the New York Giants than imagined before, becoming virtual members of the team. Several items show the Sligers with the Giants during a 1967 goodwill tour of Japan. As with everything, Sliger kept everything she came across and made detailed notes that tell their story.
“It’s a dream for a museum to find this collection that’s so well documented,” Anderson said.
The Buckhorn collection also makes up a western art exhibit with works from two artists in residence who spent their final years at the resort. Arnold Krug and George Frederick left behind portraits and paintings of the Superstition Mountains.
The Western art and Boeing exhibits will be on display through February. Then, the museum will expand its Cactus League exhibit at the city-owned building at 51 E. Main St.
The museum will likely stay in that space until a permanent location is built at the former Federal Building in downtown. That building’s renovation is part of a $70 million bond election in November, along with funds for Mesa to purchase the Buckhorn Baths.
The museum’s main space at 2345 N. Horne will continue to operate on Saturdays with exhibits that include Wallace and Ladmo. The museum has long sought a more high-profile location.
“Hopefully with this new museum, we’ll be easy to find,” Anderson said.
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