History is personal for Jody Hawley Ochoa.
Her great-grandfather, James Hawley, came to Idaho as a 15-year-old miner in 1862, a year before it became a territory. Hawley became a famous lawyer, defending Diamondfield Jack Davis and prosecuting Big Bill Haywood. He was a Boise mayor and Idaho's ninth governor.
For 29 years, Ochoa has worked for the Idaho Historical Society, where Gov. Hawley served as a board member and chair in 1915.
On Tuesday, she will throw open the Idaho State Historical Museum doors to share the vision of her 10-member team, which built the largest exhibit in museum history - ranging from Fort Boise founder Pinkney Lugenbeel's sword to Kristin Armstrong's gold medal shoes from London in 2012.
"I get to look back every day," Ochoa said last week amid ladders, paint tarps and empty display cases awaiting their treasures. "A dream of mine for this exhibit is people will be able to actually see the artifacts that get to the heart of the matter."
Exhibit planning began in 2010. More than 600 public submissions were considered for the 150 stories that make up "Essential Idaho: 150 Things that Make the Gem State Unique."
MODEL TO REALITY
Fred Fritchman is the exhibit's designer and a 28-year museum veteran. Last week, his crude 3-D cardboard-and-Post-it floor plan guided installers. Its one exuberance: a full-color clay model of the 7-foot baked potato that will stand at one of two entrances. The other entrance re-creates the first territorial Capitol, a building in Lewiston.
"We have a grabber either way you come in," Fritchman said.
The spud, an $8,000 gift from the Idaho Potato Commission, comes with condiments: a huge sour cream poncho dotted with bacon and three large hats (butter, cheese, broccoli). The baker is big enough for two people and will become part of the museum's permanent collection.
"It should be great for couples to get their pictures taken," Fritchman said.
Other displays include replica clothing from the Lewis and Clark expedition, building blocks to make a Capitol, and a track with Matchbox cars to revive Evel Knievel's ill-fated bid to jump the Snake River Canyon.
A fire lookout allows kids to find lightning strikes, a music display features 16 audio clips, and a checkerboard with sheep and cattle playing pieces illustrates the range wars that got Diamondfield Jack a date with the hangman. (After five years, James Hawley finally got the innocent Davis freed, in 1902.)
"We've never had this room this full with an exhibit we've created ourselves," Fritchman said. "Anybody that comes is going to find something to like and have a good time."
REPRESENTING ALL OF IDAHO
Of the 150 stories, 101 were chosen from public submissions. Forty-four came from Idaho's 44 counties and five from Idaho's tribes.
Altogether, about 100 items from 70 lenders were combined with the museum's holdings. In addition to Armstrong's eagle-winged bike shoes are two other notable pairs of footwear: Chinese American pioneer Polly Bemis' youth size 12 tennis shoes and Gov. Bob Smylie's size 12 cowboy boots.
Ochoa is thrilled by a loan from the Lemhi County Historical Society of Lemhi Shoshoni Chief Tendoy's headdress, which rests in a 6-foot case.
Fritchman is keen on the Latah County Historical Society's loan of a briefcase, red-bibbed clerical collar, cross and ring owned by Dr. Frank Robinson, founder of the world's biggest mail-order religion, Psychiana, which flourished during the Depression. Robinson's ads in more than 80 magazines and 700 newspapers boasted, "I talked with God. Yes I did - actually and literally."
Idaho's natural wonders also star, including one item labeled "Go Out and Play," featuring a fire engine-red 1964 snowmobile.
"This isn't just a history exhibit," said Kurt Zwolfer, visitor services manager. "This is about geography, this is about recreation, this is about everything in Idaho."
Near one entrance is a tribute to five "Keepers of Idaho History," including former state historian Merle Wells, who rode his pink-and-white cruiser bike until shortly before his death in 2000.
"This is not only a testament to these people," Ochoa said. "It's a testament to every little county historical society that keeps our history."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics