Inside the lobby of KU Natural History Museum, unsuspecting guests mill underneath a 45-foot-long mosasaur, seemingly oblivious to the marine creature’s razor-sharp teeth and whip-like spine. But the fossilized cretaceous-period animal remains harmless as visitors ogle it and many others housed in the museum’s 50,000-square-foot space. They run their fingers through the grooves in femurs dating back 150 million years, then time travel to the modern day in the panorama of North American animals, a sprawling display of animals frozen in realistic tableaus that often include fast food franchises in the background. Guests can also soak up insect energy in Bugtown, an area filled with human-size worm tunnels and a live bee colony.
At Kansas Learning Center for Health, kids don't learn about human anatomy from any regular skeleton. Instead, they learn from a more accurate model: Valeda. Shaped like the average woman, who is 5'7" and 145 pounds, Valeda has plastic bones and organs, wiring to represent her lymphatic and circulatory systems, and transparent skin. She even has a voice, which she uses to explain the benefits of a healthy lifestyle; her organs light up whenever she mentions them.
Valeda is just one of the engaging, interactive exhibits at the Kansas Learning Center for Health that helps kids understand their bodies. Others include huge model eyes, ears, and mouths, which kids can explore on visits with their families and schools.
In 1919, discouraged that artifacts of Wichita and Sedgwick County were disappearing, the Sedgwick County Pioneer Society began collecting and displaying historical items in the Sedgwick County Courthouse. Nearly a century later, what began as a modest collection of early memorabilia has expanded to nearly 70,000 Sedgwick County and Wichita-related artifacts, which together trace the history of the region from 1865 to the present. Now housed in Wichita’s original, renovated City Hall, the collection’s photographs, clothing, decorative arts, and household items enrich award-winning exhibits that tell tale of the area’s Buffalo-hunting days, Great Depression–era dust storms, and aircraft industry.
The museum is also home to three re-created environments from the region’s past. The garage re-creation holds a 1916 Jones Six automobile, the only such Wichita-built vehicle on public exhibit, and the drug store reproduces the feel of the popular early 20th-century neighborhood gathering place. Over in the Wichita Cottage, seven rooms of a Victorian-style 19th-century home house authentic period items such as a wooden icebox, a gas-and-electric ceiling light fixture, and a phone powered by animosity toward Rutherford B. Hayes.
At the Museum of World Treasures, a team of curators and historians gather artifacts from around the world to nourish the knowledge-hungry brains of families and students. Since opening in 2001, the diverse collection has grown to encompass three floors of the museum’s renovated warehouse location. Skeletons of dinosaurs loom over visitors in the fossil gallery, and an authentic Civil War cannon stands vigilant among the museum’s military exhibits, which span from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War. A plethora of interactive and historical displays also allow visitors to witness original footage from the discovery of the Titanic and feel humbled in the presence of signatures from every American president, including those not yet born. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Museum members can capitalize on myriad benefits, including discounts on educational programs and invitations to special events.
In 1910, Engine House No. 6 boasted space to accommodate four firefighters, two horses, and a carriage, which was the best way to reach the scene of a fire quickly. By 1918, though, the horses had retired, giving up their stall space and beloved supply of carrots to a brand-new fire truck. The move was part of Wichita's initiative to become the first all-mechanized fire department in the nation.
The neighborhood station served until 1953, when its half-a-century-old amenities proved too obsolete to serve the needs of modern firefighters. Still, the building represented an interesting slice of history, so in 1993, a group of local citizens and firefighters teamed up to restore the place and transform it into the Kansas Firefighters Museum.
Today, the museum recounts the above story and tells other local firefighting tales through various exhibits. They also offer fire camps, which are designed to give youth a hands-on look into the daily life of a firefighter, with participation and activity discussions geared to help attendees determine if firefighting may be their profession of choice. The museum's staff of volunteers also pride themselves on creating a great firefighter calendar full of hunky men and women wearing hard hats or wielding hoses. Proceeds go to the Coats for Kids program, which provides coats for hundreds of children in Kansas each year.
Housed in the one-time Calvary Baptist Church built in 1917 by members of the city's thriving black community, The Kansas African American Museum is a history and cultural center that tells the story of the African-American experience in Kansas. With historical photographs, authentic African artifacts, constantly changing exhibits, and artwork from past and current artists, the museum helps visitors get a glimpse of life from the 1800s to the present.