David Wolf reminisced about his father, Phil, the driving force behind creating the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
"I think if my father came back now, he would be just amazed at what we have been able to do with his legacy, not only inside the museum itself but that we have been able to set up an endowment fund in his name," David said. "We are our approaching our goal of $100,000. That would just blow him away."
David was attending the star-studded opening of the Sonja Henie exhibit Friday, Dec. 27 at the museum located in the Olympic Center. The exhibit itself was timely, as its opening coordinated with Holiday Festival on Ice, the annual skating exhibition featuring several of the greatest professional skaters in the world. The cast included three-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist Canadian Elvis Stojko, world figure skating champion American Kimmie Meissner, and four-time world champion Canadian Kurt Browning. The big news was that the exhibit not only celebrated the legendary three-time gold medalist Sonja Henie but also heralded a new direction for the museum.
Lake Placid Olympic Museum Director Alison Haas (Photo by Naj Wikoff)
"This exhibit represents our transition from being a museum that displays artifacts to a museum that interprets, tells stories and provides an educational experience. People will come away from this with an emotional feeling," said museum President Marylou Brown. "We went in this direction because we wanted to engage more people of all ages. When looking at many of the artifacts, if you are my age, you might say, 'Oh yes, I remember that.' But if you are 12 years old, it doesn't mean anything unless it engages you in something that is meaningful to you today."
There is a lot to learn about Henie. She was the first skater to wear white figure skates and short skirts. Before her, women skaters wore full-length dresses. Henie wanted cut length of her skirts so she could be more physically and artistically expressive. Her athletic achievements have been unequalled: three gold medals in three successive Olympics, including the 1932 Games held in Lake Placid and 10 world championships.
Henie went on to become one of the leading movie stars of Hollywood. In doing so, she introduced many to the art and beauty of figure skating through many films. Today, corporate endorsements are nothing new for leading athletes, a trend that Henie helped launch along with a wealth of product endorsements, dolls and other artifacts tied to her image and abilities.
Impressive is the look of the exhibit, which is brighter, more open and more engaging than those of the past.
"The museum has been in existence 12 years," said Brown. "A year ago, we engaged a new museum director, Alison Haas, and gave her the freedom to explore, educate herself more in terms of what modern museums are doing, and bring some new exhibits here. The Sonja Henie exhibit is the first the museum has had that was professionally designed. We brought in a museum exhibit design firm out of Hamilton, New York. It is the first time we have invested this kind of resource."
"This exhibit was a ton of fun for me to put together and work on," Haas told the attendees. "In the next weeks, we will be adding some magnetic Sonja Henie paper dolls where people can change their costumes. That's quite fun. I want to thank Caroline Welsh for guiding me and helping me along the way and to Denny Allen, the best boss ever, who was instrumental in helping arrange for the skaters to be here tonight, and of course, Lori Fitzgerald and Reed Miller from High Peaks Resort that sponsored our opening refreshments."
"Sonja Henie popularized the sport of skating," said Jeffrey Buttle, 2006 Olympic bronze medalist. "She brought it to the public through the movies. I think skating became popular because of her and her success and image. I think she was one of a kind in her time and ahead of her time, and because she dominated the sport for so long."
"Sonja Henie was a pioneer in the skating world," said Kimmie Meissner. "She is the one who blazed the trail for the rest of us to follow. She had all those wonderful lines and extensions. A lot of girls try to hit those extensions still."
"I think Sonja Henie was responsible for the glam in figure skating," said Kurt Browning. "The fact that she became a movie star on equal level with her skating gave notoriety to our sport and a glitz and a shine that lasted a very, very long time. I think we owe a lot to her. For me, when you are in Lake Placid, you want to see a skating show. You enter a vortex that makes you want to go to the rink and see great skating. Lake Placid is a fountain of youth for figure skating."
"Lake Placid has a lot of history," said Elvis Stojko. "Everyone talks about the Olympic hockey team, of course, but it is a skating town. It's a sporting town. What's weird is when you come here it is such a little village and you never think that the Olympics could have been held in such a small place. Lake Placid, though, has that magic to it. Lake Placid is one of the few that continues to push and have that Olympic feel. You come here and you know right way - it has that energy and it will always be here and that's what makes it very special. The idea of Montreal and Lake Placid putting on the Olympics together would add to and give the Olympics a different dynamic. It would attract a lot of people from around the world because they would just want to see how it would be organized between two countries. I think it would be a really cool setup to have our two countries working together."
"This exhibit of Sonja Henie is certainly a wonderful reflection on the history of this facility and this community, and what has gone on since Sonja Henie was in the forefront of figure skating," said Olympic Arena manager Denny Allen. "It is an exciting time for the Museum."
The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is open 10 a.m. 5 p.m. daily. For more information, visit ORDA online at www.whiteface.com.