Exhibit: Controversy

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Stains and small burn holes edged in brown show that someone wore the white robe many times. Dingy patches on the pointed hood and lining also signal rough, frequent use.

Eventually, you learn that the cotton outfit dates from roughly the 1920s. At first, all you see is the unmistakable garb of a Ku Klux Klan member, alone and illuminated in a sparse gray room.

Inside "Controversy: Pieces You Don't Normally See," the Ohio Historical Society is allowing visitors to make their own decisions about five complex, difficult items pulled from its permanent collection.

"We want to encourage conversations and dialogue," OHS director Burt Logan said. "There's a real value for traditional history exhibits, but there's something to be said for how to connect with history in a more minimal way."

Absent is the colorful, multimedia information that normally accompanies historical exhibits. Each item is displayed in its own room with a small info card on the far side, so guests see the objects before learning more about them.

Beyond the Klan robe, the exhibit includes an electric chair, sheepskin condom, caged bed for mental patients and metal mitten used to curb thumb-sucking.

"People are resonating with different objects," curator Sharon Dean said. "It really does show that people overlay their own emotions and memories onto these objects."

The exhibit opened Friday and runs through Nov. 20 at the Ohio Historical Center, which is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

When the initial impact subsides, each eerie, beautifully staged piece lures you in for a closer look.

The bed, for example, looks intimidating because all six sides are framed by wooden bars. Take a step forward, and you'll see scratches and bite marks embedded in the slats.

The exhibit flaunts the kind of stuff that made your history teacher cringe in hopes of inspiring visitors to interact with each other and the exhibit.

"It's a completely different way of interacting with history," Dean explained.

Controversy: Pieces You Don't Normally See

Through Nov. 20

Ohio Historical Center

1982 Velma Ave., North Side