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How We Recreated Ryan White's Bedroom

By Andrea Hughes, Lead Curator, Arts and Humanities

Josh Estes, host of This Week’s WOW, and I share a favorite space in the museum—Ryan White’s bedroom in The Power of Children exhibit. Josh—along with many of our visitors—loves it because it’s filled with toys from the 80s and reminds him of his childhood. I love it because I was the lead curator on the exhibit and I had the honor of working with Ryan’s mom, Jeanne, as we packed up and preserved the room. Josh and I were both so excited to work on the latest episode of This Week’s WOW to give you a behind-the-scenes personal tour of our favorite space.

We've had the contents of Ryan White’s room since 2001, when we went to his Cicero home and packed everything up to bring to the museum. His mother, Jeanne, was getting ready to move and was looking for a good home for all of his things. She really wanted someone to do something noteworthy with his items from his room, and she chose to entrust that task to us!  

We installed a recreation of Ryan’s room in the Power of Children gallery in 2007. We worked really hard to make it as close to what we had seen in Cicero as we could. We used photos that we had taken six years earlier to help us, and used Ryan’s real things whenever possible. 

Ryan's Cicero Bedroom

Ryan's Bedroom at the Museum

5 Behind-the-Scenes Facts about Ryan’s Room:

  1. In some cases, we recreated certain items that would get a lot of wear and tear (like the dresser and desk, as well as the posters on the wall) but in most cases, everything you see in the room really was Ryan’s.  The originals of the items we had to recreate are still in our collection downstairs.
  2. You’ll notice big fuzzy bear slippers in the room. This is because Ryan’s feet were always cold, so he kept these close by. These everyday objects of Ryan’s are some of my favorites.
  3. His school notebooks, text books, and book bags are another favorite of mine. You can see his doodles and other fun notes from classmates written in them. You can also see a phone Ryan used to call into class when he couldn’t make it in person, and a microscope he used to do science homework at home.
  4. The bulletin board in the back corner of the room was kept exactly as Ryan left it. We literally lifted it off the wall and transferred it to the recreated bedroom. It’s filled with nice notes from friends, get well cards, and pictures.
  5. Ryan got a lot of signed memorabilia from stars. You’ll notice pictures or posters signed by Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Greg Louganis on the walls in his room. 

It was very rewarding to be part of the team that recreated Ryan’s room here at the museum. Getting to know Jeanne, seeing Ryan’s room in Cicero, and installing and caring for his items here has been a highlight of my work at the museum.

See more from Ryan's room in our latest episode of This Week's WOW...

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Categories: Collections, Exhibits, This Week’s WOW
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