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Beltrami County Historical Society to feature hands-on history events for summer

The Beltrami County Historical Society is welcoming two new exhibits and other exciting changes this summer.

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The Beltrami County Historical Society's "High School Reminiscing" exhibit will open May 28 at the history center.
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BEMIDJI — Exciting changes are coming to the Beltrami County Historical Society, starting with two new exhibits focused not just on connecting people to the area’s history, but their own.

Both exhibits open this weekend just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer.

The first, "High School Reminiscing," is a tie-in with the upcoming Bemidji All School Reunion which will be held in July. The exhibit will highlight different aspects of local high school life and history, much of which those who attended Bemidji High School will find familiar.

“We hope that people will feel a connection to it,” said Emily Thabes, the historical society’s executive director. “We’re going to be showcasing all aspects of high school throughout multiple decades.”

The second exhibit, "Century of Play," is in partnership with Minnesota’s Historic Northwest, an organization that includes museums across the region.

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The Beltrami County Historical Society's "Century of Play" exhibit will open May 28 at the history center.
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The collaborative exhibit will examine childhood and play, and display the different toys and games people have enjoyed throughout the centuries and approaching the modern day.

“Each specific museum will showcase toys and games from their own collection, so we’re really excited about that,” Thabes said.

The exhibit will also incorporate programming and other ways to engage with history, from game nights to toys that museum visitors can interact with.

“We will have games and toys that folks can play with at the museum as part of the exhibit, and then we’re planning some different game nights,” Thabes said. “I think it’s going to be a really cool exhibit.”

The goal of these exhibits and their interactive nature is to foster a personal connection with history and to help visitors recognize their own connections to it.

“Sometimes people think about history as this far away thing, far behind them, something that they read about in a book or had to memorize in school,” Thabes said. “We’re hoping that this will engage more folks with history.”

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An assortment of board games will be on display as part of the Beltrami County Historical Society's "Century of Play" exhibit to open May 28 at the history center.
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By focusing on childhood experiences and memories, Thabes also hopes that the exhibit will provide opportunities for older generations to connect with younger ones and form new memories.

“Experiences playing with toys and games for many people are experiences of joy and happiness,” Thabes said. “I’m really hoping that people will gain from this a connection to their childhood and spark new memories with families and generations growing up now.”

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The exhibits aren’t the only exciting changes coming to the historical society, the museum has also recently expanded its hours, which was made possible by a generous donation.

The museum will now be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, something Thabes hopes will be a permanent change.

“We recognize that the limited hours that we have had are not really conducive for a lot of people,” Thabes said, “we’re hoping to make this a permanent change.”

The historical society has two large ongoing projects. The first is transferring all of its records to a cloud system so that they can be accessed online, and the second is working to repatriate some Native American artifacts that are a part of its John Morrison collection.

“We’re not only really excited to be able to do right by those artifacts and by the tribes, but also we’re learning about our history and our collection,” Thabes said. “That’s going to be so valuable.”

With all of these changes coming this summer, Thabes is looking forward to interacting with the community and keeping them updated on the exciting things happening with the historical society.

“There’s just a lot of really great stuff we’ve been able to bring,” Thabes said. “It’s been exciting to see so much growth and work done toward community history.”

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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