My parents took great pains to beat into my head the idea that whenever I had some downtime in a new city I should immediately seek out the nearest museum. During my trip to Louisville, Kentucky for the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot I decided to take Saturday morning off to tool around downtown Louisville and visit some of the museums there, specifically the Frazier History Museum. I was expecting a small museum focusing on local history and kitschy exhibits, but what I got was a three story building that told the history of the world through firearms and used some fantastic displays.
Being an American museum, one would expect the exhibits to focus on American history. With the Frazier, one would be wrong. The museum’s very first exhibits talk about the history of weaponry before the invention of the firearm, including pikes and swords and bows and arrows. There is a decidedly American / English focus, but then again the Brits were the rulers of the world when firearms were invented. The museum has on display a brilliant collection of medieval armor, possibly rivaling the Met in New York City in terms of interesting pieces.
Throughout the museum are things for kits to touch and play with, and one of the most interesting contraptions was in this section; a replica longbow mounted to the wall so kids could see how hard it was to draw and fire.
The museum quickly progressed to the invention of firearms, and included a number of fantastic realistic dioramas of battles fought by the English. The one at the top of the article is from the War of the Roses exhibit, and the next one down is of the Jacobite Uprising. I also saw dioramas for the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (made popular by the film Zulu), a firing station on board one of Queen Elizabeth’s ships during the attack on the Spanish Armada, and a scene depicting a fight between early settlers and Native Americans. All of them were expertly designed and really brought that time period to life. They were not, however, designed to make taking pictures easy. Oh how I wish I had remembered to bring my tripod…
As I walked around the museum, I kept seeing similarities to the National Firearms Museum in the NRA Headquarters, Fairfax, VA. That is a museum completely devoted to guns, but shoehorned into an extremely small space. Firearms are displayed in bulk, with computer terminals nearby to give details about the guns.
The Frazier museum displayed a similar quantity of firearms, but the difference is that they had the space to spread the guns out and give some context to what you’re seeing. The pictured competition gun was from a collection on the second floor devoted to shooting competitions. If in the National Firearms Museum this gun would have been just another pretty face, but here it gets a place in the spotlight and a good chunk of text to explain it to the visitors.
The museum also boasted a set of rooms on the main floor devoted to the finer firearms — precision guns and beautifully engraved gats, not to mention a very nice suit of Samurai armor. The rifling on this flintlock, for example, was surprisingly intricate and beautiful and something I had never seen before. Again, what would have been one wall-sized case in the National Firearms Museum has been exploded and expanded to fill the wonderfully large space.
Beautiful firearms and well-planned exhibits aside, there was one other reason I took a shine to this museum. The main floor features a central stage with a seating area in front of it, and every hour or so the museum hosts an “interpreter” who gives some unique insight into a period of history. While I was there I saw two of these presentations, one was a demonstration of the proper way to put on samurai armor and the other was someone performing a monologue based on the letters of the commanding officer of the first volunteer African American regiment from the U.S. Civil War. These presentations were offered at no additional charge and were a fantastic “added value” for my admission fee.
I didn’t expect much from the Frazier History Museum. Being from New York City and living in Northern Virginia, I have access to what are considered to be some of the best museums in the world. But given the choice between a day at the National Firearms Museum and the Frazier History Museum I’d rather spend my time at the latter, a surprising (firearms related) gem in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
The Frazier History Museum
Admission: $9.50, $8 (Mil), $7.50 (50+), $7 (Student), $6 (5-17), Free (-4, Teacher)
Hours: Mon – Sat 9 AM to 5 PM, Sun Noon – 5 PM
Rating: * * * * *