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Ax swung by Abraham Lincoln in his tree-chopping youth.
Ax swung by Abraham Lincoln in his tree-chopping youth.

Dakotaland Museum

Field review by the editors.

Huron, South Dakota

The Dakotaland Museum began as the Dairy Exhibit Building at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. It once housed a giant refrigerator displaying cheese and ice cream; now it whets appetites with over 20,000 unrefrigerated artifacts, all meaningful to the city of Huron and surrounding Beadle County.

Before television or movies, there were Magic Lantern slide shows.
Before television or movies, there were Magic Lantern slide shows.

"At the beginning, people would come to the State Fair and just bring stuff," said Louise Van Poll, the museum executive director. "Within two years they had to build an addition on the building."

So much is packed into the museum, said Louise, that she only recently discovered a large model of the city's minor league Memorial Ballpark (which is across the street from the World's Largest Pheasant) still in its travel box. It had sat on the floor as a room divider. "Apparently it'd been in the museum ever since it opened," Louise said -- and that was in 1960. "We didn't even know that we had it."

Fold-up model of Memorial Ballpark was hauled around, inspiring fans to fund its construction.
Fold-up model of Memorial Ballpark was hauled around, inspiring fans to fund its construction.

The museum has its share of regional oddities and unexpected exotica, including the head of a two-faced calf, a pair of Chinese shoes woven from straw and chicken feathers, a violin carried on Sherman's March to the Sea, and an entire showcase of State Fair mementos, including the 1929 Buttermaking Trophy. A 1940s permanent wave machine from a Huron beauty parlor is as dangerous as it looks. "My aunt's friend had her hair catch on fire in one of those things," said Louise. There's also the sign from the Waibel Hardware store -- notable, said Louise, because Glen Waibel died in 1953 under questionable circumstances after taking home a large amount of cash that was never seen again. "The police said, 'Oh, suicide,'" said Louise. "He was shot twice in the head! You don't shoot yourself in the head twice, you know."

Two-faced calf is over 100 years old.
Two-faced calf is over 100 years old.

Parked outside the museum is a locomotive from a South Dakota gold mine and a railroad box car from France.

Hundreds of taxidermy animals -- fish, birds, mammals -- are on display. All of them are from Beadle County and most of them are the handiwork of Hedwig "Hattie" Kouf (1869-1954). "She had a leg amputated and needed something to do," said Louise. "The postmistress suggested that she take up taxidermy." A stuffed eagle donated by Lorentz DeJager has an accompanying note card: "Found crippled in their yard and her father ran over it with a wagon to kill it."

White clothes were only for special occasions on the dusty prairie.
White clothes were only for special occasions on the dusty prairie.

Furry interior of the Children's Blizzard cabin.
Furry interior of the Children's Blizzard cabin.

One surprising relic in the museum is the ax of future President Abraham Lincoln. According to Louise, Abe and a man named William Henry Daugherty were lumberjacks in Illinois. Abe gave his ax to William, and when the Daugherty family moved to South Dakota the ax did, too, eventually finding its way into the museum. Louise said that its age has been verified by carbon dating of the wood handle.

The largest wood artifact at the museum is an old shack that's been reassembled indoors. Built in 1861, the shack is rare example of anything wood in South Dakota from that time; most early cabins on the treeless prairie were built of sod. The shack, Louise said, was where 11 people sheltered during the Children's Blizzard of 1888. "They called it that because so many children died trying to get home from school" -- a weather hazard that was not uncommon in the Dakotas. Sticking out of the shack's upper floor window is a bison head ("This buffalo was killed in 1878 by Sandy McCrosty") flanked by traces of yellow paint. Louise explained that in the 1920s the building was painted yellow as a directional aid for the often poorly-marked Black and Yellow Auto Trail (rival to North Dakota's Yellowstone Trail), the predecessor to today's US Highway 14.

Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, carved from an old piano.
Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, carved from an old piano.

The Beadle County kitchen of 1929.
The Beadle County kitchen of 1929.

Inside the shack are various articles of warm clothing made from animals. "If something died, you made use of it," Louise said. "Most of them are buffalo, one is wombat" -- even though wombats are only native to Australia. "I have no idea how we ended up with a wombat robe."

Beadle County has had a few famous and infamous people; the museum stresses the good ones. Hubert Humphrey, for example, spent several years in Huron working at his father's drug store. The future U.S. Vice-President is given an entire display case, including a portrait of him carved out of pieces of an old piano by Robert "Lindy" Lindfried. "He was just inspired to do that," said Louise of Lindy. "Apparently he had never done any carving before. I don't know if he ever did any after that."

Another local hero is Hollywood actress Cheryl Ladd, who replaced Farrah Fawcett-Majors as one of Charlie's Angels in the 1970s TV series. Cheryl gave the museum a Charlie's Angels poster and a t-shirt. "She's very low-key," said Louise. "She comes back to Huron for her high school reunions."

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Dakotaland Museum

930 3rd St. SW, Huron, SD
West of downtown. From SD-37/Dakota Ave. turn west at the stoplight onto 3rd St. Drive about one mile. After you cross the train tracks drive a quarter-mile. The brick museum building will be on the left.
Memorial-Labor Day M-F 10-6, Sa-Su 1-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $5.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Merci Box CarMerci Box Car, Huron, SD - < 1 mi.
White Buffalo StatueWhite Buffalo Statue, Huron, SD - 1 mi.
World's Largest PheasantWorld's Largest Pheasant, Huron, SD - 2 mi.
In the region:
Cornelius, Corn Palace Mascot, Mitchell, SD - 46 mi.

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