World Treasures in Wichita? Better Believe It

High Princess BahKah of Thebes sleeps over at his place. Tyrannosaur Albertsaurus and Edmontonsaurus duke it out in his front room and his jewelry collection contains Balinese Royal Crown baubles from 1200 AD.

At the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, Kansas, one man’s private love affair with rarities has resulted in a splashy public showcase of the old and obscure.

Dr. Jon Kardatzke, a retired family physician, caught the treasure hunting bug young. “When I was 16 my parents brought me home six Roman coins from a trip to the Holy Land. I was infected with ancient history from that point on,” admits the gregarious director of the Museum of World Treasures.

As a zealous 19-year-old, three years later he went to Greece with his family. Scratching around in the Acropolis dust he came up with his first archeological find. “It was a cup handle. I was thrilled. But then I felt a heavy hand come down on my shoulder. A security officer told me what I’d done was strictly prohibited. But he let me keep the handle.”

Kardatzke is on hand just about every day to give tours of the three-story, $50 million collection of treasures and oddities, including a shrunken head, Mayan burial urn (complete with corpse), King Henry the Eighth’s gold ring, Civil War weapons, a draft of the Bill of Rights and a chunk of the Berlin Wall.

The museum moved to Wichitaï’s rehabbed Old Town three years ago, and the expansive 40,000-square-foot red brick structure (formerly the Farm & Art Building) contains not only Kardatzke’s precious trove, but collections loaned and donated by more than 60 people.

As we gawk at the 3,000-year-old mummy of Princess BahKan and the stone portrait of Ramses the Great, I ask if he’s ever been asked to return any of these items to the country of their origin citing the Elgin Marbles and how the British Royal Museum has been asked by Greece to return the chunk of the Parthenon that Lord Elgin scooted off to England for safe keeping.

“I haven’t had any controversies here,” he says, adding, “We can keep antiquities that were imported before 1973.” (As per a resolution passed by the Archaeological Institute of America.) On the second floor, Kardatzke leads the way into the Presidents Hall. He gestures towards the JFK memorabilia, “Guess where he was during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Ever hear of Blaze Starr?” The group chuckles knowingly.

At the Museum of World Treasures you never know what historical tidbits you’ll encounter.

Posted by Maureen Littlejohn on January 14, 2006 in Travel

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