Inside Council Bluffs’ Union Pacific Museum sits an antique silver set protected by glass. It’s an item you might breeze by on your way through the room, until Beth Maynes tells you this was Abraham Lincoln’s set from his Presidential rail car.
Now you look at the set and imagine President Lincoln himself taking a sip from the water goblet as he chugged along on the life-changing continental railroad. Well, that’s what would have been had the sixteenth President not been assassinated. Instead, the railcar was used to transport Lincoln’s body to his funeral and he never had the chance to sip from the silver set.
As the education coordinator for the museum, a position partially funded by the Iowa West Foundation, Maynes brings the Lincoln Collection and Union Pacific history to life. For 26 years as an elementary teacher she exposed her second-fifth graders to all things train and track. Now, she organizes those field trips and helps teachers in the metro area make the most of the museum and its artifacts.
“One of the biggest joys about my job is just being able to share the rich history that so greatly impacted the country’s development and still impacts children today,” Maynes said. “Students are always so surprised when I tell them that almost anything they own, from clothes to electronics, got here because of the railroad.”
Visiting a museum is no longer a passive activity for students who are eager to learn by doing. The Union Pacific Museum utilizes Kinect full-body gaming technology to show visitors what it was like to be “workin’ on the railroad.” There’s also a station where students can role-play using black powder to blow up mountains and make way for train tracks. The interactive displays and technology have enhanced the museum experience, along with the themed tours including:
In the two years Maynes has been transporting classes back to the 1860s as the education coordinator, program participation has more than doubled. It went from around 3,000 in 2008-2011 to approximately 6,000 in the last two years.
“Without the grant from the Iowa West Foundation, we wouldn’t be able to grow these programs or serve the volume of students we do,” said Alison Freemyer, Communications Specialist for the Union Pacific Museum.
Essentially, without Maynes, the Union Pacific story, from Lincoln’s silver set to his legacy of uniting and connecting the United States with the Pacific Railway Act, doesn’t get told to nearly as many students.
“The railroad is a major part of history and the only way to keep the story alive is to tell it,” Freemyer said. “The education coordinator position and the grant from the Iowa West Foundation allow us to tell that story.”
For a full list of tours and programs designed to line up with learning in the classroom, or for more information about teacher resource kits and packets, visit the Union Pacific Museum Tours and Programs page.