A Facebook friend recently posted a wonderful question! “Did the town you grew up in have a museum?” Thank you, Lynne Calamia! You can’t imagine how many memories this shook loose. Yes, my town had a museum.
What I remember: The Children’s Museum (of Hartford, Connecticut) was located in a big old brick Victorian house just near enough for me and my sister to walk to. Near the front door was a swan, beautifully mounted, in a big glass case. I loved it! So beautiful and so lifelike, with its wings raised. The swan was the symbol of the Museum. I believe it was a trumpeter swan, which has a ten foot wingspan!
I don’t remember much else about the Museum. I think it had dioramas, like most museums at that time. But what did they show? No idea.
By the time I was ten years old, the Children’s Museum had grown and moved, and was closer to me. My mother signed me up for a workshop on growing plants. We mixed our own potting soil. The swan was still on display (I think), but the Museum had a new symbolic animal, a whale. They built a huge model whale outdoors and children could climb in and around it, getting a feel for its enormous size. Fun!
Years passed and I returned to the Museum with my sons. Lots to see. Good family fun, but we lived 200 miles away. Clearest memory: the Museum had a live monkey, which predictably fascinated my two year old son. He and the monkey came face to face through a glass barrier. The monkey made an aggressive grimace! My son, terrified, forgot his ability to walk, dropped to all fours and scuttered away as fast as he could move! I scooped him up for reassurance. It didn’t seem to reduce his interest in animals or museums.
Through their growing up years, I took my sons to various museums. I like SMALL museums. If I go to a huge one, I’m likely to pick one floor or exhibit, rather than walk myself to exhaustion trying to see “everything”.
My sons and I especially enjoyed house type displays. For example, the Mark Twain House in Hartford was a real hit, with its porch balcony the resembles a Mississippi steam boat. An the famous fire place with twin chimneys on either side of a big window, so residents could watch snow fall into the fire. So was Thoreau’s house at Walden Pond. It isn’t the original house, which was judged too remote for a public exhibit, but an excellent reproduction. Very appealing! My sons wanted to move right in. But very best of all were the 1903 Camp Buildings at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. Again, not original structures, but a beautiful, detailed reconstruction. There wasn’t much “civilization” on the island of Kitty Hawk when the Wrights chose it for its open space and steady wind. They brought most of their own supplies and lived simply. Children love the idea of camping out! Roughing it! My sons spent more time studying the Camp Buildings than running along the 852 foot flight line that shows where the Wrights accomplished their amazing feat.
So, if someone asks what museums are for, I say they are for families to share. Now my most frequently visited museum is the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Medium sized, and home to the American Entomological Society and a world class collection of insects. Don’t miss it! Families love it.
I hope to visit the Roebling Museum in Roebling, New Jersey, soon! The Executive Director is Lynne Calamia, mentioned in my first paragraph above. It’s a museum of history and technology, now closed for Covid but maintaining an active on-line presence.