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Santa Fe Museum Complex Preserves Southwestern History and Culture

By S. Mathur

Five hundred years of history take a lot of telling. But the New Mexico History Museum is definitely up to the job. Marketing Manager Kate Nelson says that first-time visitors are surprised at the size of the museum and the way it "... melds the nation's oldest government building with cutting-edge technology. One ticket grants admission to both the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors, five major exhibitions, and several smaller ones. The main exhibit inside the History Museum, "Telling New Mexico," sweeps you through 500 years of the state's history....You get a sense of what happened where and when and who some of the big names were. From there, you can embark on visiting those places and feeling the history under your feet."

The location and history of the museum itself make this past come alive. Which is why Nelson feels that the museum's coolest exhibit "..has to be the Palace of the Governors. So much of New Mexico history happened on this site. It's where Spain established its northernmost American colony in 1610. The Pueblo Revolt converged on it in 1680. Spanish, Mexican and American governors have lived and worked in it - along with their families. It's seen murders, thefts of chocolate (a high offense, back in the day), and a sumptuous banquet for Zebulon Pike when he was arrested for illegally crossing over into Spanish territory. Lew Wallace finished writing "Ben Hur" here while he was a territorial governor. Thanks to a re-stucco project, you can glimpse some of its adobe past in the Palace Courtyard right now. Inside, massive vigas frame the ceiling and, as you walk beneath them, you can try to hear some of the whispers of the past." Vigas, in case you were wondering, are the massive wooden beams that are characteristically used in the construction of adobe buildings in the traditional Pueblo style.

The Museum's Native American Artisans Program brings dozens of artisans and craftspeople to the Palace building every day, to display and sell their crafts and goods. The Palace Press is a living history exhibit featuring New Mexico's first printing press. The current favorite exhibit among visitors is "Setting the Standard: The Fred Harvey Company and Its Legacy." The Fred Harvey Company essentially created cultural tourism in the southwest and had a major impact on the history of the area.

The winter holiday events are Nelson's personal favorites: "Christmas at the Palace draws more than 2,000 people to hear beautiful music inside the building and, outside, piñatas, hot cider, crafts and quality time with Santa. This year's event is December 11, 5:30-8 pm, and, two days later, on December 13, 5:30-7 pm, we'll host our annual Las Posadas out on the Santa Fe Plaza. It recreates a Hispanic tradition of Joseph and Mary searching for a place to give birth to Jesus, but throws in rooftop devils for a sort of Mardi Gras flair. We finish with carols and cookies in the Palace Courtyard. Locals and travelers throng to this, and it's so much fun to be cold and companionable together." Sounds like a great party.

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