10 North Monroe St. Eureka, Nevada
US Route 50 runs east-west through the middle of Nevada. Dubbed “the loneliest road” it stretches out for hundreds of miles between towns. Forty-five miles east of Hickison Summit is Eureka. The town was built from a history of mining, and the tales of smelter smoke enclosing it seem far-fetched considering the current wide-open views of sagebrush valleys and high desert mountains.
A block or two off of Route 50 is the county-run museum. The Eureka Sentinel Museum was named for the local newspaper that once operated out of the two-story brick building. Next door to the museum is a non-affiliated thrift and antique store. The proximity of these two begs a comparison. In both spaces, objects are valued because of their age and embedded history. In a thrift store, things can be held, examined, and priced. Time stands still. In the museum, value is implied. Since there are no price tags, we unconsciously trust the value due to the context and the accompanying narrative. In either space, the novelty is the age of the objects and arguably the connections they forge between the past and present.
When the Eureka Sentinel building was given over to the county, the 19th century printing equipment remained. The Sentinel’s pressroom became the ground floor exhibit once the museum opened to the public in 1982. With low lighting and walls covered in 90 years’ worth of handbills and posters, the pressroom is a genuine reflection of the building’s previous life. Often museums are a repository for artifacts that contain no references to the space itself. In the Eureka Sentinel, particularly the pressroom, the history of the building is in the limelight. Even though the space has been added to and staged for the public, there is a level of authenticity.
This sense of the genuine is mostly on the shoulders of the artifacts left on the walls. In an institution of preservation, time is allowed to take its toll on these objects. There is no glass to shield them and the haphazardness of their layers can only come through the unconscious pasting of handbill on top of handbill over the course of years. The whole room is on the cusp between true history and a staged scene.
The upstairs floor of the museum has been refurbished and arranged into exhibits based on available artifacts. It’s a counterpoint to the pressroom. Objects are orderly and contained, stagnant in their safe homes. The cases of mining equipment and fraternal order regalia call to mind a quiet question. Instead of what is actually present in the museum, what isn’t there? The mule carrying the pack; the arm of the shopkeeper resting on the counter; the squeak of chairs on a classroom floor; all of these can only be imagined by the visitor. They are the actions and sounds of history, which are hard to capture let alone display. The gap is left open for the visitor’s imagination to fill it in.