Gold rush exhibit in San Juan Capistrano

Isasah Torres, 7, pans a nugget of gold out of one of the activities at San Juan Capistrano Mission’s “Gold Fever” event. (Oliver Yu/Lariat Staff)

Ian Postal

The past comes to life at Mission San Juan Capistrano as it opens its new “Gold Fever” exhibit, telling untold stories of the famous Gold Rush in California’s past. The exhibit will remain there until March 30, 2010 before moving on.

Anyone that goes to visit the exhibit will find a host of Gold Rush era events, images and documents. Also available are plenty of period artifacts that reflect the life of gold miners and their struggles.

The focus isn’t entirely on the prospectors, though. The spotlight also falls on the stories of individual Californians, women, Native Americans and the many people that came here from all around the world during that era.

Those simply interested in the period will find items on display that period. This includes displays of typical gambling trinkets, scales for measuring gold and even a few letters describing the often harsh conditions of the newfound settlers

And, of course, there is always art.

People attending the exposition will find 24 photo-mural panels. Together, they show off 1,000 square feet of history and representations of primary documents, photographs and Gold Rush-era paintings. Each tells a piece of the story of our then-young state.

The history covered begins before the fateful discovery of gold, to the frenzy of immigration to this western state, to the shaping of California as it is known today. In fact, an entire section of the display tells of the hard journey across the countryside, or the even greater one across the Pacific.

These exhibits make for a fun and exciting experience of learning on our rich state history and the way so many people came together for an opportunity to find wealth and greatness.

All of this comes as a result of the Mission’s commitment to “teaching about California history in an engaging way,” according to Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, executive director at Mission San Juan Capistrano. “Our new affiliation with the California Exhibit Resource Alliance (CERA) provides for an even better museum experience,” Lawrence-Adams said.

As a part of its endeavor to teach, the exhibit will be open for elementary students who are being taught about California’s statehood. As Lawrence-Adams said: “The new exhibit on the Gold Rush will be one that teachers, children and parents can experience to extend their appreciation about the history of this great state.”

Students who visit the Mission for their classes will try to rope a steer, make an arrowhead, wave some wool and, of course, pan for gold.

Those not in elementary school can still enjoy the exhibit. People stand at every corner, dressed in period-appropriate clothing and more than willing to tell a story or two about life in those times. An interesting character is not hard to find amidst the crowd.

All are invited to come and see this display of California’s history while it’s still around. The exhibit will be at the Mission San Juan Capistrano until March 30, 2010. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and general admission is $9, including an audio tour.

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