An Introduction To The Louisville Frazier History Museum

In this week’s episode of the Louisville Perspectives Podcast brought to you by Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty, we’re joined by Andy Treinen, director of marketing at the Frazier History Museum in Downtown Louisville. People who haven’t been down to the museum in a while may be surprised by how many permanent and visiting shows are on display. “We want to be a museum the people of Kentucky can be very proud of, whether it’s to enjoy over the holidays or show friends who have come in from out of town,” says Treinen. 

The History of Frazier Museum

The museum was founded by Owsley Brown Frazier, a renowned Louisville philanthropist linked to Frazier Rehab, the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University in The Highlands, and other institutions. The museum opened in 2004 to showcase some of the amazing artifacts Frazier had collected over the years. For instance, we all know Teddy Roosevelt as the guy who “spoke softly, but carried a big stick.” Frazier had Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick. He had Geronimo’s bow. He had George Washington’s long-arm rifle. All of this very exciting, historic stuff is on display at the Frazier Museum.

One of the hallmarks of the museum is their “Spirits of the Bluegrass: Prohibition and Kentucky” exhibit, which chronicles the passage of the 18th amendment from 1920 through its repeal in 1933. The exhibit helps how Prohibition happened and how it affected the local community. Six creative local distillers, including Old Forester, were able to keep their license throughout prohibition.

“It’s almost incomprehensible that this happened within the last 100 years – especially in Kentucky,” Treinen remarks. “Many people argue that we, as Americans, drink more than we ever have,” he adds, “but we’re not even close. In 1840, Americans consumed four times what we consume now. At a time when it wasn’t safe to transport water, people were just drinking booze all the time – which obviously led to a lot of problems.”

The Prohibition is presented in part by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association as the initial stop on their Bourbon Trail, which spans the entire state. The museum is the ideal beginning into the local bourbon experience. From there, people can go to Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve and the like to see what’s being made.

Treinen is excited about their inclusion under the larger local tourism umbrella and adds that they also host events in the Prohibition exhibit’s speakeasy. Even Treiner was shocked by the wild success.  “We had over 400 people attend our Old Forester Speakeasy series. The ages spanned from 21 to 61 – but it was primarily a younger crowd – come to the museum dressed up in 1920s flapper dresses, dapper and dandy suits, and Al Capone getups.”

Exporting Local Stories

So much of the display was built right in-house. “We have craftsmen, we have carpenters, we have bricklayers, we have world-class exhibit builders. It takes some time to build a high quality exhibit that can go out and travel to other museums across the country, but that’s what we’re doing right now, starting with the Pearl Harbor exhibit.

The museum hopes to export local Louisville stories to a broader audience – and there are many stories to tell. Obviously, Prohibition and the bourbon story are relevant. The Lewis and Clark expedition began right here, with a third of the people on that expedition from right here in Louisville. Local artists like Julius Friedman and Thomas Merton are on display. “We try very hard to make Kentucky connections with everything we present,” Treinen clarifies.

What’s New At The Museum

A new exhibit titled “Pearl Harbor, A Morning That Changed the World” opened on October 25th with great fanfare. Mayor Fischer presented it as part of his “Week of Valor” that included the Veterans Day Parade and a ribbon cutting ceremony with Charles Hocker, a 92-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor featured in one of the exhibit’s personal stories. The artifacts come from Rex Knight, a man from Southern Indiana who spent the better part of his life collecting. The personal stories revolve around those artifacts.

Earlier in the month, Frazier Museum opened the Stewart Toy Soldier Gallery – one of the rarest exhibit of its kind, featuring over 10,000 toy soldiers on display. Opening night included a partnership with the Louisville Ballet and the Dancing Bellman at the Galt House with 60 kids marching in uniform.

For the holiday season, you can expect a return of “White Christmas,” as well as the popular “Holidays Around the World” exhibit. They are also the only institution in the state to offer a glimpse at Shakespeare’s first works open to the public, as part of the national First Folio program. That unique opportunity runs for one month only, from November 10th through December 10th.

They are planning to open a Bourbon Museum in 2018. “Many people don’t know that George Washington was legendary in the distilling industry,” Treinen explains. It will be housed in its own building to the right of the main museum. A few of the Prohibition display items will be moved over there, but most of the exhibit will be brand new.

Surprisingly, the exhibits are a very small part of the larger museum business. There are weddings and parties for crowds of up to 400 people on their rooftop, in their Old Forester Speakeasy, and in the first floor Great Hall. There are 30,000 students who come through on field trips each year. There is a summer camp. There are limitless ways to enjoy Louisville’s fine history and noteworthy stories.