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Museum Binge Leaves Hangover In Harrisburg

It was a heroic effort.

After nearly ten years of trying, mayor Stephen Reed of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, finally seems ready to give up on his plan to create a “critical mass” of museums that would have turned Harrisburg into a cultural mecca that would take days to visit.

The idea was to create five museums: the National Sports Hall of Fame, the National Civil War Museum, the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum, an African-American history museum, and a Wild West museum. Forget, if you can, the logic behind locating these museums in Harrisburg (population 49,000) — the point was the mass.

Reed flew highest and farthest with his Wild West museum. He spent a reported $8.3 million on western artifacts, but the museum never got off of the drawing board, and the city now has almost 8,000 Western items in a warehouse with nowhere to put them.

In fact, only the Civil War and Fire museums ever opened.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this is to take attraction-planning out of the hands of politicians? Don’t say that to Loren Pepperd, a candidate for the city commission in Manhattan, Kansas (population 50,000). According to the Manhattan Mercury, he believes that the city needs “a tourist attraction that’s a whiz bang,” and proposes that it build “a space needle you could see from the interstate … with a restaurant on top.”

Maybe that’s not the most practical idea, but people like us would certainly detour to see it. Space needles in Kansas and Wild West museums in Pennsylvania are what visionary leadership is all about.

And would you really want your city’s attractions to be chosen by your fellow citizens? That would be fine with a letter-writer to the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California. “We are a tourist city and our city needs help,” he wrote. “Why not use one of the many vacant lots in downtown … as a site for growing medical marijuana? A display like that would be an incredible tourist attraction.”

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