Friday, December 18, 2009

The Museum of the Cape Fear - Fayetteville, NC

The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, NC, is actually three museums in one: a traditional museum with exhibits on the area’s history, the 1897 Poe House, and the ruins of the Fayetteville Arsenal. The museum has a little something for everyone, and we enjoyed our visit in October 2009. The main museum building traces the history of the region, from the early Native American residents, through settlement and industrialization. There is also an area for visiting exhibits, which, during our visit, was hosting a display of Vietnam veteran photography. The exhibits are interesting and well-placed for younger visitors, though some are a little well-worn from being handled by those visitors.

The E.A. Poe house (no relation to the author!) is a real treasure. Beautifully restored to its 1890s splendor, the home perfectly captures the lives of upper-class Fayetteville people of a long-gone era. Many of the items in the home are original to the Poe family, and we were all intrigued by the toys, clothes, hairwork, and other little fragments of everyday life. At the time of our visit, the museum was featuring an excellent display on mourning, with the parlor draped in black, the clocks stopped, and the mirrors covered. All tours are guided, and our docent was patient with the children and extremely knowledgeable. She tailored our tour to the children’s ages, and even allowed them to touch reproduction items. She asked them engaging questions and kept their attention, never getting frustrated with their curiosity. She was wonderful. The tours are frequent, and we were fortunate enough to be the only members of our tour party. This is a good idea for visitors with small children, and it makes life easier for the docent.

Arsenal Park includes the ruins of the Fayetteville Arsenal destroyed by General Sherman in March 1865. A “ghost tower” represents the destroyed structures that once stood here. The park is lovely, with well-placed and informative signage. It is located near the other buildings across a wide, tree-planted bridge spanning the highway. Bumpy ground makes the site a little hard to travel with a stroller or wheelchair, but manageable. Since it’s outdoors, this part of the museum is only a good idea on a day with good weather.

Overall, this is an outstanding museum, particularly as the admission is free and there are frequent special exhibits and programs.

From the Historian’s point of view: Michael was speaking that day, and only got to visit the arsenal site later in the day.

From the Educator’s point of view: The Museum has an excellent array of exhibits to appeal to nearly every age group, and the staff members we met were happy to help with school groups or other groups. The photography exhibit was not terribly interesting for younger visitors, but the museum has different traveling exhibits, so other upcoming ones may be more appropriate for young guests.

From the eight-year-old’s point of view: Nathaniel loved taking pictures in the Poe house, and his was particularly intrigued by the “cutting edge technology” of the gas/electric lights. He also enjoyed using his imagination to picture the original arsenal and visiting the technology exhibits in the main museum.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Museum of the Apopkans – Apopka, FL

If there was one town that Michael would call a “home-town” it would be Apopka, Florida. Never heard of it? Well, let us give you a little introduction. Apopka was settled by Native Americans thousands of years ago. Glimpses of that past are still found in artifacts from time to time. Following the end of the Second Seminole Indian War, white settlers began to arrive. By the 1860s and the start of the Civil War, there were a few families living in the area. After the war, and with the arrival of the railroad, the town began to grow. Now known as the city of Apopka, the area is also known as the “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World” and “The Fern City,” due to the amount of commercial foliage grown in the area.

We’ve visited the Museum of the Apopkans twice, with the latest visit coming in May of 2009. There are numerous items on display, including a couple of Native American canoes that were found locally. There are also other artifacts from this area. As to be expected with a local history museum, there are many items from the area. One exhibit deals with the citrus industry and includes local labels and a smudge pot. Local textiles are also featured, including quilts and coverlets, along with linen undergarments and old dresses. Other items abound, including information on early families, schools, and businesses. There is also a research room.

If you get a chance, stop by and visit the Museum of the Apopkans. There is a small admission charged. You can learn more by visiting the web site , linked here.

From a historian’s point of view: There were quite a few unique items in the museum’s collection. At the top of that list is a map of Apopka (I think it was 1890s, I forgot to jot down the date). This map is big – maybe four by six feet, and shows different houses and businesses in Apopka at the time. Seeing that my family has lived in the area since the mid-1960s, I do wish more items had been labeled as to their original owners.

From the educator’s point of view: Elizabeth regards this as an excellent museum for both local residents and visitors. Labeling could be a little more kid-friendly, but the textiles, toys, and other items are very engaging. The open layout makes a stroller easy to use and a good idea to keep a little person on track.

