Museum Treasures

A docent let Garden Tour in front of Bishop Museum

At Bishop Museum the main attraction is the museum itself. It was built from 1888 to 1903 in three different increments. So in 2005 it was decided that Hawaiian Hall, the main hall of the museum, was in much need of restoration.

The Hall was to be closed to the public. This was as much to the docents chagrin as to the public’s. When the hall was closed there would be no more tours of the coming of the whalers, immigrants nor Hawaiian artifacts. For three years we would peek through the windows of the closed doors trying to get a sense of what was going on.

The tint and dull light only reflected the big eye of the sperm whale hanging from the rafters staring into space.

The sperm whale was installed in 1901 after having traveled from New York across country and overseas. Thank goodness it did not have to go around the cape. The actual skeleton is on the other side of this paper mache body.

With the Hall closed and many, many disappointed visitors the docents had to change their tours to try and make up for the loss. The museum put special artifacts and shows together for us to talk about and that we did. But for me I loved to talk about the archetecture of the building. The fact that all of the basalt was quarried right in front of the stately building. The roof was made of copper the floor tiles were picked out in Italy.

Charles Bishop spared no expense to build the museum named in honor of his late wife, Princess Pauahi. All of the Koa wood (acacia) was cut down from Princess Pauahiʻs  vast estate then sent to Minnesota to be milled because it was said that the finest carpenters, who were the Swedes, were there.

My favortie story though, was how the people who were working on the restoration were in a quandry as to how they would cut off the entrance to Hawaiian Hall from the rest of the museum without it looking unsightly.

Iʻm not sure who was standing in the entrance that divided the vestubule and the hall but he was pondering the question, as the story goes. He looked to his side and saw a piece of hardwear between the wall. He asked “what is this” and proceeded to pull out a huge copper door. This door had been installed between the wall   when the hall was first built. It had never been seen since that time and was a complete surprise to the staff.

This door had been put in along with another of its kind at the other entrance to the hall and there remained until 2006. I had read that Bishop was so afraid of a fire destroying all of the artifacts that besides building the museum in stone he had these copper doors installed.

The copper doors and some of the restored Koa post at the bottom of the stairs.

Now I donʻt know how true this story is but it is one I often talk about and Iʻve not heard differently. But if any of you do know what the real story is, please donʻt tell me, us docents have to have our little asides.

The museum in all of itʻs restored glory has been open for two years now and we couldn’t be happier. All three floors now display Hawaiian artifacts. It starts with Kai Akea, the realm of the ocean, the second floor is called Wao Kanaka, the realm of the Hawaiian and Wao Lani, the realm of the kings and queens and their connection to the gods.

May I give you a tour?




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