SIOUX CITY | With the press of a button located on a 19th-century replica barrel, a very lifelike President Thomas Jefferson dressed in dark green wool breeches and a vest comes to life.

"Find the Northwest Passage. Carefully record what you observe and learn," he tells onlookers. "Make two copies of your records in case one is lost or damaged."

The animatronic Jefferson has been greeting visitors who walk into the Interpretive Center's Enlistment Gallery since its grand opening in late January 2016. He's the center's first animatronic addition since Seaman the Newfoundland dog, who arrived in 2003. 

The lines come from Jefferson's June 1803 written instructions to Capt. Meriwether Lewis. Jefferson was the president who instructed Lewis and Clark to search for a direct water route to the Pacific Ocean, and to observe the lay of the land along the way. 

Like his three other animatronic counterparts -- Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Seaman the Newfoundland dog -- Jefferson was constructed by Life Formations of Bowling Green, Ohio, and was introduced during a grand opening held in January 2016. 

Director Marcia Poole said after commenting on Jefferson's life-likeness, many people ask, "Was he really that thin?" Poole says Jefferson in real life was 6 feet, 2 1/2 inches and weighed only 181 pounds. 

Jefferson is surrounded by replicas of supplies from the day, blankets, fishhooks, a compass, as well as a real antique desk. Poole wrote the script for the speech. 

"A lot of people are like, is he real? Is this a real person you have standing here?" said history and education coordinator Sara Olson. "You really don't have too many animatronics in northwest Iowa." 

Olson said the center is, in the future, hoping to add another new animatronic: Sgt. Charles Floyd. The Kentucky native died near Sioux City on Aug. 20, 1804, supposedly of appendicitis, and was the only member of the Corps of Discovery to perish along the journey.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Olson said the center wants to reflect a "nice, healthy, robust Floyd," rather than the sick one many people think of. 

"We talk about his illness, but we really need to cover his life because he's a large part of Sioux City history," Olson said. "It would be nice for the kids to get to meet Sergeant Floyd."

Olson said the center has a potential script written but is still going through the acquisition process. 

Another new addition is a mural by Ho-Chunk artist Henry Payer Jr. of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska titled "Chief Blackbird's (Wazhinga Cabe) Grave: An Indigenous View." Painted in winter 2015, the 12-by-20-foot mural became a permanent exhibit in February. 

The mural shows when Lewis and Clark and a handful of their men climbed a hill near present-day Macy, Nebraska, that is named for Chief Blackbird (Wazhinga Cabe) and stuck a flag at his grave. Chief Blackbird died in the 1800-1801 smallpox epidemic. 

"The Omaha tribe was a great, powerful tribe at the time so Lewis and Clark wanted to meet with them, but they couldn't find the Omaha tribe," Olson said. 

Olson said one theory is that the tribe wanted to avoid the white men because of the diseases they were bringing to the native Americans. Lewis and Clark visited the grave of Chief Blackbird and left a white flag to show their respect for Chief Blackbird and the Omaha tribe. 

The center at 900 Larsen Park Road opened in 2002, and the adjoining Betty Strong Encounter Center was built in 2007. The private, nonprofit cultural complex is sustained by Missouri River Historical Development Inc.

Be the first to know - Sign up for Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments