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AROUND TOWN: Colorado Springs residents' history told in state-of-the-art Pioneers Museum exhibit

January 25, 2017 Updated: January 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm
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photo - Lydia Vallejo Martinez, Vallejo's Restaurant
012917 Photo by Linda Navarro
Lydia Vallejo Martinez, Vallejo's Restaurant 012917 Photo by Linda Navarro 

It's "The Story of Us: The Pikes Peak Region from A-Z," and a virtual, interactive puzzle of Colorado Springs then and now.

Pioneers Museum Director Matt Mayberry said it "makes history relevant today" as it answers residents' curious questions: "Where was this thing?," "What was that thing?" and "What's that thing now?"

He welcomed guests to a reception/ribbon cutting Jan. 13 opening "The Story of Us" as he and Curator/Archivist Leah Davis Witherow laughed about their early challenges trying to explain to grant makers how they would present local geography, today's technology and yesterday's history in the most modern of ways, including overlaying the old plats and maps with today's on interactive screens. Each letter of the alphabet would be an actual local history exhibit. Grant makers turned them down saying it hadn't been done and probably couldn't be done.

They looked for a project "even remotely like this" and couldn't find one. "So we made it up and made it up and made it up...up until 4 p.m. today," the night of the reception before the public opening the next day, Witherow said as guests burst out laughing. They've been working on all the intracacies for several years, "so long I've acquired reading glasses," Witherow said with a chuckle.

As they were heading toward the finish line of this groundbreaking museum project, an anonymous donor went where grant makers wouldn't, donating $300,000 spread over three years.

There to cut the ribbon and open the doors were many family members from the "V" exhibit: Vallejo's Restaurant. Lydia Vallejo Martinez had tears as she looked at the little table and place setting straight from their Mexican restaurant, Phil Vallejo's art and the newspaper clippings from the years since the tiny eaterie opened in 1962.. A painting hangs in the place of honor, the family matriarch, Lydia's mother, the late Paula Hernandez Vallejo, subject of many fond stories about her secret recipes that became anticipated daily specials: sour cream green chili enchiladas and chiles rellenos.

"The Story of Us" technology gurus and exhibit developers were there to answer questions and walk guests through the interactive maps on large screens: UCCS geography professor John Harner and Tierra Plan's Kevin Knapp, who specializes in web-based Geographic Information System software and mapping.

Inside the lettered exhibit area there's a Nikola Tesla "T" corner with an electric coil, coal mining history and mine locations and over in "E" there's Palmer High Hall of Famer Cassandra Peterson's Elvira costume and exhibit. Lon Chaney's silent films run on a screen beside the exhibit telling his family's local history. Many of the exhibits are accompanied by audio memories.

Guests at the opening were emphatic that they would be back time after time to slowly read through all the stories and go through the pictures. And to play with the technology to find their own part in what has made Colorado Springs.

"The Story of Us," like all the Pioneers Museum exhibits, is free and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 215 S. Tejon St., cspm.org

(Additional story: tinyurl.com/zfvw8ey)

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