by Leslie Lang
photo by Macario
From the outside, Wayne Subica’s nonprofit museum, Memories of Hawai‘i, is just another unassuming storefront on Hilo’s Keawe Street. Inside, it’s an impressive, extensive collection of memorabilia about Hawai‘i’s sports, plantation life and railroads. Where else could you learn about the time “the world’s fastest human,” Jesse Owens, raced the Big Island’s fastest horse? It was in Hilo’s Ho‘olulu Park in 1946—and the horse won by a neck.
“I want to preserve and show how plantation life was back before everything went out of sugar,” says Subica, a retired USDA employee. He displays such bygone items as bango (number) tags, which sugar plantations used to identify and pay workers; an 1890 coffee grinder; and the brass whistle that used to announce lunchtime at the Kohala Sugar Company. One display lists all 157 cars registered on the Big Island in 1910; it’s interesting for its familiar Hawai‘i surnames as well as the automobile models it mentions: Studebakers and Hupmobiles as well as Cadillacs and Fords. There’s a 1915 license plate made of porcelain ( #352) and a nine-foot-tall 1920s gas pump.
Subica says people who stop into his museum often discover photos of grandparents or of themselves as children—like the man who recently saw a 1933 photo of Babe Ruth tossing coins to kids from his arriving ship. “He called out to me, ‘Hey! I was the one diving for the coins!’” says Subica. “Every week something like that happens in here.”
After just a year in existence, the museum is already outgrowing its space. Subica’s working to acquire Hilo’s historic railroad round house, where the town’s trains were repaired and stored, to relocate his museum. And he could keep his train there, too, if that dream comes to fruition—he’s found, in California, a restored train that ran between several Hawai‘i sugar plantations in the ’20s and ’30s, and he’s hoping to buy it and bring it home, to run from the docks to downtown. “Wouldn’t that be great,” he enthuses, “to bring a 1925 train from Hilo back to where it came from?” Memories of Hawai‘i is at 301 Keawe St. in Hilo.
Memories of Hawai‘i