From an eight year old’s perspective: Nathaniel enjoyed seeing the medical instruments from Dr. McBride’s office. His grandpa probably saw the same medical instruments when he was Nathaniel’s age.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

National Museum of the US Air Force – Dayton, Ohio

Wow! That’s one way to describe the National Museum of the US Air Force. It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2008 when we ventured up to Dayton, Ohio. The Museum is located on the grounds of the historic Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Wright brothers used a portion of the base as a testing ground for their aircraft. The Patterson moniker comes from Frank Stuart Patterson, who was killed in a crash at the base in 1918.

The collection of aircraft inside the three hangers is amazing. The first hanger on the right is entitled “Early Years of Flight.” There are aircraft on the ground level, aircraft suspended from the roof, and scores of other displays, like the Wright Brothers’ wind tunnel, information on observation balloons, and over a dozen balloons. Some of my favorite aircraft in this section include a Fokker Dr. I and a Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. Across the hall from this show room is an exhibit entitled Air Power Gallery, focusing on World War II. There are almost sixty aircraft in this exhibit (can you begin to see the scope of things here?) including a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress, a Boeing B29 Superfortress, and a Messerschmitt ME 163B Komet. Once again, there are engines, weapons, including models of the A-bombs Fat Man and Little Boy, and scores of other exhibits; there are ones on D-Day and other airborne operations, glider pilots, and the Tuskegee Airmen. After leaving the WWII gallery, visitors come upon the Modern Flight Hanger, larger in size than the previous two. This gallery is not as visually enhanced as the other two exhibits, but still contains over fifty aircraft. Among this number are a Lockheed EC-121D Constellation, a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, several helicopters, and a Mig or two. There is the fuselage of a B-29 bomber that you can walk through, a lot of different munitions, like missiles and laser-guided bombs, and many other exhibits on the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Next visitors come upon the Cold War Gallery. The lighting in this gallery is much better, much like the first three. There are scores of aircraft in this gallery as well, including a B-2 Stealth Bomber, a Boeing WB-50D Superfortress, a U-2, and a Lockhead SR-71A “Blackbird.” On leaving this gallery, one comes to the Missile and Space Gallery to be greeted by the Command Module from the Apollo 15 expedition, a Mercury spacecraft and a Gemini Spacecraft. In the next , very tall room are a collection of missiles, including two Titans, a Minuteman, and Peacekeeper. There are also a collection of reproduction satellites and exhibits on John Glenn, Bernard Schriever, and Robert H. Goddard.

There are many other attractions at the National Museum of the US Air force . There is an IMAX theater. There is a presidential gallery containing planes used by presidents, including JFK’s Air Force One. Next to this gallery is a Research and Development Gallery. Both of these require a special bus trip. Outside the main hangers is a outdoor air park, containing a Starlifter, Hercules, Lodestar, along with the WWII-era tower, and other planes and exhibits.

Undoubtedly, there is more to do here than a person has time for in one day; that is why we are planning to go back. The special tower into the hanger where the staff restores aircraft (advance reservations must be made) is on our list.

From a Teacher’s perspective: Elizabeth was not able to go on this trip. (It was the day after Thanksgiving. I was shopping.)

From a Historian’s perspective: The sheer number of exhibits, and their quality, is overwhelming.

From an eight-year-old’s perspective: Nathaniel really enjoyed the space part of the gallery, especially the Apollo 15 capsule. He is very interested in the mechanics of flight and found the museum very engaging, if a bit much to take in. He really enjoyed the statue of Icarus, as we had just studied Greek mythology.

So, what if you are not into military history? Go for the technology. The number of rare planes, cut-away engines, and other exhibits should make this museum appealing on a variety of levels. You can learn more by visiting the museum website by following this link. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free, except for the IMAX. Special thanks to my father-in-law for taking this trip with us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chasing Rainbows Museum - Dollywood (Sevierville), TN

