I am passionate about the subject of tourism. For the past
20 years, I have worked with tourism destinations all over
the world, including Connecticut attractions such as Mystic
Aquarium and the Institute for Exploration. I now consult with
the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. So I know
a few things about attracting visitors.
And what I know is that great stories attract visitors by the
thousands and millions. Here in Hartford we are sitting on one
of the greatest stories in the world. It's the story of Sam Colt
and his amazing armories.
It's the story of the gun that won the West. The story of the
Texas Rangers and all those other legends - Jesse James, Wild
Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
This is a story that people all over the world find riveting.
In fact, European and Asian tourists flock to U.S. sites associated
with this tale.
There are also plenty of people like me who are fascinated about
other aspects of American history, like our country's rise to
industrial prominence. Colt played a pivotal part in that story,
too. The manufacturing and marketing techniques pioneered by
Colt spread to other companies across the country, making American
ingenuity the envy of the world. This is a big story, and it
is amazing that so much of the story is still intact in Hartford.
Best of all, the story of Sam and Elizabeth Colt is a great
American love story. Sam and Elizabeth were true soulmates, and
when he died prematurely in 1862, she kept the business running.
In fact, Wyatt Earp bought his six-guns from Elizabeth, not Sam.
The truth is that Sam and Elizabeth left us with a wealth of
stories. Told well, these stories could triple or quadruple the
number of visitors to Hartford.
The obvious place to start thinking about telling these stories
is Coltsville, the complex of buildings and armories that was
the heart of the Colt Empire.
I have no stake whatsoever in Coltsville. I don't know the developers.
I don't know the politics. But I know a great opportunity for
Connecticut tourism when I see it.
Let us hope that Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman are successful
in securing recognition for the original Colt empire as a national
park. That would be a great start. Then it will be up to the
rest of us to marshal the necessary resources to create a unique
The resources available to
us are staggering. We are talking about not just a firearms
collection, but also a wide array of art, architecture and
sculpture. We got a glimpse of the richness of these resources
in 1996 with the Wadsworth Atheneum's exhibition "Sam
and Elizabeth Colt: The Legend and Legacy of Colt's Empire."
I envision creating four permanent exhibits: one introducing
Sam and Elizabeth; one dramatizing the gun that won the West
(featuring all those great Western legends); one showcasing Colt's
leading role in the rise of America as a manufacturing and marketing
powerhouse; and one highlighting Colt's cultural contributions
to Hartford's Gilded Age. Ideally, these exhibits would be housed
in the main armory building. From there, visitors could be prompted
to explore other aspects of Coltsville and the Colt legacy in
Creating such a central attraction will require major cooperation
among institutions that have pieces of the Colt story, including
the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the Museum of Connecticut
History, the Colt home Armsmear and the Caldwell Colt Memorial
House. But it will be worth it.
Tourism is vital to Connecticut's future. It is already a major
driver of the state's economy, accounting for $9.9 billion in
revenue in 2001, according to the University of Connecticut's
Center for Economic Analysis. But it can be much bigger.
Hartford has a chance to be a rising star in tourism. Let's
make it happen.
Bill O'Neal is a marketing
consultant in Durham who created Hartford's slogan "New
England's Rising Star.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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