The African American Museum of Iowa knows that one way to get kids to pay attention is to talk about something gross.
"Anything even slightly disgusting, kids love," said Michelle Poe, the museum's director of education.
"I'll tell you how making a mummy works, but it's kind of icky," she said to the large crowd of children who came to the Fort Dodge Public Library Tuesday morning for the museum's presentation of "Unwrapping Egypt."
Kaden Bell makes his own mummy by wrapping a clothespin with masking tape. When asked what he learned about mummies, Bell said, “They’re not real anymore.”
The icky part is, after the body to be mummified was washed in the Nile River and in wine, the preparers would cut the guts out. They removed the liver and intestines from a hole cut in the side of the body, and pulled the brains out through the future mummy's nose.
Poe passed around rubber hearts and brains for the kids to feel.
She read a story about King Tutankhamun of Egypt, then sent the kids to stations around the room to make mummy masks, small clothespin mummies or amulets. Older kids could write their names in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Jenny Wright, one of the kids in attendance, said touching the rubber guts was her favorite part. She also learned more about the practice of mummy-making.
"I didn't know it was only rich people who could be mummies," Wright said. "I thought everyone could."
Poe said she travels all around the state helping kids learn more about this ancient African country.
"I was in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Dubuque in just the last week," she said.
'The Only One'
Though the museum is based in Cedar Rapids, its goal is to provide statewide learning, Poe told the adults at the museum's second presentation Tuesday evening.
Called "The Only One," this presentation also featured something disgusting. The topics touched on throughout the night were racism and discrimination.
"The Only One" is based on one of the exhibits in the Cedar Rapids museum, and explores what it's like to be the only minority in a school, on a sports team, or on a political body.
Poe said the message could appeal to everyone.
"Another reason we wanted to do this exhibit is that all of us have been the only one," she said. "We may not have been the only African American person, but we've been the only one with glasses, we've been the only one who moved here from somewhere different."
One of the stories on the program was that of Jane Burleson, of Fort Dodge. Burleson was the first woman and the first black person to serve on the Fort Dodge City Council.
Burleson told the audience of her experiences in the Hormel packing house union, and of running for City Council.
"They would ask me when I was running about being the first woman, and being the first black. And I said anybody could do what I did if they wanted, if they have the gumption and the nerve," Burleson said. "It's not just me being one person, that I did it, but I see that as a stepping-stone so anyone else could do the same if they wanted to."
Poe told stories from Iowa's history that showed both hardships and growth for "only one" students in Iowa.
She told of girls who couldn't attend their prom, or who weren't allowed to dance with anyone. She told of a black baseball player who wasn't allowed to enter a restaurant to eat with his white wife.
She talked about Dora Martin Berry, a student at State University of Iowa, which became the University of Iowa. Berry was elected Miss SUI by her student body in 1955, but the university refused to recognize it.
She recalled Johnny Bright, the only black player on the 1951 Drake University football team. In a game with Oklahoma A and M, Bright was hit hard illegally so many times that he broke his jaw in the first quarter. The incident prompted the NCAA to require face guards on football helmets, Poe said.
The stories prompted discussion in the audience. Some recalled discrimination right here in Fort Dodge - places certain folks weren't allowed to go, or people they'd seen denied housing because of their skin. Others recalled examples of people reaching out across color lines to learn more about each other.
Jamie and Josh Anderson, of Manson, brought their four children to learn.
"It's important to expose our kids to things like that," Josh Anderson said. "We don't want them to grow up in a monochromatic atmosphere."