About 60 people turned out Saturday for the opening of the Hillsboro Museums’ exhibit of immigrant and traveling trunks that Mennonites from South Russia and Poland used to immigrate to the United States nearly 150 years ago.
Steve Fast, museum coordinator, said 13 such trunks are on display in the Kreutziger School on the museum grounds. One additional trunk is from a German Lutheran family from Durham. Four traveling trunks came with the Schaeffler family who migrated from Germany.
“Why is this important that we do this?” Fast asked at the start. “I think it’s because the people who built this town and built this county—and the state, really—brought their stuff in these trunks.
“Like Isaac Newton said, ‘We’re stranding on the shoulders of giants,’” he added. “Everything that we do here in this town is based on what people did 150 years ago. You can say we have a duty to honor them and remember them.”
During her greeting, Mayor Delores Dalke said events like this should prompt the current generation to consider how difficult the six-month trip from Europe and Asia was.
“What would you put in that trunk,” Dalke said. “You’re leaving to start a new life in a new country in a place called Hillsboro, Kan. You didn’t know much about it, you didn’t know what you were going to do.
“How would you figure out what you were going to take? I think it’s just absolutely remarkable that these people were able to do that.”
Local historian Raymond Wiebe, author of “Hillsboro: The City on the Prairie,” recounted the story of his great-uncle, David Henry Voth, who lived in Alexanderwohl Village in South Russia. Voth, a young woodworker and cabinet maker, was kept busy building several chests in 1873 for the mostly Mennonite immigrants who were heading to Kansas.
But Voth’s own dream of immigrating went unfulfilled when he succumbed to tuberculosis May 1, 1874, at age 19.
Wiebe said his immigrant forebearers, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean together on the ship Teutonia, landed in New York City on Sept. 3, 1874. A few days later on Sept. 7, they arrived in Marion County by train.
“We, the descendents of these pioneer families, need to express our thanks and appreciation for the many sacrifices our ancestors made to migrate to this land,” Wiebe said.
Following the program, the group gathered in front of the Kreutziger School for the formal ribbon cutting that officially opened the exhibit.
The special exhibit will continue through the end of September, and is supported by the David F. Wiebe Memorial Fund.
Visitors can view the craftsmanship of the wood, the fine dovetail joints, the handmade hinges, the exterior painting, and the pictures and letters pasted inside the trunk as decoration.
Regular museum hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tours can be arranged by calling 620-947-3775.
Admission, other than grand opening, is $5 for adults, $3 for students. Pre-school children is free.