KHS Collections Corner

A Behind the Scenes Look at the “Glamorous Life” of a Museum Courier

 Deborah Rose Van Horn, Registrar

Click here for a look at our courier image gallery–including pictures from behind the scenes at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum!

One of the most important things we do as collections caretakers is ensure that the collections are accessible to the public in a variety of ways.  As you know, KHS has been putting more of our collections online every week.  With that increased presence on the internet we have seen an increase in the number of loan requests from other museums.  Recently KHS was asked to participate in a very exciting project with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, an exhibit called The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.  The KHS Collections Committee reviewed the request carefully because one of the artifacts they wanted to borrow is one of our signature pieces, Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch.

KHS registrar and courier, Deborah Rose Van Horn.
Precious cargo in tow.

The shipping for loans can be done in several ways including using a specialized art shipper, staff from another museum picking the item up, or even by museum staff couriering the item.  The borrowing agency always pays for the transportation of the objects but the type of transportation is usually based on the needs of the object such as security, condition, distance it needs to travel, etc.  In this case the collections committee agreed to loan the watch and other artifacts but said that the watch had to be accompanied by two couriers to ensure that the watch was never left alone during the trip to the other museum.  Arrangements were made to fly the watch to California and included working with the staff at the other museum and the Transportation Safety Administration.

Leading up to the trip we were often told how lucky we were to be going and how much fun that we were going to have.  I’ve couriered artifacts before so I knew that this was not always the case.  Couriering can be exhausting and often you don’t get to see anything but the inside of an airport and a hotel room.

The day of the trip arrived and Beth and I arrived at the museum at 6am to pick the artifacts up and courier them to California.  They were packed to look like a normal piece of luggage so that we did not draw any additional attention to what we were transporting.  We headed to the Louisville Airport to catch an early flight.  We got to the airport around 7:15am and went through security.  We both waited nervously as the bag with the artifacts went through the scanner.  Once we were through security we both felt a little bit better about the trip.  We soon boarded the plane for the first leg of our trip to California.

The nice thing about traveling as a courier is that when you are with the artifacts you get to fly business class so that you can be one of the first on and first off of the plane.  We flew business class to Atlanta and had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before our connection to California.  We then flew to LAX where we were meeting Andrew, the curator for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.  For the first time either of us could remember our flight was early.  We actually beat our ride to the airport which meant that we had a nervous wait in the airport with the artifacts.

Andrew took us on a nice ride up the Pacific Coast Highway to Simi Valley and the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.  Along the way he pointed out some spots we might be familiar with from movies, news and historical events.  Some of the highlights included the Santa Monica Pier, the spot where Mel Gibson crashed his car, and the canyon where some of the Manson murders took place.  We arrived at the Library and used the back entrance to go directly to the collections storage area to deliver the artifacts.  The items were unpacked to make sure that nothing happened to them in transit and they were put in secure storage until they would be placed into the exhibit cases.

We got all of the paperwork signed and the delivery was complete.

Beth with Air Force One
Beth beside Air Force One.

At that point, we had the first chance to relax all day.  Andrew took us on a quick tour of the museum and showed us some of the highlights.  Some of the things we saw included the clothes Reagan was wearing when John Hinkley, Jr. tried to assassinate him in 1981; gifts given to the president and first-lady  on their trips around the world; cars from the presidential motorcade; and Air Force One.  Air Force One was particularly nice to see because you can actually walk through the plane and see what it looks like on the inside.  Then Andrew took us back to the hotel at LAX so that we could get ready for our early morning flight (5:50 am).

While we’d like to say that the hotel was fabulous the truth is that we quickly found an obstructed view and the listing of “day rates.”  We were tired but still needed to get something to eat.  Beth’s college roommate, Brittney, lives in the area and picked us up for dinner.   She took us down to Manhattan Beach where we ate at a seafood restaurant and saw the beach.

The next morning we were up at 3:30 am to make sure that we could get the shuttle to the airport and get through security in time to catch our flight.  We were actually the first ones through security that day at LAX and it was strange to see a busy airport like that with no one inside.

We flew back in the coach seats and we were back in Frankfort at 6:30pm to go home.  Overall, it was a very tiring trip as we worked 28.5 hours out of a 36.5 hour trip and dealt with time changes twice.

Loans like this one provide a great opportunity for KHS to be featured in an exhibit on the national stage.  As our online presence increases so do the number of loan requests.  Over the past two years since the Objects Catalog went online, KHS artifacts have been featured in more than 5 exhibits in other states and we have even received 3 international loan requests.

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Courier Image Gallery

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