As a public historian interested in heritage tourism, I am always looking out for ways to use local history to draw visitors to our area. Not long after I started Jersey Shore Tours, I decided the opportunity presented by Donald Trump’s nomination for President coinciding with the choice to close the Taj Mahal by Carl Icahn was too good to miss, and I went about writing a “Trump’s Gambling Heritage Tour” of AC. This tour, which I imagined when I wrote it would only be temporary, garnered my fledgling company a great deal of free media, with the Philadelphia Inquirer and our local National Public Radio affiliate the first to cover it. After the Taj closed, and Trump won, press attention went global, with big newspapers in Germany and Spain as well as Japanese Public Television and the BBC News featuring segments on it.
Alongside the media attention, I was also glad for the chance to connect local history to national politics for those members of the public who took the tour, most of whom seemed to appreciate my mix of fact and some satire. However, this was nothing compared to the public reaction and media attention drawn by what seemed to me a logical move following the closing of the Taj and the election of Trump, the creation of an Atlantic City Trump Museum project that would use artifacts and stories to preserve the history of Trump’s involvement in Atlantic City. After discussing the project with some colleagues at Stockton, we put out a release and immediately received interest from a Press of Atlantic City reporter, whose story was picked up the next day by the Associated Press and appeared across the country. Over the next six weeks, the Atlantic City Trump Museum project was the subject of several additional articles by newspapers as far away as the Boston Globe and also appeared on local FOX and NBC news affiliates, though many of those commenting on the idea expressed skepticism and others were overtly against it.
This community reaction was interesting to me because, as a doctoral student then completing a dissertation that included an analysis of Korean War exhibitions, I conceived of an “Atlantic City Trump Museum” as being a bi-partisan space in which to learn about the history of East Coast gambling, and to think critically about President Trump’s previous career as Atlantic City’s most well-known casino mogul. What surprised me most was the way in which people of all political persuasions seemed to assume that any “Trump Museum” would be a shrine to the man who was once the largest employer in Atlantic City, but suffered several bankruptcies and was known to short-change small businesses throughout the area. Moreover, this was the same feedback I faced when I spoke to a Temple undergrad class in the spring of 2017, despite the fact that they had been learning all semester how professional museums were run. This widespread public reaction made me realize that if the Atlantic City Trump Museum project was to move forward at all it would have to based on community engagement and use artifact-heavy exhibits.
That is why I have decided to set-up an upcoming Trump Museum exhibition directly on the AC Boardwalk, in front of the former Trump Plaza, which was the tallest building in town when it opened as a partnership with Harrah’s in 1984. Consisting of artifacts that I have acquired during the last two years, this ‘(Pop-Up) Atlantic City Trump Museum’ exhibit will encourage visitors to examine objects first-hand, to learn where they were produced among other things, while I stand by to offer live curatorial context. The exhibit, which will also play with how the naming of museums impacts our perceptions of them, will be staged from 2-4 every Sunday afternoon in August, following a test run from 2-4 this Sunday, July 29. I encourage you to come learn about Trump’s casinos at one that closed in 2014, and may be torn down in the future, and to learn about The Atlantic City Trump Museum Project at: www.TrumpMuseum.org.