Museums in Kansas aren’t dusty, dull or boring: They are vibrant, interactive facilities that use the latest technologies to engage visitors of all ages in their stories and discoveries.
The Sunflower State is brimming with first-class museums that not only rent out space for meetings and events, but also work hard to engage attendees in ways museums of the past never could accomplish.
Flint Hills Discovery Center
In Kansas’ beautiful Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Discovery Center is a science and technology center as well as a museum with exhibits. It focuses on the natural environment, plants and people that have called the Flint Hills home. The building’s design was inspired by natural elements in the Flint Hills. The stone on the outside and interior of the building was quarried in the area. The metal railing going up the staircase looks like the waving grass of the tallgrass prairie, and even the terrazzo floor was inspired by a river running through the hills.
Larger groups that want to meet at the discovery center can hold receptions in the exhibit space or rent out the entire facility for after-hours banquets or receptions of up to 400 people. Each floor can have food and drink stations.
Smaller groups can hold board meetings or retreats during the day in the center’s small meeting room and classroom space. Those spaces can hold up to 30 people. The private meeting rooms are just off the rooftop terrace, so attendees can get some fresh air without mingling with the museum’s daily visitors. All events there allow attendees to wander and explore the museum’s many exhibits, including the 4D “Tides of Time” film in the theater that talks about the Flint Hills’ unique and underappreciated ecosystem.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Museum and Boyhood Home
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum documents the early life and career of one of the United States’ most storied presidents. The museum underwent a major renovation and reopened in fall 2019 with 25,000 square feet of new exhibits. Using the latest in interactive technologies, visitors will learn about Eisenhower’s childhood growing up in Abilene, his marriage to Mamie Doud, his time in the Army as a five-star general and his presidential legacy. It also details the military decisions he made during World War II.
The new exhibits place more emphasis on Mamie’s role in the partnership and use the couple’s own words to emphasize different parts of their life stories. President Eisenhower, Mamie Doud Eisenhower and their first-born son, Doud Dwight, are interred at the Place of Meditation across from the Eisenhower home.
Groups that want to rent space in the library can expect to have a full museum experience as part of their event. The glass-covered Library Courtyard is the facility’s premier event space for up to 300 people theater style. The room is carpeted and has a beautiful crystal chandelier that hangs two stories above the space. Other spaces include the Library Auditorium, which is wonderful for lectures or presentations, and the Visitors Center Auditorium, which can host 250 people theater style. The staff at the museum can arrange rental packages that include tours of the museum and Ike’s boyhood home or other Abilene attractions.
Strataca Underground Salt Museum
Opened in 2007, Strataca is 650 feet below the earth’s surface and is the only place in the world where visitors can tour that far underground. The museum is housed in tunnels that were mined during the 1930s through 1950s. Many of the artifacts on display at the museum were left there by the miners, including personal artifacts and heavy mining equipment.
Groups can take a train or shuttle ride through two different sections of the underground mine. They also can tour the museum, which includes famous movie memorabilia on loan from Underground Vaults and Storage, a private company that stores items in the mine tunnels. The temperature in the mine perfectly preserves all kinds of artifacts, including Hollywood movies, costumes and medical records. A large underground event space gives meeting planners a truly original banquet or meeting experience for up to 250 guests.
“It is bigger than people expect,” said Holly Leiker, director of national sales and sports events for Visit Hutch. “The ceilings are super high, and there is a ton of space. It is not claustrophobic. It is taller and bigger than in a typical hotel ballroom banquet room.”
It takes 90 seconds to get down to the event space on the double-decker hoist elevator, which holds 30 people. And although hard hats are required in the museum exhibits, meeting attendees can remove them in the event center.
Boot Hill Museum
Learn the myths, tales and legends of some of Dodge City’s most notorious gunfighters, outlaws and marshals that called the city home during the late 1800s to early 1900s at Boot Hill Museum. Built on the site of the original Boot Hill Cemetery, the museum displays more than 20,000 artifacts in more than 30 exhibits that tell the stories of Kansas’ early settlers; the Native Americans who called the area home; lawmen like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday; the expansion of the railroad; and the booming cattle industry. It recently opened nine new interactive exhibits and the Mariah Gallery, a new 3,000-square-foot exhibit space that can host groups of up to 175 people. Union Church can hold up to 70 people.
The Front Street exhibit is a replica of Dodge City’s original main thoroughfare, with saloons, a drugstore, dry goods, and clothing and hardware stores. Behind the storefronts is one large building full of exhibits that can be rented out for meetings or events. The museum offers its own catering and also allows outside catering. The Long Branch Saloon and the Occident Saloon have sound systems, and the Mariah Gallery has a high-quality screen and projector that can be used in any of the museum’s meeting spaces.
Many planners like to set up food stations near different Front Street exhibits, like a dessert station by the guns or appetizers by the jail, allowing attendees to enjoy the history and exhibits while savoring a variety of cuisine and beverages.
Evel Knievel Museum
Children of the 1970s will remember daredevil stuntman Evel Knievel attempting to leap 13 buses on his motorcycle or jump Snake River Canyon in a small rocket, all while decked out in his trademark red, white and blue jumpsuit. He became famous not only for his successes but also for his crashes. The Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka tells his story through interactive exhibits, costumes, motorcycles and the Mack truck and trailer that Knievel used to travel around the country performing stunts. Fans can watch films in which he starred in the movie theater or click on X-rays of his body to see which bones he broke and when, or even try their hand at a virtual-reality motorcycle jump.
The museum, which opened in 2017, was the brainchild of Mike Patterson, owner of Historic Harley-Davidson of Topeka, and Lathan McKay, an actor and collector of all things Evel Knievel. Historic Harley-Davidson helped restore Knievel’s Mack truck and trailer and a couple of his motorcycles for McKay before the duo decided to build a museum to display McKay’s Knievel collection. Visitors and fans have trekked from all over the world to see the museum.
The two-story museum can host small events of around 30 people in its event room. Groups can order food from the museum’s restaurant and schedule a talk by a member of the museum staff as part of their event, or they can just browse the museum at their leisure when their meeting is over.