Home Living How Social Media Made the Denali Legacy Exhibit a Reality

How Social Media Made the Denali Legacy Exhibit a Reality

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At Denali Legacy, the Museum of the North‘s special exhibit, patrons will find the history of Denali at their fingertips. The exhibit opened in May and celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain.
The exhibit is highly interactive and includes a 3D representation of the mountain, push-button recordings of the climbers diaries, a documentary and artifacts. Exhibit goers are encouraged to don special pins identifying them with one of the climbers. Blank diaries have been placed throughout the exhibit which allow patrons to jot down thoughts about the challenges faced by both the climbers, as well as themselves in daily life.
But how does such an exhibit happen?
Below the special exhibit, in the bowels of the museum, is Angela Linn’s office. Linn is the exhibit’s guest curator and has been working on the Denali exhibit for years.
The origins of the exhibit are, to great extent, rooted on the internet. Linn did a simple Google date search and realized that the centennial of the ascent was on the horizon. What caught her attention was the actual men of the first ascent. Each one was unique and came from a different background: there were Native Alaskans (Walter Harper and John Fredson), a missionary (Hudson Stuck), a cook (Robert Tatum) and an outdoorsman (Harry Karstens).
When Linn realized that she wanted to tell their stories, the pieces began to fall into place. The team was excited about the project and they had funding, but there was a problem. “We didn’t have any objects for the exhibit,” Linn says. “We only knew of maybe one or two things that were still in existence.”
What to do?
“I put out this call through my blog,” she said. Not long after, a comment was left by William Tatum, a descendent of Robert Tatum. Linn said Robert Tatum was the exhibit’s mystery man. There was so little information about him that he was (and is) the only party member without a Wikipedia entry.
“I felt a sort of obligation to fill out his story and make the world more aware of his contributions,” Linn wrote in April on the Denali Legacy blog.
Linn and William Tatum began emailing back and forth. At the same time, she got in touch with Ken Karstens (expedition member Harry Karstens’s great grandson) over Facebook. Karstens, along with several other descendants of the original team, organized a centennial climb of the mountain and successfully reached the summit on June 28.
As Linn, Tatum and Karstens went back and forth over email and Facebook, they found another Tatum family member. “That’s how we ended up getting the flag,” Linn said.
The flag Linn refers to is the hand-stitched American flag Tatum raised over Denali. It was made during the ascent and pieced together from handkerchiefs and the padded lining of food cans.
As time went on, the exhibition team acquired various other items concerning the climb: a pair of goggles, a pickaxe, journals and a camp stove.
“It was huge,” Linn said, addressing the role social media and the internet played in the exhibit. “It was incredible, it was like half of what I was doing was being done over email, redirecting people to the website and to the social media platforms and posting photos as [artifacts] came through,” she said.
Linn worked closely with Theresa Bakker, the museum’s media coordinator. When a new artifact arrived, Bakker would take pictures and put them on Facebook. Oftentimes these posts would get shared by the people or organizations that loaned out the objects. “It was all over the place, it was incredible. It was the kind of outreach that there’s no way we could have gotten [before Facebook],” Linn said.
The use of email and social media helped the exhibition team get in touch with descendents, universities, societies and even cemeteries.
“I wish I could map all these crazy connections,” she said.
The exhibit will run through April 12, 2014. Admission varies from $4 to $12, depending on age, as well as student and residency status. The museum is located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.