Editor’s note: This is the first in a series highlighting the stories behind local museum artifacts.
IDAHO FALLS – Since 2003, Collectors’ Corner Museum at 900 John Adams Parkway in Idaho Falls is a place where people from all over the world have enjoyed learning about the past.
More than 130 collections are on display, some of which are one-of-a-kind. Each one of them has a story behind it. One of them is a dollar bill autographed by Nicholas Brady, former secretary of the treasury from museum owner Jim Gyorfy’s home state of New Jersey.
“I mailed it to the treasury department, asked if they would autograph it and send it back,” Gyorfy tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I never thought I would see it again.”
A tea cup Queen Elizabeth drank from on the day of her coronation in 1953 is also on display, as well as a collection of dolls depicting former first ladies. Both collections were donated to the museum by locals.
Jim and his wife, Nida, have been collectors since they were kids, so opening a collector’s museum just made sense to them. Jim once collected stamps, coins, bottle caps, baseball cards and other items, all of which are no longer in his possession.
Nida’s had a love of dolls since she was young, and there are a variety of doll exhibits at the museum, including a showroom with more than 400 Barbie dolls. It’s received a surge of renewed interest following the release of the Barbie movie last summer.
When it comes to collecting, Jim says it usually stems from an emotional attachment to something based on personal experiences.
“You collect because you love what you have. It’s something you played with or someone gave to you and it has a story or memory behind it,” he says.
And putting collections on display in a museum are important to him because it preserves history in a unique way.
The museum is a top-rated destination on Tripadvisor, he says, and his eyes light up when he talks about people who’ve come to the museum and gotten excited about something from the past or donated items.
“We just had a man last week from Fiji (who stopped by and admired our currency exhibit),” says Jim. “He’s going to send me some Fiji money. People from foreign countries is how I get foreign money (for our collection).”
From collecting history to living it
But Jim doesn’t just collect history, he’s lived it.
A display inside the museum features three military uniforms. One of them is the uniform he wore while serving in the 13th Air Force during the Cold War.
From 1957 to 1963, Jim recalls hauling cargo in a C-130 Hercules airplane to the Philippines and the Far East.
“We landed in the middle of the jungle one time just to drop off an engine,” he says. “Everything always went smoothly. We never had a plane crash. Nothing drastic ever happened, which is probably what makes (my experience) unusual.”
But he does recall landing on a runway with tattered World War II-era airplanes parked alongside it.
His wife’s cousin, Thomas Marshall, served aboard the U.S.S. Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Marshall was killed in the attack and his remains are still onboard, Jim says. A Pearl Harbor exhibit in Mitchell’s memory is on display in Jim’s museum.
Jim worked as a meat-cutter in Denver, Colorado for several years after his military service before moving to Idaho Falls.
“My wife got involved (in selling) tupperware,” Jim recalls. “She was having such a good time and making more money than me.”
The building that houses the museum today is where all the tupperware was distributed for the region. They moved to the river city to be closer to customers.
The couple held on to their collections over the years, and that’s what led to the opening of the museum in 2003.
Running the museum is a labor of love for the couple and Jim says his sons will take it over after they’re gone. His only desire is that young people who visit learn something about history and help keep it alive for future generations.
“You can’t make a living at this,” says Jim. “We just enjoy the people we meet and we talk about the history and the fun that we had with these items. That’s what it’s all about.”