Hazel May Fackler started volunteering at the Carroll Mansion 12 years ago after she saw an ad in the Leavenworth County Historical Society newsletter. The ad requested volunteers give just one day a month.
"I thought, 'Well, I got one day a month,'" says Fackler.
"Now how many days are you up to?" Beverly Lynch, Fackler's colleague and the Mansion's Museum Coordinator, asked.
"Shhh. Don't talk about that, said Fackler."
Clearly, Fackler and Lynch, and many of the other Carroll Mansion regular volunteers, are driven by a passion for history to go to great lengths to preserve this special corner of Leavenworth's past.
The big black dog with a bright red collar ("Storm") on the front lawn makes the Carroll Mansion easy to pick out from the other stately homes along Fifth Avenue. But many Leavenworth County residents have never set foot inside.
Over the years, Carroll Mansion has grown beyond its remarkably well-preserved interiors and décor to become home to a treasure trove of historical collections from Leavenworth's history. Sheet music, eyeglasses, period clothing, and maps are some of the collections preserved and curated at the Mansion.
But it is the cadre of unpaid volunteers, rather than the artifacts, that give the Mansion a live, beating heart.
"It can be a six-day-a week activity because … once you come here — it just captivates you," says Lynch. "All the different aspects of this. It is not just a mansion. There is so much here, so much history, and the people — who come and have the same passion."
The volunteers do all of the artifact preservation, including the delicate work required by the Mary Everhard Glass Plate Negative collection, all the maintenance, all the cleaning, and all the tours — which are given every Tuesday through Saturday.
And each volunteer seems to find a part of the collection in which they become personally invested. For Lynch, it is a map of Leavenworth, KT (Kansas Territory), dating from 1858.
"When you think about it, before Leavenworth, Missouri was the end of the United States," Lynch says. "This was all so new. Look, I'm getting goose bumps talking about this, because it is so cool. I love this map. It's got the churches and the buildings on Delaware and Shawnee and Cherokee. And it's got the Carroll Mansion there — in 1858."
"And I ask the people, I say, 'It would be so amazing to be able to come out here, and you're in this busy little town of Leavenworth, and then you pop over to Salt Creek Valley, and there's nothing.' And people say 'I can do anything I want here. I can be anything I want to be here.' To have that mindset, to be that explorer— 'I can do anything.' It is just amazing."
Page 2 of 3 - Unfortunately the map is in dire need of preservation work. According to Fackler and Lynch, it is at the top of the list of upcoming projects. They also hope to scan it and make copies available for guests.
For Fackler, the Everhard Collection of 30,000 glass-plate negatives holds a special place in her heart.
"People in this town really don't have a clue what we've got up here when it comes to the Everhard collection," says Fackler. "You talk about love of something. I have the greatest love and respect for this collection. There is so much to tell you about — I haven't even begun, as far as its history, how it evolved. But 30,000 now — just imagine. And now think about 25,000 names."
"But here's the key, the key is that Mr. Smith out there, whose family's been in Leavenworth for 120 years, chances are he could probably come up here and there might be a really good chance that he can see a picture of his great-grandfather or great-grandmother or a brother or whatever. But people in this town do not take advantage of that opportunity to come and look and seek and hope to find a portrait of their ancestors."
"I've had women stand/sit up there in that room and cry, because they never dreamed they would ever get to see a picture of their grandmother or great-grandmother. And they are just overwhelmed with happiness."
Volunteers especially like sharing the museum with school groups, and the annual "Living Museum" program is a highlight — both for the students and the volunteer docents who dress in period clothing and demonstrate turn-of-the-century daily life.
"Hazel May was the cook in the kitchen this year and she showed the kids how to make butter," Lynch said. "It's fascinating because they're used to opening the refrigerator and getting a stick of butter out. But to see how long, and what they had to do to make butter — it is fascinating. And those kids are just captured by the story."
"Not only do the fourth graders come here," added Fackler, "but the fourth graders return when they are 30 and 35 years old. And they say, 'The last time I was in this house, I think I was in the fourth grade.'"
The other big annual events, the Candlelight Vintage Homes Tour and a springtime marathon, are the main fundraisers for the Mansion.
These, and the $20 yearly membership fees from Leavenworth County Historical Society members keep the Mansion's doors open.
"It takes a lot to maintain this Mansion," says Fackler, "We're always right on the edge."
"The expense we keep with just lighting this place," Lynch added. "We are trying to get someone to help with the LED light bulbs — to try to get our costs down and less damage on our artifacts."
Page 3 of 3 - "It's so important," said Fackler. "Our history is so important. But the generations today don't seem to see it that way. They will in time. But if we don't have our history, what do we have."
The Carroll Mansion is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Annual Candlelight Vintage Homes Tour is held the second Sunday in December.
You can find out more about visiting, volunteering, and special events at www.leavenworthhistory.org.