Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Klebba, a former docent and intern for the Milton Historical Society, returned to the organization as its executive director in October 2015. A UW-Whitewater graduate with a degree in public history, she considers herself fortunate to be able to pursue her passion for museum work in Milton—a community she believes shares her enthusiasm for historic preservation and education. Klebba lives in Janesville with her husband, Jonah, and their infant son, Ronan.
For more information about the Milton House Museum and the Milton Historical Society, the organization that oversees the historic museum, visit MiltonHouse.org. Klebba can be reached by email at email@example.com.
1. You first started working at Milton House as an intern. What made you want to come back? I interned under former director Dr. David McKay during the spring semester of 2004. I was a student at UW-Whitewater majoring in the then-fledgling public history program. It was the single most rewarding job I had ever had. For me, when the opportunity came to return, it was a dream come true.
2. How many visitors does Milton House see each year, and what tends to draw them? Milton House sees thousands of visitors every year. In 2015, we had over 6,700 guests tour the museum. That number doesn't even include the hundreds that visit during our community festivals (such as Civil War Living History Days in May and the Arts and Crafts on the Lawn/MACC Chicken BBQ in August). Our guests hail from all over the globe. This summer we have welcomed guests from nearly every state and have hosted tourists from Burundi, Ireland and Austria. I talked with two exchange students from Monrovia, Liberia, on a tour in July. There's no question the majority of our guests come because the Milton House is the last tourable, verified station on the Underground Railroad in Wisconsin.
3. When you're at work, do you ever wonder what those walls would say if they could talk? I wish they would. That would be amazing and incredibly useful when we're doing research.
4. What person in history would you most like to meet? Teddy Roosevelt. Please don't get me started on “why” as I will go full-nerd and talk your ear off.
5. Do you have a favorite exhibit or historic item at the museum? My favorite item is a worn silver spoon we have on the dining table. The spoon has been here for years and years. It's not extravagant, but it is remarkable in its appearance. The spoon had been used so much that the point has worn down. Whereas some might have thrown it away because it's not new, it was kept because it had value to its owners. To me, it is almost symbolic of the Milton House itself. The inn may not be ornate, but its value and usefulness are more than what one would see at first glance.
6. Do museums exist only to interpret the past or also to change the present? I think it's a little of both. Museums like the Milton House present glimpses of the past; not so we can necessarily change the present, but so that we can provide context on “how we got here.” Hopefully that experience will influence and inform future generations.
7. What is the most challenging aspect of running a museum? Preservation. As our building's age increases, so do the challenges and costs of addressing those challenges. We've been very lucky that Milton House has been able to withstand Wisconsin's climate as well as it has. We are also lucky no one demolished the building to make way for new construction. It's incredible to think how many historic structures have been destroyed over the years, not by Mother Nature, but by man in the name of “progress.”
8. What is the strangest question you've heard asked by someone visiting the museum? One of my docents told me one of her guests was strangely preoccupied with the locations of historic Milton's brothels—as in, asked on multiple occasions where the brothels were and would not take “I don't know” for an answer.
9. Milton House is home to a stop on the Underground Railroad. Are there any ghosts down there? When I get asked this question, I usually break it down like this: “I can't tell you that we have ghosts. There are people who think that because of what this house is—its age and its historic role—we would have to be haunted. I respect them, and I respect their beliefs. I also understand nothing I say will convince them otherwise.” Regardless of location, if a door slams in an empty room, some will say it was the wind and some will give credit to the supernatural. Believe me, you're talking to someone who loves a good ghost story. But I can't personally tell you Milton House is haunted.
10. Is it true that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it? To a point, yes. But saying we are “doomed to repeat it” implies all of our history is bad. Yes, history is full of conquerors, wars and oppression, but it's also full of stories of valor, courage and justice. History reminds us that we, as humans, are capable of great atrocities but also great heroism.
11. Do you have problems with people touching things they aren't supposed to? How do you deter that? We don't have that problem too often, but it does happen. Thankfully, a simple “Please don't touch the artifacts” will usually do the trick.
12. What is the most interesting fact you have learned since you started working at the museum? We have a painting of Mary Borden, the daughter of the town's first doctor. The painting was given to Dr. Borden as payment for his services from a traveling artist. Her head seems a little “off,” almost disproportionate to her figure. At first, I thought it spoke to the artist's lack of skill, but it's actually because Mary Borden picked the body for her head to be painted on. Apparently, traveling artists used to go from town to town with pre-painted torsos on canvas. To save time, they would have the bodies pre-made and let subjects select the torsos they wanted their heads to be painted on. It was kind of like Victorian Photoshop.
13. Do you enjoy going to museums on your days off, or do you just need to get away from history sometimes? I LOVE museums of all kinds, but I don't go to as many as I would like. For me, it has less to do with needing a break from history and more to do with needing to get errands or housework done.
14. I can't imagine looking at a disco ball under glass as part of a museum exhibit. Do you think someday people will look upon '80s relics with as much reverence as items from the Civil War era? I think we are already seeing that. For example, when my husband and I moved into our 1950s home, there was a working rotary phone on the wall in the kitchen. I remember my niece being fascinated by it. She had never seen one before and could not wrap her mind around how it worked. Who could blame her? She had only ever seen cell phones or cordless phones. It was crazy to think that, to her, the rotary phone was a relic.
15. If you had the money to make one change to the museum, what would it be? It may seem boring, but if money was no object I would update the all museum's systems. (i.e HVAC, sprinklers, electrical, etc.) Although, another part of me wishes we could install interactive, touch-screen displays in our exhibits.
16. Do you think that after everybody leaves for the day, Milton House turns into a scene from the film “Night at the Museum?” Well, I hadn't until I read this question. Now, I picture it every time I lock up at night. If it did, I think it would look more like a scene from “Beauty and the Beast” as we have significantly more dishes, clocks and candlesticks than mannequins.
17. Stuffed animals are kind of creepy. Do you have any at Milton House? We don't have any stuffed animals, but we do have some creepy mannequins. We have a little girl mannequin named Rosaline and a mustachioed, legless mannequin named Roger. Believe me, Rosaline is creepier than any stuffed animal I've ever seen.
18. At what time of year does the museum see its highest attendance? Hands down, we are busiest from May 1 through Labor Day. That's when we see the most schools on field trips and when the Wisconsin tourism season is in full swing. We also host our Civil War Living History Days and Arts and Crafts on the Lawn during that time. Milton House is practically buzzing with activity during the warm weather months.
19. When people find out you're the executive director of a museum, what tends to be the first question they ask? It's a tie between “How do you get into that line of work?” and “Is it haunted?”
20. Is Milton House's entire collection on display at all times, or are exhibits rotated occasionally? We are blessed to have been entrusted with as many artifacts as we have over the years. Unfortunately, we could not possibly display every item in our collection at all times. Much like the Smithsonian or the Louvre, we keep a few of our most significant artifacts on permanent display, but we will rotate many of our exhibits in order to feature as many artifacts as we can.
Know someone involved in the local arts/entertainment community you think would be a great subject for 20Q? Email kicks Editor Greg Little at firstname.lastname@example.org.