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Northwest Missouri State University


Student Spotlight

Northwest student Catherine Gast stands beside her exhibit “Dark Happenings in Nodaway County,” which opened at the Nodaway County Historical Society museum Dec. 5. Gast recently completed her bachelor's degree in history at Northwest.

Northwest student Catherine Gast stands beside her exhibit “Dark Happenings in Nodaway County,” which opened at the Nodaway County Historical Society museum Dec. 5. Gast recently completed her bachelor's degree in history at Northwest. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

    Dec. 18, 2015

    Graduating student creates museum exhibit about ‘Dark Happenings’

    A Northwest Missouri State University history student put her research and exhibit-building skills to work this fall to highlight pieces of Nodaway County’s grisly past.

    Catherine Gast, a Burlington Junction, Missouri, native created “Dark Happenings in Nodaway County,” which opened at the Nodaway County Historical Society museum Dec. 5.

    Creating the exhibit was a capstone project for her senior seminar course, and she completed her bachelor’s degree this month. She also gained internship experience through Northwest Archives and as a summer curatorial intern at Andrew County Museum in Savannah, where she created an exhibit about local residents’ reaction and support during World War II.

    Next she plans to pursue a master’s degree in museum studies and launch her career as a museum curator.

    “This gives me experience in researching and trying to present it in a way that’s tasteful and eye-catching but still informative and makes people want to look at it,” Gast said. “As an exhibit designer this is what I would do. I would find the information, put it on panels, make the labels.”

    Gast created the exhibit under the instruction of Assistant Professor of History Dr. Elyssa Ford.

    “Having the museum in town and the different display cases on campus provide the public history students with a great opportunity to get real-world experience designing and installing exhibits,” Ford said.  “For students like Catherine who go the extra mile to take advantage of these opportunities, they will find that it helps them when looking for internships, jobs and graduate school programs in the future.”

    Gast’s exhibit highlights the gruesome nature of some local crimes and events that led to each. The exhibit also explains how the community reacted to the crimes and the ways they impacted the region. 

    Growing up in Nodaway County, Gast had some knowledge of the crimes. As a public history minor, Gast decided to turn her research into an exhibit, editing her 12-page research paper to fit a handful of panels. She separated the crimes into three categories: famous murders, lynching and vigilantism.

    Gast profiled the murders of Dr. Perry H. Talbott – a local physician, politician and not-so-loving husband and father shot in 1880 as the result of a plot carried out by his own family – and the Hubbell family, whose members were shot and burned in their home near Barnard in 1910. She also included the lynching of Raymond Gunn, who was burned alive at the top of a schoolhouse in 1931 after murdering a school teacher.

    As an example of vigilantism, Gast retold the story of Ken McElroy, who was well-known for committing crimes in his surrounding hometown of Skidmore. In 1981, he was shot and killed by multiple men lining the street as he sat in his pickup truck, but witnesses claimed they didn’t know who killed him.

    “The crime in Nodaway County was something I always thought was interesting, and I had never heard of most of these people,” Gast said. “I thought if I had never heard of about it, being a history buff, no one my age had ever heard of these people. I wanted to educate people about it, and it was something I thought people would find interesting.”


    For more information, please contact:

    Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
    mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

    Northwest Missouri State University
    215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468