“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
While you visit this fair city of Santa Fe, one of the very brightest experiences you can have is a tour of the stellar New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors, a National Historic Landmark. It is a completely mesmerizing experience, starting with the sentineling photograph of the “Historical Hysterical” parade from 1929. The desire for a bustier and hoop skirt begins here (oh, and a train ride)! But before your craving to cross-dress can be realized, you are transported to another world by entering the Core Exhibit Gallery, where you will time travel from pre-historic civilizations of New Mexico to the arrival of the conquistadors and follow the Santa Fe Trail to Billy the Kid, the Harvey Girls, Code Talkers, the Manhattan Project, and beyond. You have only begun your journey, so be prepared to stay a while.
A distinctive emblem of our nation’s history, The New Mexico History Museum anchors a campus that includes the Palace of the Governors (built around 1610, it was the seat of regional governments from Spain, Mexico, the Confederacy and the U.S., and has served as the residence for Spanish, Mexican, and American governors, including Ben Hur author Gov. Lew Wallace. Today, it houses, the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, the Photo Archives, and the Palace Press (this working exhibit includes New Mexico’s first printing press).
This museum amazes with the attention to detail and the plethora of displays, many interactive. At the time of this article, the current exhibit Cowboys, Real and imagined, is on display until March 2014. Be watchful of enthusiastic children of all ages with lassoes and cowboy hats (on loan from the museum dressing room) carousing in the nearby roping practice area! “One of the reasons the cowboy myth has been so pervasive and long-lasting is because anybody could become a cowboy of sorts,” says guest curator B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West. The cowboy is Spanish, Mexican, African American, Anglo, male, female, straight and gay. His image has been co-opted to sell trucks, beer, boots, jeans, tires, cigarettes, presidential candidates and a lifestyle image that belies the true cowboy life: A rough-hewn job stacked against steep odds and a big sky that can deliver sunshine, tornadoes, droughts and snowstorms. Whether you have a cowboy fantasy or not, this exhibit offers a truly outstanding museum experience and is accompanied by a year’s worth of free events, including a screening of classic Western movies filmed in New Mexico and a lecture and slideshow from Out West producer Gregory Hinton and photographer Blake Little entitled “Pride in the Saddle in New Mexico: The Story of Gay Rodeo.”
Maybe George Santayana’s quote is true, but when you’re at the New Mexico History Museum, you will leave with a sense of historical romance that will make you wish you could go back in time (and wear those spurs) at least for a enlightening visit. Visit their website.
Palace Ave., north side of Plaza, Lincoln Ave., west of the Palace, Santa Fe,
Cost: $9, 4-day pass $20 (good at all 4 state museums and Museum of Spanish Colonial Art), free Fri. 5—8
Hours: Tues.—Thurs. and weekends 10—5, Fri. 10—8
Mon. 10—5 June—early Sept