“Scottie, beam Placer County history up.”
Ralph Gibson's in charge. High school football. Navy service. Husband. Father. Almost always beaming. Yes, pioneer lunar archaeologist Ralph Gibson, 51, has lifted off the launch pad as Placer County's sixth museums administrator and is now in orbit.
For his voyage Gibson brings: A childlike wonderment. A sense of adventure to make our rich history more meaningful to those here and those who visit. Professionalism and seriousness in a mild manner. Popularity and enthusiasm. His selection bodes well for the future.
His appointment came with little fanfare. Gibson had been serving as interim administrator since Melanie Barton's retirement in 2013. Nine months later it was announced quietly announced that Gibson had beat out all contenders to replace Barton.
The announcement said Gibson "brings a wealth of private and public sector experience" as well as several years under Barton as a researcher, designer, curator and manager. As interim leader of the museum staff and the more than 200 volunteers, Gibson "continued to distinguish himself as a personable, creative and focused manager."
The lunar stuff: July 20 marks the 48th anniversary of the first men to land on the moon. It was an inquisitive Gibson as a student at New Mexico State University who got the ball rolling to preserve the 1969 Apollo II landing area at Tranquility Base as a World Heritage site.
In 2010, Gibson was part of the team that convinced the California State Historical Resources Commission to take the unprecedented step of placing the 106 or so objects left behind by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the moonwalk on the California Register of Historical Resources as associated with state history. New Mexico and Hawaii have followed suit with the goal being a World Heritage Site.
Some history: Since 1948, Placer County Museums has grown from a shoestring operation to a million dollar annual enterprise with six museums. Gibson is scrambling to add a 7th Museum by next year at DeWitt to honor the former World War II Army Hospital and State Mental Hospital that served as the county's major employer for more than a generation.
The museums started with the hoopla over the Centennial of James Marshall's and Claude Chana's 1848 gold discoveries, the 49ers and statehood with a feisty May W. Perry, the executive secretary of the Placer County Historical Society.
She and the PCHS convinced the county to take over the Mining and Manufacturing Building at the 22nd Agricultural Fairgrounds as its first museum. Perry was its first curator. Now, Gibson and his crew has moved the old Gold Country Museums started by Perry from the Gold Country Fairground. The museum was moved to the Auburn Southern Pacific Depot in Auburn, upgraded to meet new disability and other standards and repurposed as the only Gold Rush Museum in the country complete with indoor year-round gold panning and a mine. Be sure to visit it during your stay or extended stay at the 63rd annual meeting of the Conference of California Historical Society or on a future visit. -Michael Otten