Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum Turns 50 June 9

On June 9 the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum turns 50 years old. The museum will kick off a year of celebration with a party from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. The program will include tours of the museum, demonstrations, and hands-on activities for people of all ages. Come put on a blubber glove to find out how marine mammals keep warm, or try your hand at some northern games. The program is free and open to the public.

The year 1967 was an eventful one. The US was involved in the Vietnam War, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American justice on the US Supreme Court, Pink Floyd released their first album, The Beatles and mini skirts were all the rage, the first Super Bowl was broadcast, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was published, and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum opened to the public.

More specifically, the Arctic Museum dedication took place on June 9, 1967 with Bowdoin College President James S. Coles presiding, and Arctic explorer Donald B. MacMillan, his wife Miriam, and Marie Peary Kuhne, daughter of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, in attendance.

Ian White, who in 1950 sailed with MacMillan on the schooner Bowdoin, designed the museum. He and a dedicated group of volunteers transformed the former Hubbard Hall library reading room into a museum. Funding came from Class of 1925 donations, George B. Know (Class of 1929), friends of the explorers, and other alumni of the college.

When the doors opened on the new museum, the first thing people saw was a painting of Peary and MacMillan dressed in furs, with polar bears, musk oxen, seals, and a walrus on a platform above them. Once in the museum, visitors experienced White’s state-of-the-art exhibits about expeditions led by Peary and MacMillan.

People who visit the museum today are still greeted by the fur-clad explorers and an expanded menagerie of Arctic wildlife, but much else has changed. The museum started with a collection of 745 objects, most of them donated by the MacMillans. Today, the museum cares for more than 40,000 objects, photographs, and films, many donated by generous individuals. Exhibitions feature contemporary Inuit and Native American art and craft from Canada, Greenland, and Alaska as well as historic materials documenting the work of Arctic explorers and scientists.

In the coming months the museum will host a variety of events celebrating the successes of the last 50 years and exploring the future of the rapidly changing Arctic. On June 9, however, the focus will be on fun – and of course, birthday cake.

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