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Blaine County Historical Museum Spotlights a Letter Quilt and Rampaging Elephant
Museum trustee Bob McLeod stands next to a 1929 Ford Roadster that former Hailey Mayor Lawrence Heagle owned before it was donated to the Blaine County Historical Museum.
Wednesday, June 5, 2024


The Blaine County Historical Museum evoked thoughts of a circus as Wood River Valley residents stepped into the museum for the second annual Night at the Museum, designed to show off new exhibits for the summer season ahead of its Memorial Day opening.

Orange circus peanut candies lay piled into a bowl next to bacon-wrapped hors d’oeuvres, while pink, green and yellow bubblegum cigars sat in a cigar box next to tiny meatballs on toothpicks.

Most prominent was a new display showcasing Samson, the five-ton circus elephant who lifted an empty flat car with his trunk, smashing it into kindling wood, before running roughshod through the streets of Hailey overturning lion’s cages and crushing wagons and horses.

Elizabeth Jeffrey finds that these hearing aids of yesteryear really did amplify sound.

That event took place 140 years ago in August 1884 when W.W. Cole’s Circus came to town. And on exhibition is an account in the Lufkin Bible that refers to one of the guns used in the elephant’s hunt, as well as a full-page special edition of the Daily Wood River Times in which Publisher T.E. Picotte recounted the multi-hour rampage.

“Samson, the biggest elephant in the world, thought he had to do something grand for Hailey,” Picotte wrote.

Museum Director Rebecca Cox said the story will be reenacted this year during Hailey’s Days of the Old West Fourth of July Parade when a life-sized replica of the elephant will be entered into the parade.

“We’re hoping to get businesses to get into the act with clowns, stilt walkers, ringmasters and other circus acts,” she said. “Everyone’s having so much fun planning it.”

Greg Johnson serves up Old Fashioned Cocktails during the Night at the Museum, which kicked off the 2024 summer season for the museum.

In addition to the Samson exhibit, Cox has arranged some of Joe Fuld’s campaign buttons from 1820 to present since this is a presidential election year. The exhibit is thought to be one of the biggest personal collections in the United States.

“This is a real treasure—I have over 2,000 of the buttons,” she said.

The exhibit includes a look at presidents who attempted a second non-consecutive run for the White House, including Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Ulysses S. Grant and Herbert Hoover. Only one president won—and it wasn’t Teddy Roosevelt. It was Grover Cleveland, an anti-corruption crusader who served as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897.

The exhibit also notes that smear campaigns are nothing new.

“The Letter Quilt” believed to have been quilted in the late 1800s, featured a backing made of letters.

“Fighting word,” as they were called, persisted through the 19th century. In fact, in 1884 supporters of Republican presidential candidate James Blaine, for whom Blaine County was named, coined a jingle that alluded to an illegitimate child that his opponent Grover Cleveland allegedly fathered: “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, ha, ha!”

Those who wish to test their knowledge can try to identify a table of items, such as a hearing aid used in the 1800s. An array of trivia questions ask: What was Ketchum’s original name and why was it changed? Where was the Hailey Hot Springs Resort? And what was the name of the Native American tribe that summered in our valley?

(The U.S. Post Office insisted on changing Ketchum’s original name of Leadville because there were already too many Leadvilles in the country. The hot springs was out Croy Canyon in the vicinity of Democrat Gulch. And the Shoshone tribe summered in the valley catching trout in the Big Wood River.)

New exhibits include a colorful quilt made of silks and taffetas found at Sullivan Hot Springs, a stage stop when Ketchum was known as Leadville. Donated by Vicki Smith in 1967, it’s called the Letter Quilt because it was backed with letters because of the delicate materials it was made of.

Stephy Smith and Jeff Burley enjoy a sneak peek at this summer’s exhibits.

Says one letter dated 1883-1885: “I am leaving Leadville, stopping at Bayhorse and will be home in two weeks.”

The museum sports a variety of intriguing items, ranging from a mastodon tusk believed to be a million years old to a Playtape 1200 that used 4-track tapes, the predecessor to 8-track tapes. Next to it is a phonograph that plays a recording of inventor Thomas Edison’s voice in 1927.

Verla Goitiandia said she likes the variety in the museum but especially likes to look at the old quilts and embroidered pieces.

“I was born in the Fox Building when it had a hospital,” she said, referencing the building that now houses City Hall and the Hailey Public Library. “So, this brings old memories back.”

Melanie Dahl said she loves the classroom because she remembers the tiny desks she used to sit in.

“It amazes me how students sat in a class with a map on the wall and still managed to learn without all the computers and tools they have today. They taught people to think back then,” she said.

And what do the school kids who come through the museum gravitate towards?

That would be the player piano, said Bob McLeod. There are more than a dozen rolls of music to choose from, including one for Al Jolson’s “When the Red, Red robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.”

But the students? “They love the boogie woogie music,” said McLeod.


The Blaine County Historical Museum, with its motto “We are Behind the Times,” is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31. The museum is located at 218 N. Main St. in Hailey. Admission is free.

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