This past Sunday afternoon, my girlfriend and were walking through the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center when she noticed that the Story of Hawaii Museum had moved. No longer located on the first floor, a few doors down from Ramen Ya, the little museum is now on the second floor, just opposite the elevator and directly above American Eagle Outfitters. Stepping inside, we found museum director Bryant Neal, who promptly showed us around the new set-up.
Though the space is smaller than the old location, the new museum makes more sense, as the main room is dominated by a circle of display cases arranged chronologically. Now visitors can start with displays on ancient Hawaii and then progress through history as they walk around the room. Smaller antechambers contain rotating or special displays, like the one Neal is still working on concerning Camp Maui, the massive US Marine base located in Haiku at Giggle Hill during World War II.
Neal immediately showed us his newest acquisition: a well-worn copy of the wartime publication Hawaii at War, a black and white magazine packed with large photos from the battles of Coral Sea, Midway and the Solomons, as well as information about military (and civilian) mobilization on each of the Hawaiian islands. Neal’s focus on Maui’s wartime efforts make sense, given that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
But the story of Hawaii is far more eclectic than merely the site of the first American battle of WWII, and Neal was soon showing us a far more sublime display dedicated to the Mad Hatter of Maui, a 1970s-era hat shop in Lahaina Town that offered woven hats that were specially sized to order. Neal first showed us old photos of the old shop, with its towering stacks of hat blanks, then walked us through the process of custom-sizing a hat to its prospective owner. Neal also marveled over the engineering of a round, metal vice-like device that, with the turn of a crank, expanded the hats to the correct measurements.
The Story of Hawaii Museum is open seven days a week and is located at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. For more information, go to Storyofhawaiimuseum.com.
Photo courtesy Bryant Neal