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Miracle of America Museum brings history to life

Hundreds came to see history in action at the Miracle of America Museum’s 28th annual Live History days held July 14 and 15. 

Machinery of all kinds was operating for the event. Volunteers gave rides in retired military vehicles, kids of all ages fired a mounted rifle repurposed as a tennis ball air cannon, a volunteer ran the sawmill and a local blacksmith ran the museum’s forge.

The museum’s founder, Gil Mangels, even gave rides on a model train. 

“A lot of the younger generation don’t always get to see the old machines, especially not in working condition,” Mangels said. “We give them a chance to see and interact with the history.”

Mangels invited other guests to help bring the museum to life as well, including a local flint knapper, a woodworker and a teacher in the museum’s one room schoolhouse. 

A total of 20 volunteers were on hand to help manage events and bring the museum to life. 

Nicole Burland, a local from Polson, said she and her family come to the event every year.

“It’s always a lot of fun and all the volunteers are always helpful and friendly,” she said. 

It’s truly an event for all ages, Burland said. 

This year’s event doubled as a fundraiser for the museum’s latest addition, a gunsmith shop that will display guns from the 1700s and 1800s. In addition to raising funds for the new building, Mangels said he is saving up to hire a new manager to take over the museum once he is no longer able to do it. 

Mangels first opened the museum in 1981, then in 1985 it was moved to its current location.

Before the museum even opened Mangels had been collecting American memorabilia for years. He decided he wanted to be able to share his collection with the public, so he started the museum. 

Dubbed by locals as “the Smithsonian of the West” the museum features over 40 buildings each with its own theme or purpose. Some are remakes of long closed local businesses, others house machinery of all types from snowmobiles to vintage tractors. 

In total, there are more than 100 vehicles, and about two thirds of them are still in running condition. Mangels said it takes a lot of work to keep them all running, but it’s one of the things that makes the museum unique. 

“They’re not just lawn ornaments, a lot of them still run, it lets people not just see, but actually be able to interact with the history,” Mangels said. 

Miracle of America employee David Bosley began working at the museum in 1992. At first he started as a volunteer helping work on the various machines, but it eventually turned into a full-time job, he said. 

“I stuck around to help work on all the machines,” he said. “I always loved tinkering, and it’s a ton of fun to get to ride some of them in local parades.” 

The funds raised are important to keeping the museum going, Mangels said. But deep down he just wants everyone to have a good time. As each guest passes by he can be heard asking the same question.

“Are you having fun?”

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