That Kid, Returns to the Salisbury House.

That kid, returns to the Salisbury House.
By Wayne L. White, Winter Site Manager, Amundsen-Scott Station, South Pole

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Over 50 years ago, on a beautiful spring day, a Des Moines elementary school class visited the Salisbury House. Being kids, there was much merriment and probably some chaos that day as the class toured the great home. Their teacher had both her resolve and patience quite tested that day as she tried to ensure the kids moved through the house in a respectful and orderly fashion. In that class, one kid may have enjoyed it a little more than the rest. That kid had dreams of being an explorer. For that kid, growing up in Des Moines provided the backdrop for great adventures as local streams became the Amazon River, small sections of woods, impenetrable jungles and the Iowa winter ice and snow, the polar icecaps. That kid was amazed by the very structure of the Salisbury house and it grounds, which to him was a full-fledged English castle. That kid marveled at the homes contents and vast collections of items from ancient times. In those years, shrunken heads collected from the South American Amazon basin were on display in a glass case. That kid after seeing them while walking through with the class, snuck back to get a closer look. That kid had the teacher have to go back to get him away from that case and join the class. That kid had an unforgettable experience that day at the Salisbury house.

That kid went on to be an explorer and later in life journeyed to King Tuts tomb in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Amazon jungle (where he found no shrunken heads but did get a blowgun and poison darts), the most remote jungles in New Guinea and many other exotic places. That kid ended up the Winter Site Manager at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. That kid spent a year at the South Pole facing temperatures of minus 100F and months of darkness. That kid bought a modest, historic home in Texas where he developed a collection of interesting exploration related items from around the world and put them on display. That kid never forgot the Salisbury House and that beautiful spring day.

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NG River cross

Many years later that kid returned to the Salisbury house. I was that kid. Upon entry, I could remember the awe I had felt all those years ago looking up at that beautiful ceiling with the darkened beams, the fireplaces that at the time seemed enormous and the stone and wood floors. This time I saw no shrunken heads but witnessed something I would not have been able to fully understand and appreciate as a kid, the warmth, passion and love, the staff had for the place. That was very apparent upon entry. I also noted that while the Salisbury House seemed to be much the same as I remembered it, the city of Des Moines had grown and now had an extremely modern and beautiful downtown area. While the Salisbury House is nestled in its perpetual place in time, around it, the world was changing. The Salisbury House is a jewel for the city of Des Moines and with proper stewardship will continue for many generations to invigorate the imaginations of old and young.

I hope that kids will continue to tour the Salisbury House. Those kids will enjoy the tour and the break from the normal classroom routine. Those kids will have access to vast amounts of knowledge undreamed of 50 years ago. In those groups, there will be kids that will be more affected by the place than the rest. Those kids will be strongly drawn to the historical nature of the house, its collections and grounds but will also be looking toward the future. Those kids may not stand in an Egyptian tomb or on a polar ice cap. Those kids will stand on Mars. South Pole December 14, 2016 3PM


The ISEA Years by Sheila Bingamann

saliisbury guide book cover

The ISEA Years

Each year in the late 1960s the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) held a convention in Des Moines during October. For those of us in the Des Moines Schools it meant an all-day recess in the beautiful fall weather. During their convention, ISEA opened the Salisbury House for tours by their members. In 1969 as a senior at nearby Roosevelt High School, I was honored to be a student-guide in the House. I recently found my notes from this tour and the Guidebook published by ISEA with a copyright of 1967. These documents record how the house was used by the ISEA.

The First Floor

Only a few rooms on each floor were available to tour. The first floor rooms included the Great Hall, the Common Room and the Library. According to my memory, the Common Room still had its original draperies in 1969. The Library or as the ISEA referred to it the “Rare Books Library” had become the office for the secretary to ISEA’s Executive Secretary. The Dining Room was the Executive Secretary’s office. The breakfast room was work space for two additional secretaries. The kitchen and pantries were office space for the Publications Division of ISEA.

The Second Floor

To access the rooms on the second floor, we merrily went up and down the main staircase on the Wilton Carpet. The only rooms on public view were Mrs. Weeks’s bedroom, Mr. Weeks’s bedroom, the Coachman’s Room and the Queen Anne Room. Mrs. Weeks’s sitting room was the women’s lounge. Mrs. Weeks’s beautiful lavender bathroom was the women’s public toilet (Oh My!). Mr. Weeks’s bathroom served at the men’s public toilet. (Was it during this time that the marble sink was broken?) His bedroom was the ISEA board room with the dining room table used as the board room table. The four boy’s bedrooms were used as office space.

Basement and Third Floor

After the ISEA members were given tours of the first and second floors, the tour continued up the back staircase to the third floor. The third floor was used as offices for the Public Relations and Research Divisions of ISEA. Steel cupboards that had previously been in the kitchen and pantries were relocated to the third floor for storage.

After touring the third floor, the ISEA members proceeded down to the basement level which housed more offices for various ISEA divisions. There is a reference on page 27 of the Guidebook to a gymnasium in the basement. Finally, the Indian Room was used as a conference/dining room with a kitchen/cafeteria next to it.

The Mystery of the Dining Room Table

One of the ongoing debates at Salisbury House was whether the dining room table (circa 1600) was cut down by the Weeks or ISEA. The Guidebook appears to answer that question:

“The board room table was originally the dining table in what is now the executive secretary’s office. It has been refinished and restyled but is still supported by the carved bulbous legs of the original table. The table top is now narrower at one end to give all board members a full view of the chairman.” (page 25)

Pictures and Furniture Moved

A number of pictures and some major pieces of furniture were exhibited in different locations. The Van Dyck portrait of Cardinal Rivarola was displayed in the Common Room. It had been loaned out for an exhibition of Van Dyck’s work at Genoa, Italy (Cardinal Rivarola’s home town). The Guidebook claims that the painting is “one of the three greatest of Van Dyck’s works.” (page 16)

The Warwick Romney (now no longer thought to be a genuine Romney) and George Romney’s portrait of Lady Charlotte Milnes were hung in the Dining Room. Both of these paintings are now in the Common Room.

Two Stella paintings were in the East Passageway. These included the Birth of Venus now in the Great Hall and Tree of My Life which was sold by the ISEA for much needed funding.

Finally the choir stalls from Wimbourne Abbey that are now in the upstairs passageway were located in the Friendship Hall.

I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane. A copy of the Guidebook and my notes are available for perusing.  Feel free to have the admissions desk associate in the Great Hall of the museum to show you these, if you’d like.

Salisbury House Guide book back cover