Waking on a Saturday morning and finding no appointments on my calendar or “critical” tasks to complete, I decided to take advantage of the gift of time and experience a 101 list item. The Minnesota History Center was displaying an early draft of the U.S. Constitution, so I thought it would be cool to complete two 101 items at once (numbers 4 and 37). I’m a fan of maximizing opportunities wherever I can! :)
In addition to blessing me with open time, the day also provided perfect museum-visit weather: overcast and gray skies. A great mood for going inside someplace to linger, and to learn.
When I arrived at the history center, I stopped at the main desk to collect my visitor’s pin and a map of the building, then made my way to the third floor displays. As I slowly climbed the incredibly roomy stairs, the first thing that I noticed was how open and bright the space was. Despite the gloomy ambiance outside, somehow the space inside the museum took those same light particles and transformed them into something inviting, uplifting, even inspiring. I found myself already liking this experience, even before I reached the second-floor landing.
Arriving at the third floor, I made a beeline for the Constitution display – and was a little let down by what I saw. A small room looked completely empty, except for three small glass display cases. A case to the left of the entrance contained a page from an early printing of the Minnesota state constitution. The main display (situated in the center of the room) contained the first page of the first official printing of the U.S. Constitution (dated September 17, 1787). And the case on the right side of the room contained an early draft of the Bill of Rights (dated August 24, 1789).
I had intended to spend some time in this room, reading the U.S. Constitution in its entirety, but a few things stopped me from doing that:
- Only the first page of the document was available for viewing. (The remaining pages lay directly beneath the first page.)
- The typeset of the document had one ‘quirk’ to it: The letter “s” was replaced with the letter “f”. (So a word like “Constitution” was written “Conftitution”.) After a few moments of attempting to read just three lines of the document, I gave up in frustration. (And walked away with renewed empathy for people who struggle with dyslexia.)
- Other people were in the room with me, and they also wanted to view the document (understandably). I didn’t want to be an ‘exhibit hog’ and stand in front of the small display case for even 5 minutes while others waited their turn to see the materials.
The downside of this display was that I didn’t get my two-for-one deal like I had hoped; but the upside was that I now had a lot more time to explore and experience other exhibits in the center – which I did. :)
The display next door to the U.S. Constitution room was titled, “1934: A New Deal for Artists” and explained how FDR realized that Americans needed the inspiration of art (in addition to employment) to become fully extracted from the Depression. So in the span of six months’ time, an advisory committee for fine arts organized The Public Works of Art Project – and hired 3,749 artists, who collectively created 15,663 paintings, murals, sculptures, prints, drawings, and craftworks. The history center had around 50 works on display – and I really liked nearly all of them. The museum staff asked that I not take pictures of the art, so I wrote down the names of a few of the works I particularly enjoyed – then found images of them online so I can now share them with you. :) See the slide show below for a very small sampling of some pieces that resonated with me.
After getting my fill of art, I moved on to a more interactive exhibit. “Open House: If These Walls Could Talk” was a multi-room experience that traced the lives of the various families who lived in a single home in a local neighborhood, starting from when the home was built in 1888, up to recent past (2005). Walking from room to room, I was invited to pull on drawers, sit on beds, pick up phones – and with each action I took, I was surprised by images that suddenly appeared, or audio recordings that suddenly clicked on, each providing more context to what I was currently experiencing. For example, in one room I approached an oversized piggy bank that had a handle on the side with a sign that said, “Pull me”. Feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland, I took a gamble – and as I pulled on the mechanical arm, a boatload of plate-sized plastic “coins” spilled out from beneath the pink animal, each explaining how much common household items cost back in the 1950s. I encountered numerous other ‘surprises’ all throughout the exhibit – and felt jubilant, delighted, and child-like (in a good way) at the end of it.
