Museum secures grant to process Red Skelton artifacts - InfoNews

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Museum secures grant to process Red Skelton artifacts

April 10, 2019 - 12:48 PM

VINCENNES, Ind. - A year ago, officials at the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy watched eagerly as a truck full of boxes donated by Skelton's widow, Lothian, pulled up out front.

They've spent the months since carefully unpacking them, sorting the contents and uncovering the mysteries held within.

It's been an exciting, yet very expensive, task.

"We budget $1,000 every year for archival storage," said Anne Pratt, the museum's director of marketing, as she stood amid stacks and stacks of boxes. "We ran out pretty quick."

Pratt announced last month that the museum had received a grant from the Indiana Historical Society, money to be spent primarily on proper storage of the memorabilia.

The $3,300 will go toward the purchase of boxes, Pratt said, that cost as much as $20 apiece, to properly house and keep the museum's collection of Skelton artifacts.

"We have stuff falling out everywhere," Pratt said, gesturing to cardboard boxes on shelves, their sides splitting to reveal the paper contents inside. "We worry about it getting damaged.

"So this money, it's really going to help us to preserve these memories Lothian sent. We'll be able to buy hundreds of boxes to properly house this stuff."

Lothian Skelton has a long history of donating artifacts to the museum; in the beginning, they were larger, more impressive pieces, like some of her husband's most beloved character costumes and original paintings.

This latest donation, however, consists largely of paperwork and photos.

"These boxes here," said Mark Kratzner, the museum's curator and archivist, gesturing to several shelves of boxes, each marked with a particular year. "These are contracts, scripts, photos, things like that, all having to do with his TV shows."

"There's one contract in here," said Pratt, "that features The Rolling Stones' signatures because they appeared on his show. The publicity shots are there as well.

"It's all so interesting."

Another box was full of old audio film, Kratzner said, everything from live shows and performances to rehearsals of his famed Pledge of Allegiance.

Still another, Kratzner said, was full of clown dolls.

"He kept everything he ever had, every gift, everything," he said of Skelton.

But not all the boxes contain obvious treasures.

As they've unboxed and sorted over the past 13 months, Kratzner and Pratt have found everything from newspaper clippings to business contracts and even tax returns. There are informational pamphlets from the cities he visited and programs from his live performances.

And Kratzner is painstakingly going through every box — every single piece of paper — cataloguing it, photographing it, and organizing it all by date and into categories, all in the hope of someday, should the grant dollars become available, digitizing it for online searches.

"We'd love to have a database where someone could enter the date 1980 and see all that Red did that year," Pratt said. "We want to get it all on some kind of searchable website so people can see all the treasures we have."

And while it might be tempting to dispose of things like finance reports and tax documents, Kratzner can't help but think that someone — somewhere — might find it all as interesting as he does.

"As a historian, I think it might be interesting to see what his finances were at a particular time," he said, "or even what he bought."

Kratzner, too, said the boxes have revealed much about Skelton's life after his popular TV show ended in the summer of 1971.

"People thought he was forgotten because he wasn't on TV anymore," Kratzner said. "But these boxes tell us what he was doing. He was performing, doing social events. He was a major star everywhere he went.

"All of this proves it," Kratzner said gesturing to a table full of records. "This is a recorded history of his life after television."

But the boxes, too, have revealed something more.

Most everyone knows Skelton from his time in film, television and radio. They know him for his infectious smile and beloved comedic routines.

But there was more to him than clown costumes and big floppy shoes, Pratt said.

"One trunk we opened was full of Japanese clothing, kimonos and shoes, even artwork" she said. "He had a huge passion for Japanese culture, and we had no idea. By sorting and organizing all of this stuff, other stories and aspects of his personality are coming to life.

"That's why we're doing these rolling exhibits," Pratt said of recent, temporary collections, ones highlighting, for instance, his relationships with U.S. Presidents and his philanthropy work with the Shriners. "We're uncovering all of these facets of Red. And he was so much more than a comedian."



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Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial,

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News from © The Associated Press, 2019
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