False statements about mineral museum

False statements about mineral museum

The Arizona Historical Society knowingly defied state statutes when it locked the doors of the mineral museum and removed its contents in 2011.  Now, in response to ever growing controversy, the AHS is attempting to rewrite the recent history of the mineral museum.  The following  guest post submitted by the former curator corrects false statements made by the current AHS spokesperson, Marshall Trimble.  Mr. Trimble is AHS board president, a history teacher, and was appointed  official state historian by Governor Fife Symington.  In each of those positions, he has a professional responsibility to present history correctly.

AMMM name removal. Photo courtesy of Harvey Jong.
AMMM name removal. Photo courtesy of Harvey Jong.

An interview published by KPHO/KTVK Channel 3, http://www.azfamily.com/story/31441475/battle-over-mining-and-mineral-museum, quotes Marshall Trimble with several statements that are erroneous. This letter will provide documentation to correct these misconceptions.

1) “He says the museum was in such poor condition, they had no choice but to shut the doors.”

The Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum (AMMM) was in excellent condition. It was managed by the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources (ADMMR) and maintenance was carried out by the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA). The museum was turned over to the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) on July 1, 2010, and AHS continued to operate it with the same staff and the same procedures for 10 months until AHS suddenly closed the museum in May 2011.

Photographs of the museum and the many children and adults who enjoyed it are shown on my website: http://www.MiningMineralMuseum.com which documents what the AMMM was like in 2010.

The law that turned the museum over to the AHS very specifically required that AHS maintain the AMMM and the outside antique, working machinery in that location at 1502 W. Washington (Allen amendment to the 5 C Arizona centennial museum bill in 2010). AHS maintained the museum successfully for 10 months with the same staff and procedures as had ADMMR. The museum was in excellent condition when AHS closed the museum.

The upstairs portion of the museum was nearly empty and could have been used for exhibits for the new centennial museum. By keeping the museum open while adding new exhibits to the mineral displays, AHS could have continued to generate income from the gift shop. The gift shop took in from $200 to $1000 per day (inventory expenses were about half that), especially during the school year when the busses of school children attended the museum free. The income from the gift shop paid the salaries of the tour guides, most of whom worked less than 20 hours per week.

AHS had a choice to keep the museum open, but instead AHS chose to close it suddenly without notifying the buses of school children who showed up the next day for their scheduled tour. They did not even have an AHS employee present to explain why the children could not have their scheduled tour.

2) “We found when we went in there, we took photos of ducts leaking, collections on the floor,” he says.

I was Curator of the AMMM from August 2007 to October 2010 when I retired to restart my geological consulting business.  At that time, there were no leaking ducts and no collections were on the floor. Some large specimens, such as a huge polished petrified log and a large specimen of chrysocolla, were on the floor in the museum so that children could touch them. There were also large specimens on low shelves in the Kid’s Corner so that children could experience the physical properties of the minerals.

The deepest basement was not available to the public and was a private storage site for buckets and boxes of small pieces of rocks and minerals that had been crushed to be labeled by volunteers and put into the free Teacher Kits of 40 rocks and minerals. Those teaching materials were not part of the collections.

I continued to visit the museum after my retirement and was the Master of Ceremonies for the Volunteer Appreciation dinner in late April 2011, only a few weeks before the AHS suddenly closed the doors. There were no leaking ducts or water damage or collections on the floor at that time.

If there are ducts leaking or water damage, then that occurred after AHS closed the AMMM. I assume that no one was checking the roof scuppers that get clogged after windstorms or checking for any other problems. When the staff and volunteers were present every day in the museum, any problems were immediately brought to the attention of ADOA. If there are current problems, those are the responsibility of the AHS to notify ADOA, which has the responsibility (paid for by years of rent monies) to fix any damage.

3) “The whole collection was in disarray.”

The whole mineral collection was excellently cataloged and labeled. The 22,554 cataloged minerals, rocks, fossils, and/or artifacts had numbers assigned to them and samples were labeled in black ink on a white painted spot on each specimen. All mineral specimens on loan were documented with loan agreement letters signed each year by the lender; these were recorded with paper copies and electronically in files on the main server computer.

These samples were cataloged in a dBase file that easily opens in Microsoft Excel. Copies of all the electronic files on the museum were transferred to AHS by Nyal Niemuth of ADMMR/Arizona Geological Survey during the transition of the museum to AHS in 2010.