A museum dedicated to the career of Dolly Parton may not seem like a terribly intellectual experience, but the Chasing Rainbows Museum is actually very inspirational and even educational. Elizabeth, Nathaniel, and Isabella visited the museum on a trip to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. Of course, the museum has enough sequins to sink a battleship, and outfits that even Barbie wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, but there is also an incredibly inspiring story of a talented musician who has worked hard to reach astonishing goals, while seeking opportunities to give back to others along the way. Among the glittery gowns and heels are impressive displays of Dolly’s many awards, musical instruments, and handwritten lyrics that demonstrate her journey and may prove inspirational to visitors who have their own “rainbows” to chase. Elements of Dolly’s difficult but loving childhood are also proudly displayed, indicating both the long way she has come, and her unabashed delight in remembering her humble roots. Dolly’s educational and charitable efforts are also recognized (although I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tailor-made PhD. robe before; my regalia hangs from my shoulders like a tent, but not Dolly’s!). The Museum includes displays on Dolly’s work with the military, the park service (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ranger uniform quite like that, either), and literacy, among others. Although the museum is a little dark (to protect the costumes) and the hours can be confusing, it is a nice stop for the family to take a break from concerts, roller coasters, and splash rides and learn about an impressive woman whose struggles and achievements, for which she gives glory to God, can inspire and delight. Though boys (see Nathaniel’s response) may not be as thrilled with some of the displays as girls are, the museum is appropriate for the whole family. It is interesting that in the display of film costumes and props, the title of one film was not prominently displayed as it would be offensive to many visitors.

The museum opened in 2002 and is located in the Adventures in Imagination section of the park

Bruce D. Robinson Design Group designed the museum.

Hours sometimes differ from regular park hours, and admission is included with park ticket. These prices vary as well. The park’s website has details.

From the historian’s (Michael’s) point of view: Michael did not get to visit this museum.

From the eight-year-old’s (Nathaniel’s) point of view: Nathaniel liked the awards and musical instruments very much. He was also very interested in Dolly’s tour bus, which is parked outside and is open to guests. The costumes and accessories really didn’t interest him, but he did like Dolly’s signature butterfly motif, since he recently kept a monarch butterfly through its transformation.

From the toddler’s (Isabella’s) point of view: The museum is very colorful and intriguing for the young visitor, and many items are on a good level for a person in a stroller. A free-ranging toddler, however, would probably have to be reined in, as the museum staff are very conscientious about protecting the items on display.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paul W. Bryan Museum – Tuscaloosa, Alabama

We are not big sports fans. Yes, we will watch the World Series, or the Super Bowl, or maybe a NASCAR race from time to time, but our TV is seldom tuned to ESPN. If there was an exception, it would probably be University of Alabama football (Roll Tide!). We try to catch as many of these games as possible. Since we are gone many weekends in the fall, this might amount to two or three games. Recently, Michael had the opportunity to be in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, taking some classes through the University of Alabama. The Paul W. “Bear” Bryant Museum just happened to be next door to the building where Michael was taking his classes. If you know anything about college football, then you know the story of the Crimson Tide. They have won numerous bowl games, SEC title games, and twelve national championships. Football at the University of Alabama dates back to 1892. Exhibits at the museum trace the early days of football at the university, including early uniforms, footballs from winning games, even bumper stickers. There are numerous trophies from different games and numerous photographs. An added benefit is Bear Bryant’s office, re-created inside of the museum. The museum carries the exhibits all the way to the present, with a panel about current coach Nick Saban. There are numerous video panels with game highlights and interactive displays.

The Paul W. Bryant Museum opened in 1988. Admission is just $2.00 per adult. The facilities are handicapped accessible.

From the historian’s (Michael) point of view: the exhibits are well laid out, and follow a chronological approach to the football team’s history. The artifacts, from uniforms, to footballs, to trophies, to Bear Bryant’s office, are well done. If you are in Tuscaloosa, it is well worth the visit.

From the educator’s (Elizabeth) perspective: Elizabeth did not tour this museum.

From the eight-year-old’s (Nathaniel) perspective: Nathaniel did not get to tour this museum.

More information can be found by visiting the museum’s web site: Paul W. Bryant Museum

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting started

What are Museum Junkies? Museum Junkies are people who enjoy touring museums, historic sites, state and national parks, and national monuments. We do this both to experience the intrinsic value of the site, and to learn of each site’s historical significance. Personally, we visit these sites as a tool to learn about the place we live and as a teaching tool for our children (who are homeschooled). Over the past fifteen years, we have visited scores of historic sites and museums from Massachusetts (Salem National Maritime Park) to Florida (King Tut exhibit at Ft. Lauderdale Art Museum) to Missouri (Harry Truman home).

We look forward to having you along on our journey.

The Museum Junkies