USF's Museum Blog

Intern-connectivity: Treasure Island Museum

by Annveig Bugge (MA, 2016)

Last May, I started my internship at the Treasure Island Museum.My first responsibility was to accession objects into the catalog.  These objects came mainly from the Golden Gate International Exposition that took place on the Island in 1939 and 1940. When I first started working with the objects in the collection, I knew pretty much nothing about the fair, but this quickly changed.

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Zoe Dell Lantis-Nutter, part of the public relations for the Fair

As an international student from Norway, I find working with cultural heritage in another country to be a fascinating experience. The object you are working with starts out as just another object to be cataloged. But once you get started, it is impossible not to get invested in the story. What is it? Why did someone save it? Why was this important to them? What story does this tell? Even the most normal and everyday object, such as a train ticket, can be exciting or interesting in the right context.  To me, collections management is almost like putting a puzzle together in your head. I was working with photographs, postcards, tickets to music shows, tickets to the elephant train, official guidebooks to the fair, posters, programs and old newspaper clippings, all from the Treasure Island World’s Fair. Before I knew it, I had learned so much about the fair and the people who attended.  It felt as if they were personally sharing their stories with me through their memorabilia.

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The theme of the Treasure Island World’s Fair was “Pageant of the Pacific.” Five hundred and thirty-five acres were devoted to showcasing the countries sharing the Pacific Ocean, but countries from all over the world, including my native country of Norway, were also represented. To get around the fair, attendees had multiple options for transportation. The most popular one was the elephant train. I do not know how many small paper tickets from this train I have cataloged over the past three months, but every time I see one, I can picture people getting on to go to a new and exciting part of the fair. I picture the expectations of going to the Gayway (“Forty Acres of Fun”), seeing a show or sitting down for lunch. Beautiful flower displays and the giant cash register counting the daily attendance of people.


A postcard featuring the Elephant Train.

Every object that is entered into the collection is another piece of the puzzle to tell the story of what people experienced at the world’s fair in 1939 and 1940 and why it was so important to them. What I love the most about the World’s Fair is that there was a little bit of everything. They had entertainment suited for absolutely everyone, from child friendly comedy acts, to great music shows for every taste, to scandalous nude ranches. With such a diverse program to offer, no wonder the fair was such a success.


Unfortunately the optimism for international cooperation that fair-goers experienced did not pan out. In 1941 the U.S. Navy took over Treasure Island to be used as a base during the Second World War.  Even though most of its characteristic buildings were torn down this doesn’t mean it is too late to experience some of its glory. Going forward with my internship I am working on a new exhibition for the museum about the music programs at the fair. I am excited about sharing it with everyone.

To learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate museum studies program, click here.

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