(Editor's note: This article ran in The A-J August 4, 2001.)
Not wanting to miss what is expected to be Lubbock's most auspicious visiting cultural attraction, the excited and the curious have jammed the local telephone line used to handle ticket orders for a 2002 exhibition of never-before-displayed frescoes from the Vatican.
"I've been calling that number for two days," said local resident Ernestine Pennington. "I just haven't been able to get through. If that's the only number, I guess I'll just keep trying."
Gary Edson, curator of the Museum of Texas Tech, said Friday that a new telephone system will be installed Monday at the museum solely to handle requests for the free tickets.
"This is all happening much earlier than we planned," he said. "I mean, the exhibit still is almost a year out. We didn't quite expect to be buried this early with ticket requests."
"Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums," will be displayed June 2 through Sept. 15, 2002, at the Museum of Texas Tech.
Tickets for a specific date and time of visit can be reserved by calling 742-6800. Free long-distance calls are accepted at (866) 803-6873.
Museum officials are recording the date and time requests, and will mail tickets after Jan. 1, 2002, to those who have made reservations.
Visitors may stay in the museum as long as they wish, but everyone must have a ticket.
Complimentary exhibitions from the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston and Cornision Nacional de Arte Sacro of Mexico will be installed with the Vatican frescoes.
"The new telephone system will have six lines utilizing the same telephone number," Edson said. "We have more people now to work all of those lines, and the public should not get a busy signal.
"This is the same sort of system used by hospitals and concert ticketing services, where callers are lined up and serviced sequentially."
He added, "To tell the truth, I also had put this off because it is a more impersonal, technological system. I sort of liked being able to handle requests on a more personal level."
Both the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, who labored to make the exhibit a reality, and the Rev. Richard Bourgeois, who oversees the North American chapters of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, agreed that between 350,000 and 400,000 visitors are expected to view the exhibit in Lubbock.
Bourgeois said no Vatican exhibit has attracted fewer than 3,000 visitors per day.
Nelda Laney, wife of Texas Speaker of the House Pete Laney and designer of a Vatican-approved Christmas ornament, mentioned during a visit earlier this week that she fields requests for information about Lubbock's Vatican exhibit every day in Austin.
"The news is spreading," she said. "We just talked with Tom Rich, the governor of Pennsylvania, and he's planning to fly to Lubbock for the exhibit."
But Edson said most ticket requests thus far have been from Lubbock and area residents.
"The problem," he said, "is that people call up and they maybe know what day they want to come, but they're not sure what time they can come. And phone calls that we thought would take up seconds are taking up several minutes."
The new system, noted Edson, will offer "multiple choices."
He said callers will be greeted with a recording citing the dates of the exhibit. Callers then will be directed ("press 1," "press 2," etc.) if they know when they wish to attend, desire assistance or simply want to know which dates remain available.
Edson referred to the modern telephone system as "not inexpensive," but said, "I can't put my finger on the total cost."
It will remain in place at the museum only until the Vatican exhibit departs and is transported back to Rome.
Edson added, "People need to realize that we still have tickets available for most times on most days. It's way too soon to panic."
But the process should be speeded up on Monday.
"Believe me, it's been frustrating for us, too," Edson said.
(LubbockOnline.com reporter Michael Gaffney contributed to this report.)