Make it a museum day

by Virginia Rasch
A statue in front of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona
The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, is a world-class destination for exhibits on native people. — Photo courtesy Visit Phoenix

On a cold, windy day in winter or a scorcher in summer, museums are a great place to visit on a day you’d rather be indoors.

The Heard Museum has the only exhibit in the state that includes all 22 of Arizona’s federally recognized American Indian tribal communities. The exhibit is titled We Are! Arizona’s First People, and the native culture representatives provided valuable insight during the exhibit’s creation, explaining their histories, cultures and futures.

Many tribes said that museums and school curricula have ignored their histories from approximately 1860 to today, when things have radically changed for native people. The  museum’s exhibit delves into this history and examines how native cultures have experienced great losses but also have adapted and triumphed.

The Heard Museum is know for the authenticity of artwork in its gift shop as their buyers deal directly with the American Indian artists. The handmade artworks include jewelry, rugs, pottery and Kachina dolls.

The gift shop not only supports the museum’s mission but also provides income to the artists who sell to the shop, thus carrying on cultural traditions to future generations. For convenience, you can shop 24/7 on the web at

If you’re a Second World War buff, then the Arizona Capitol Museum should be on your list. The 1901 portion of the Arizona State Capitol is maintained as a museum that includes some impressive artifacts including the enormous silver and copper punchbowl service from the USS Arizona as well as a bronze sculpture that was used as a centrepiece at state dinners.

This U.S. Navy battleship was one of several ships that were bombed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona exploded and sank, killing 1,177 crew. Both of these historical artifacts survived the attack because they had been removed from the ship for cleaning. The punchbowl is the only one of its kind, with etched copper panels depicting desert scenes set into a silver bowl.

Phoenix’s plethora of museums even includes two museums dedicated to our heroes who serve as police or firefighters.

The Phoenix Police Museum is a free attraction right in the downtown. For its 911 memorial display, the museum received a 300-pound section of an I-beam from one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

The Hall of Flame Fire Museum sponsors the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes, honouring firefighters who have died in the line of duty or who have been decorated for valour. For historical artifacts, the museum has over 90 fully restored pieces of fire apparatus from 1725 to 1969.

Wildland firefighting has been largely ignored by American fire museums. In 2003, the Phoenix fire museum opened its gallery dedicated to the history of wildland firefighting in the U.S. It includes a replica of a 1930s-era lookout cabin and stories of the smokejumpers, hotshots, lookouts and others who comprise this dangerous profession.

The Hall of Flame museum is located in Phoenix’s Papago Park, adjacent to the Phoenix Zoo and municipal stadium.

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