Following the guidance of local, state and federal officials, the President James K Polk Home and Museum will…
Small museums often depend on their staff to perform a wide range of tasks that often extend far past any usual job description. For instance, at the President James K. Polk Home and Museum (PH&M), it’s not unusual to receive a tour from the Director or converse with the Curator behind the gift shop counter. Operating with a full time staff of three and a few docents and volunteers means everyone at the Polk Home has a unique story or two to share about their experiences at the museum. It also means that we depend on our staff’s talents to enhance the site’s visitor and digital experiences. It’s this “all hands on deck” modus operandi that makes the PH&M shine.
In an effort to highlight our staff and their contributions to the museum and its mission, we will periodically feature five questions with a different staff member. Up first is our Education and Programming Coordinator, Thomas Samuel.
My name is Thomas Samuel. I am the education and programming coordinator at the President James K. Polk Home and Museum. I am a licensed history teacher. I got my degree from Tennessee State University just a few years back. I was an untraditional student. Way back in 2002 I started work on a music education degree, but decided instead to pursue a career in music. I spent the better part of decade working as a musician in Nashville. I got married, had a kid, and decided to go back to school and try my hand at another one of my life long interests, history.
Describe a typical day at the President James K. Polk Home and Museum.
Well, it really depends on the day. Usually, I start the day by generating social media content which might require a bit of research and writing. I often send a few emails. Brainstorm new programs. Promote upcoming content. Plan and promote. I coordinate with our living history presenters and experts, a lot of staring at the computer screen, especially in the AM.
On the best days I’ll get to host a field trip, homeschool event, or something with kids on the site, and I still give regular tours fairly often. I started at the museum as a docent and I love taking people through the house. When you spend 40 hours a week up to your neck in Polk related history, you really want to share it with people.
It’s not uncommon to find me behind the front desk or down at Polk Presidential Hall moving exhibit walls to prepare for an exhibit. I also record and edit the Polk’s America podcast. On those days I work from my little home studio. You can find me pretty much anywhere and everywhere I am needed.
What is the weirdest fact you know about James K. Polk?
When Polk was president the White House was not nearly as locked down as it is today. In fact the general public were allowed to meet with the president in the White House. So Polk would meet with the public, but a large group of those wanting to meet him were looking for a government job and hoped the president would wield his influence in their favor. Polk really resented these job seekers and complained about them constantly in his diary. He eventually wrote something along the lines of, “I wish I had one of Colt’s new revolvers to clear the room.” So President Polk felt compelled to threaten violence toward his constituents to leave him alone. I guess we’ve all had a day like that.
What is the strangest question you have been asked about the Polks?
Kids are the best. They will ask about anything that pops into their mind. “Where did they put the TV?” or “Where did they poop?” You know, only the important stuff. I get a lot of questions about ghosts, too. People really want this place to be haunted.
Why should we care about James K. Polk today?
James Polk is “Mr. Manifest Destiny.” He transformed the nation into a continental power. This huge physical, geographic change led to huge changes in the American identity. Polk invaded a country. He expanded the power of the executive office. He exacerbated the debate over slavery. The way in which all that territory was divided between Free States and Slave States forced the country to reckon with the evils of slavery and that ultimately fed into the Civil War. These things have huge implications in modern times.