Football Hall of Fame exhibit heads to Appleton
APPLETON - How significant is the exhibit opening this summer at the History Museum at the Castle? Let's just say it's Hall of Fame worthy.
"Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame," a traveling exhibit featuring hundreds of artifacts from more than 100 years of pro football history, will be on display at the downtown Appleton museum from June 30 to Jan. 6.
The announcement was made at a press conference Wednesday that included Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy. The team played a key role in endorsing Appleton's efforts to acquire the exhibit for its six-month stay.
"This is obviously something big for us," said Matt Carpenter, the museum's executive director, " ... but this also has significant impact on restaurant owners, hotel owners, shop owners. It'll have a multi-million dollar impact on the economy beyond this place. That's an exciting win for the entire Fox Cities community."
Last year, about two-thirds of the museum's visitors came from outside the immediate region, Carpenter said. With this being the first time "Gridiron Glory" has been on display in Wisconsin, interest is expected to reach around the state and then some.
The exhibit will arrive in Appleton on six semi-trailers and will likely take up 7,000 square feet inside the museum. Among its artifacts are an accounting ledger from 1892 that's been dubbed pro football's "birth certificate," game-used artifacts from Jim Brown, John Elway, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and many others, and the football Jerry Rice caught to break the career touchdown receptions record. There'll be more than 200 mementos, plus rare documents, photography and exclusive NFL Films content.
There also is an interactive instant replay booth and casts of the legs, arms and hands of players, so museum-goers can see how their own bodies measure up to those who made their living in the NFL.
"There's a section you can put a helmet on and hear the coach relay the play to the quarterback," said chief curator Dustin Mack. "This is a very interactive exhibit that people are going to enjoy."
Each host site gets a "Home Town Tribute" section, meaning when the goods get to Appleton, there'll be a portion specifically tied to the Packers. Signed footballs and jerseys, artifacts from the Ice Bowl, a pylon from Super Bowl XXXI signed by the game's MVP Desmond Howard and the hat Mike McCarthy wore during Super Bowl XLV are a few of the items that'll be on display. Those all come from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — so the items will be different from what fans have seen at the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in Green Bay.
"We are heading into our 100th season, a very exciting time for everybody involved with the Packers," Murphy said. "We're going to be celebrating that this entire season and we're really proud to be able to mark this milestone. We have all kinds of activities planned. ... We're particularly looking forward to having this exhibit kind of in conjunction with our 100th season. It's perfect timing, with training camp starting in late July and this opening up in late June."
The exhibition is one of such bulk that Miron Construction, the lead sponsor, had to donate services to install a new freight door just to get some of the pieces into the 95-year-old building. Currently under construction, there'll be updated bathrooms, electrical work and a new gift shop and roof ready for the June opening.
It's a huge plus, said Mack, who took over the chief curator position after the departure of Nicholas J. Hoffman a little more than a year ago, because not only will the improvements make the "Gridiron Glory" experience better, they'll last long after the pads and pigskins are gone.
Another piece of the puzzle was a $150,000 donor grant in 2016, which became seed money for what the museum calls the "blockbuster exhibition fund." That was established to help reel in things like "Gridiron Glory" with a little less risk than it would have been in the past, Carpenter said.
Expectations from the museum and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism include an economic impact in the ballpark of $2 million to $3 million and attendance in the tens of thousands.
A $28,000 Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grant check from the Department of Tourism and a $100,000 grant check from the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau were presented to Carpenter at Wednesday's event.
An opening reception will be held on June 29 for museum members and donors. There may be public events during the display period, too. Conversations are ongoing to set up visits from members of the Hall of Fame, as well as current or former Packers players, Mack said.
A big reason the History Museum at the Castle was able to secure "Gridiron Glory," an exhibit initially only available to NFL franchise cities, was getting an early jump on the competition. That, and having the green and gold be part of the push.
"We started conversations with the company that's distributing the exhibition I think in 2012," Carpenter said. "So it's been a long time coming. ... We had to make the case that while Appleton isn't home to the Green Bay Packers, we're a region and there's a loyal fan base here, so it makes sense."
The exhibit is currently set up in Davenport, Iowa, where it'll remain until June. It debuted in Pittsburgh in late 2012 and has since been housed in about a dozen cities, including New Orleans, St. Louis, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Dearborn, Michigan. It's been on display in every Super Bowl city since 2013.
Carpenter said hosting the internationally touring exhibit "Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion" in 2012 and early 2013 was an indication of how the community would respond to something so high profile. That gave them confidence they could get a deal and be a suitable home for "Gridiron Glory."
The announcement adds to a hot month for the museum. Earlier in March, the Institute of Museum and Library Services named the History Museum as one of 29 finalists for the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to their communities.