In addition, a volunteer photographed all the mineral samples in the locked basement storage room cabinets in her one day of volunteering per week for one to two years. In addition, I photographed all the specimens that were on display with my own personal camera during my own time. All of these photographs were in the files transferred to AHS in the summer of 2010.

A physical copy of information on each specimen was present in the card catalog cards and there were numerous volumes of journals documenting all the donations to AMMM since early in its history, while still at the state fairgrounds. This information was transferred to the electronic card catalog, but a physical copy was kept in the journal volumes. All donations were acknowledged with a personalized ‘thank you for the donation’ letter and records were kept of the numbers of donations for inclusion in the annual reports and were noted in the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner programs.

The collection was in excellent shape, and was not in disarray.

  4) “They did not meet the standards of the State Department of Education science standards.”

The 2008 State Standards for Earth Science were met by the talks given to each school group by the tour guides and by the search activities (Treasure Hunt for each grade level). In addition, each classroom teacher was given a Teacher Kit that included 40 rocks, minerals, and fossils, along with classroom activities using those materials.

The Earth Science standards met at AMMM included the following:

  • identifying physical properties of earth materials (samples to touch in the Kids Corner and Teacher Kit minerals and activities),
  • observing magnets and magnetism (the huge red magnet on the large magnetic meteorite was a favorite of the children),
  • classifying natural and manmade objects (especially the products made from minerals) – (the several exhibit cases of uses of minerals),
  • resource recycling (tour guide lectures/entertainment),
  • classifying objects by physical properties and composition (Teacher Kit minerals and activities),
  • uses of Earth materials (several exhibits of minerals and their uses),
  • identifying natural resources and natural resource conservation and understanding non-renewable and renewable resources (exhibit case showing mines and energy minerals),
  • observing energy resources (exhibit cases of coal, oil and gas, and uranium in Arizona),
  • collecting data with simple tools (physical properties of minerals),
  • learning about the rock cycle, water cycle, water resources, and Earth processes, such as plate tectonics (poster and exhibit of volcanoes, rock cycle with rocks the children could touch),
  • basic chemistry (mineral cases were organized according to anion group (Mineral cases were labeled on chemistry: elements, sulfides, oxides, sulfates, carbonates, halides, vanadates, molybdates, silicates, etc.),
  • Moon (moon rock exhibit) and planets of the solar system (meteorite exhibits and posters, and planet-scaled spheres exhibit and posters),
  • Earth layers and processes (poster and exhibit of geologic Precambrian history),
  • periodic table (poster and exhibit of native elements and minerals),
  • chemical reactions (mineral atom models, crystal shapes, color in minerals),
  • origin and evolution of the Earth system (fossil exhibits arranged by geologic time along with geologic time posters of each period when the fossils lived),
  • and origin and evolution of the Universe (meteorite exhibit and Early Precambrian poster and exhibit).

The State standards related to Earth Science were met.

5) “And it is working great. It is fixed. Why do we want to break it again?”

It is not working great and it is not fixed. I recently (October-November 2015) helped install the 1:87 (HO)-scale, Open Pit Mine Model in the Marley Building of the AHS museum in Tempe. I was present for the majority of 5 separate days (about once a week on various days of the week) and I only saw 5 visitors during that time – 3 on one day and 2 on a different day with 0 visitors the other 3 days. The small number of visitors at the AHS Tempe museum is an indication that the exhibits in Tempe are not working great and “it” is not fixed; these attendance numbers are documented in the AHS annual reports and public board meetings.

In contrast, the AMMM had about 50,000 visitors each year before it was closed. This included about 25,000 school children in tours and about 25,000 other visitors, with an estimated 15,000 of which were children. These visitor counts were produced by whichever tour guide or volunteer was at the entry desk clicking a counter for each visitor. Numbers of school children in tours were documented in the paperwork prepared by each teacher. These numbers were documented in the annual reports and in the programs for the Volunteer Appreciation Dinners each year.

I do not believe that the mineral exhibits at the Marley Building convey a scientific message about the chemistry of minerals. Instead they are typical of the old fashioned, “Cabinet of Curiosities”, style of museum exhibits, with no scientific organization or message.  

If erroneous statements are made by others about the museum, it is important to correct them with details. For views of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, as it was in 2010, visit my website: www.MiningMineralMusem.com,


MarshalJan C. Rasmussen, Ph.D.

Curator AMMM 2007-2010



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