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Aug 30

Johnson County Museum’s new temporary exhibit takes another look at the 1920s

Posted on August 30, 2018 at 1:42 PM by Becky Burnside

The 1920s were much more complicated and tumultuous than popular ideas would indicate. That’s one of the messages Johnson County Museum officials want visitors to a new temporary exhibit to come away with.

Called The Turbulent Twenties, the exhibit, which is now open, coincides with the 2018 centennial of the ending of World War I, and will run through May 11.

“A new modern era begins in the United States after the war, and the exhibit highlights those changes in the social, cultural, political, and economic lives of Americans,” said Museum Director Mindi Love. “Post-World War I America is often presented as a triumphant decade for the country: the U.S. was victorious in the war, technology and mass production led to the appearance of societal and economic prosperity, and popular culture led to the decade’s nickname “The Roaring Twenties.” Yet below the veil of American victory and prosperity, the long 1920s were a decade of tumult and fractured American society. The decade also saw the rise of nativist movements including a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, voting rights for women, and national prohibition. The 1918 flu pandemic, often referred to as the Spanish Flu, also had a lasting impact.”

“The 1920s was a very important decade in American history,” added the museum’s Curator of Interpretation Andrew Gustafson. “Events, trends, products, and the culture that emerged from the decade were recognizably modern, and have continued to inform our society and be relevant to current events and popular culture today.”

The Turbulent Twenties exhibit will fill a 1,600 square foot gallery space with more than 100 images and over 50 objects, plus music, and video. The museum collaborated with the National World War I Museum, Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas City Museum, and the Indiana State Museum to secure objects. Images have been secured from over twenty institutions, including the National Archives, the Library of Congress, The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, North Carolina State Archives, Truman Museum and Library, and New York Public Library. The Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri - Kansas City’s has supplied audio recordings of some of Kansas City’s premier jazz musicians from the decade. 

The exhibit will provide visitors with a national view of the issues, while also highlighting how the local region responded. Love said objectives for the exhibit are: exploring connections between Johnson County, the state of Kansas, and the larger national history of the decade; and drawing connections between the 1920s and our current society and culture. 

Officials project that over the exhibit’s eight-plus month run, more than 50,000 people will visit. 

Several tie-in programs and events are being planned, including a Lunch and Learn on Sept. 12 titled The Flu: Worse than the Black Death about the 1918 flu pandemic. During this hour-long session, there will be two speakers; one from the JoCo Health Services division; and one who was a curator of a historic medical collection in Kansas City, Mo. For this program, the museum will provide bottled water and dessert, but participants should bring a sack lunch. The cost for one two-hour program is $5 per person for adults, and museum members receive a 20 percent discount, but must register by phone by calling (913) 831-3359 to receive their discount.  The program fee also includes museum admission. Health Services will also be offering influenza vaccinations. Individuals who want to participate need to bring insurance information with them. JCDHE accepts Blue Cross Blue Shield, United, Coventry, Cigna, and Medicare Part B. Without insurance, the vaccination cost is $30.

The history of Prohibition in Kansas, Kansas City’s 18th & Vine District and its influence on larger American culture, and fashion changes of 1920s are all topics of future programs.

The exhibit is included with regular museum admission rates of $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children. For more information about the museum or this exhibit, go to