Mounds Museum is 75 years old. In 1927, chiropractor Don Dickson began to
dig in the ancient burial mounds on his family farm. Instead of removing the
bones from the graves he excavated, he removed only the dirt, leaving the
bones and associated objects in place. He first covered his excavation with
a tent. Later he replaced the tent with a building that he opened as a private
museum. His work received national and even international attention, and that
first year attracted 40,000 visitors to view the site.
the years of the Depression and World War II, attendance dropped, (to only 8,000
in 1940). Following the War, Dickson sold the site to the State of Illinois,
which has operated the Museum since 1945. Don Dickson and members of his family,
employed by the Illinois Department of Conservation, managed the museum for
the first 20 of those years.
1965 the site was transferred to the Illinois State Museum, and in 1972 the
present building opened to the public.
the 1960s, American Indians in the United States were gaining a voice nationally.
Many states passed legislation in the years following, restricting or prohibiting
excavation of Indian burials. In the 1970s and '80s most museums removed Indian
remains from display and many national organizations and institutions adopted
policies prohibiting the display of remains. In the late 1980s, the Federal
Government passed legislation requiring return of some burial remains by museums
to Indian groups.
was in this changing social climate, in 1990-91, that a controversy arose over
Dickson Mounds Museum's efforts to close its ancient cemetery to public view.
While most Native Americans supported the closure, many other people opposed
it. Protesters and police officers began to replace visitors at the site. The
controversy was resolved through negotiations by the state in November, 1991.
The burial closed to the public on April 3, 1992. The museum closed for major
renovation of the facility and installation of new exhibits in September of
1993 and reopened in September of 1994. "The New Dickson Mounds" has been greeted
enthusiastically by visitors and critics alike.