LIMA — The Allen County Museum was bustling with activity Thursday evening as members of the public took a journey into history.
Thursday evening marked the inaugural Night at the Museum, a chance for the public to interact with notable characters from the county’s past as portrayed by area residents. From 6 to 8 p.m., people got to interact with such characters as Phyllis Diller, Easter Straker and Sheriff Jess Sarber. With more than 40 historical figures represented, making this event happen was an undertaking, but one the museum staff was happy to take on.
“It’s actually gone pretty smoothly,” Patricia Smith, director of the museum, said. “There were a lot of logistics of getting everything set up and getting everyone what they needed. Some people were bringing in collections of their own, so they needed a table or something to help.”
The museum had considered hosting this kind of event for some time before finally committing to do it.
“This is something a lot of our volunteers have wanted to do for a while,” Smith said, “and there are lots of museums that have living history programs, and we’ve just never really pursued it, because to really get into it seriously, there’s a lot of work involved. So we thought this was kind of a fun way to stick our toe in the water.”
When word got out that members of the public would get the chance to take on these roles, the response was immediate and enormous.
“So many people were excited to be a part of this,” Smith said. “We even had people last week calling and asking about playing characters.”
For those volunteers who were able to dress up and participate, the job required a great deal of committment.
“They spent time coming in and using our library in the museum to research these people, gathering materials, watching any videos that could be shared,” Smith said. “Of course, some of these characters go back so far that there’s no film or anything. A few don’t even have photographs, but most of them do. We have quite a bit of information in the files here.”
The fact that these volunteers took their roles very seriously spoke to the museum’s committment to educate during this event as well as entertain.
“We wanted to make it fun, but we wanted to put some seriousness into it,” Smith said. “It’s really interesting, and it’s how people get passionate about history, when they start digging in and really learning about someone in their community, and we’d like to share that passion with others.”
The museum’s hope is to draw people in who would normally would not be interested in visiting.
“It’s something new and different, and we’re hoping that for people that maybe don’t think about coming to the museum, these kinds of events will attract them so they’ll want to spend time coming here,” Smith said. “Hopefully by interacting with the characters tonight and learning about some people that were in Allen County, they’ll want to come back and learn some more.”
Judging by the size of the crowd wandering the halls of the museum Thursday evening, the museum was able to do just that, and this may prompt future Nights at the Museum.
“If we get a good response and the community enjoys themselves, we’ll definitely want to do it again next year,” Smith said.