This opinion piece by editor F.S. Breen originally ran in the Coconino Sun on Sept. 15, 1922 with the headline "Our Antiquities Going to other Cities -- Why Not a Museum Here?" It has been trimmed a bit for brevity, but the full version is available online.
While museums all over the world are being enriched by tons of marvelously interesting relics of the ancient peoples who lived in the country around Flagstaff – the most ancient and most interesting relics to be found anywhere in America and in many respects more unique than can be gathered in any other place in the world – why don’t we people of Flagstaff get busy and have a museum of our own?
Others realize their immense scientific, intrinsic and sentimental value. Are we of all the people in America the only ones who do not care for them?
Time was when nearly every resident of Flagstaff had a collection of the curios with which all this country was so lavishly sprinkled. Mummies, ancient pottery, weapons, Indian jewelry, garments, household implements, hieroglyphics and many other things. Many still have collections of this nature. But they are gradually becoming scattered.
Old-timers here who could have filled a wagon with splendid curios in a day at any one of the numerous ruins scattered all over this section regarded them very lightly. They made very little attempt to collect them and even those things they did gather were for the most part given away, broken or lost, or abandoned in moving to some new home.
The writer knows one Flagstaff man who had thousands of dollars worth – as the values run now – of ancient pottery, some of the pieces magnificent specimens, and of household and war implements. Practically all of them are smashed now and even the fragments are gone.
Smithsonian Institute and other great museums every year send experts into this country to search for these reminders of an ancient people. Many carloads have been taken away to enrich these institutions and many other carloads by private individuals for their own collections. Until now the finding of an unbroken Indian relic is a rare event, especially as the more extensive ruins are under government protection and individuals may not trespass except at risk of prosecution.
What has Flagstaff, the center of this richly-historic country, to show present and future generations in connection with the early craftsmen and craftswomen who lived here centuries ago? With each generation the interest in and love for these relics increase. With each passing month our scattered stores of them decrease. These relics are immensely valuable to institutions and private collectors in eastern states and foreign lands. Aren’t they worth anything to Flagstaff?
The visitor here can find some of these interesting relics on display at our curio stores. They are placed there for sale. They are being carried away to other cities and other states daily, and even these commercial displays will soon be a thing of the past.
Some action should be taken about this, at once. Each year that passes will make it more expensive to act and the result to be gained will be smaller. There should be some designated organization, one of those now existing or another organized for that specific purpose, charged with the duty of gathering, cataloging and housing just as many and as great a variety of these relics as it is possible to get hold of.
It will cost some money, but it will be an investment well worth making. The city could and should assist by appropriation if necessary. Our citizens will many of them assist financially, once the work is organized along definite and proper channels and many more will assist in a still more important way, by contributing all or part of the collections they now have.
If the matters were properly handled, we could within three months have a museum of our own, worth traveling many miles to see, a museum that would preserve for us the memory, traditions and habits of the interesting people who lived here before we came, a museum that would enhance in interest and value each year and ultimately would become famous all over this country, if not, indeed, throughout the entire world.
It would be a wonderful work for the Woman’s club. If taken hold of in a vigorous way by that organization, it would hasten the financing of their proposed new club house, for it would give it a greater importance in the minds of people outside of the membership. Because that clubhouse could house and that organization handle the collection and care for it. If the Woman’s club would adopt a vigorous and definite plan along this line, it undoubtedly would result in financial help that would make their club house something soon to be realized. It would also give the organization greater permanency, something additional worthwhile to work for.
What a fine thing it would be to have that big club-house, with a museum of our own antiquities, perhaps also containing the city library. Flagstaff would have something to be proud of, something she will ultimately keenly regret not having unless our public-spirited people get busy.
The Sun does not claim credit for this idea. It was brought to our notice in a letter recently received by J.C. Clarke of Flagstaff from Harold J. Colton of Ardmore, Pa., who knows this country better than most of us do and who is a collector of note officially connected with the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. Mr. Clarke is himself a collector who gives all his spare time to the work. Mr. Colton in his letter said:
“There is a growing interest in the antiquities about Flagstaff. Would it not be possible for those interested to form a local antiquary society so that the collections that have been made by the local residents can be brought together in a local museum, which, if properly handled, would be a benefit to science and an added resource to the city of Flagstaff. If such a society should be formed I would be very glad to aid it in any way that I can.
“It is a shame that valuable material which is dug up every year is unrecorded and sold to outside agents.”