Crossing the hall to the other side of the museum, my next stop was in an exhibit titled “Weather Permitting”. The majority of the display showed mannequins wearing various articles of cold-weather gear (from animal skins, to wool coats, to Gore-Tex), and I halfheartedly walked through the space. However, just before I arrived at the exit, I saw an alcove off to the side with a sign that read, “Get to the Basement!” – and learned that this space was a re-creation of a tornado experience that occurred in a nearby community in 1965. Curious, I walked into the small room – and found myself in an incredibly realistic facsimile of a basement in an average 1960s home. In the far corner sat a black-and-white TV with a button that read, “Press Me” – so I did. A voice suddenly filled the space, and started telling of the weather events that came to pass on a May day back in 1965. As the story evolved, the physical space I was sitting in changed to mirror the auditory descriptions being shared. The dual effect was incredibly realistic – I felt thunder arrive as the bench I was sitting on shook; I saw the ‘sky’ outside change colors from dark gray to that sickly-green pre-tornado cast; I gasped as the ‘power’ went out a few minutes into the story and I found myself sitting alone in a suddenly very dark, damp basement room; I gasped again as a bolt of ‘lightening’ flashed, and a tree fell, and the wind picked up, and the noise of a tornado approached, and a piece of wood crashed through some glass… The individuals who created this exhibit did a fantastic job simulating what it must feel like to experience a tornado (while being significantly constrained by obvious safety measures), and I definitely felt my heart pounding as I ‘lived through’ the affair. Once the tornado ‘passed’, the TV in the corner suddenly came to life, and a broadcast from 1965 showed real film footage of the storm’s aftermath – as well as multiple stories of kindness that transpired in the moments and days following the disaster. Minutes before I felt my heart pound and race; after the dust settled and the television shared story after story of the generous spirit of so many people, I felt my heart swell. I kinda wanted to smile and cry at the same time.
The exhibit ended with the following message: “Respect storms. Respect all of nature.” Absolutely.
That experience was going to be a difficult act to follow. In fact, I thought elements from each exhibit just kept getting better and better – so I was curious how a display with the title “Grainland” was going to fare. On the surface it seemed like it had the potential to be a snoozer – but then again, I guess an exhibit about weather doesn’t exactly seem too dynamic, either… As I entered the Grainland exhibit, I found myself standing before a mock grain elevator. Upon reading the exhibit instructions, I learned that, “Children will enjoy climbing through a replica grain elevator where bins and chutes are replaced with steps, slides, and curving nooks and crannies to explore.” Children, eh? Well, seeing as how I was alone in the room (with a big ol’ replica grain elevator all to myself), I decided to go ahead and stretch the boundaries of what qualifies as a “child”, and give the exhibit a whirl.
I walked into the entrance of the grain elevator, and soon found myself climbing, crawling, bouncing, and sliding all over the place. Some of the spaces were a little tight (this exhibit really was designed for children [and apparently small-ish ones at that]), but I’m a small-ish woman, so I made do mostly just fine. I didn’t get stuck any place, so that’s a bonus. :) And I learned a bit about how wheat and corn make their way in, around, and through these massive storage bins, so that was cool, too.
Leaving Grainland, I had just one exhibit to go before I ended my visit: “Minnesota’s Greatest Generation“. This huge space (6,000 square feet) moved chronologically through the Depression, World War II, and the post-war boom, ending around the mid 1960s. There was so much stuff in the exhibit that I was rather overwhelmed by it all – touring the space could have been a museum visit in and of itself. Having been at the history center for 90 minutes already, I was reaching the end of my attention span threshold – so I decided to take a brief walk through the space just to get a flavor for what it was, and to determine if I wanted to come back at a later time and experience the exhibit more thoroughly. During my quick exploration I saw several cool things (from a hands-on missile-making assembly line kids could try [with foam and wood 'missiles'] to an authentic soda fountain; as well as some videos and displays about the ‘darker’ side of events like the Depression and WWII), and determined that it would definitely be ‘worth my time’ to come back and check out all of the offerings in this space more fully.
But not today. By the time I arrived at the commemorative video playing at the exhibit’s exit, I was ready to be done with the history center. It’s a pretty terrific place – but I had reached my museum limit, and was ready to head home.
Still, I’m really glad I took the time and made the effort to check out this local treasure. To think that it has been sitting so close by all these years, patiently waiting for people like me to “discover” it – incredible. Yet that is part of what my 101 list challenge is all about. So yay! A cool local delight ‘found’, and enjoyed.