Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Best Museum

I have now visited one of the best museums, ever. I don't make this statement lightly.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is just an incredible place for learning, history preservation and imagination. As a kid, Amazing Guy went there with his dad and more than once he talked about the Museum. More specifically he talked about the coal mine.

While waiting for the coal mine tour we watched a documentary with the familiar twang of mountain music talk about life in a coal mine town. The deceit of the mine owners, the back breaking work, the six-day work week that started before the sun rose and ended at night and the ever present film of coal dust.

Then we got on a rickety cage of an elevator. Our guide at one point turned off the light (making me seriously question the intelligence of bringing a 4-year-old into a coal mine) so that we traveled down into the earth in pitch black - which is apparently how coal miners travel to their jobs every day.

The tour was obviously mostly in darkened caves. At one point we stood around a variety of different equipment and my children learned about the phrase "canary in a coal mine". And my 4-year-old did fine. I found myself misty eyed several times thinking of the miners who were killed in the Sago Mine in West Virginia or that miners toil in such conditions so I can have electricity to type these words. I suddenly felt very selfish.

After exploring the depths of the ground, we wandered over to learn about battles fought in the depths of the ocean. The Museum has the only German U-boat in the United States. The exhibit leading up to the boat is one of the best displays I've seen. There was a 3-D movie showing the American military trying to figure out where this boat was that gave a terrific context of the war and the damage the Germans were inflicting on the merchant marines and maritime commerce during World War II. At one point when the American boat dropped "depth charges" into the ocean, the floor actually shook.

And after experiencing the buildup to the capture, we turned a corner and were nose to nose with a huge boat. Boat is actually a misnomer. It was a monster.

We went on a tour of the U-Boat. I thought, like on other submarine tours we've been on, we would just walk down the long hall, look into different spaces, then leave. No, we were taken on a guided tour complete with German voices piped in over speakers that simulated the capture of the sub. At one point the lights went off (again causing me to question the intelligence of bringing a 4-year-old on a submarine) and red flashes surrounded us to simulate the depth charges. Again though my 4-year-old did fine. There was a grown man though who could barely keep it together. I wondered if he was recalling some long ago time or thinking of what someone he knew experienced. His weepy discomfort was hard to watch.

The Museum was originally built to be part of the Chicago World's Fair which was the setting for the terrific book Devil in the White City. The building was converted into the Museum during the 1920's and 1930's. It was exciting to walk in a building and along the grounds of such a significant place.

If you go to Chicago, go to the Museum of Science and Industry. You won't be disappointed.


Flower Child said...

I really need to finally do that Chicago trip we've been talking about. I would LOVE the museum!

chelle said...

wow! That museum looks amazing!

Jami said...

I have been there and it is truly awesome!

And this just in from the Department of Trivia: Regardless of their size, all submarines are "boats". Just like regardless of their name, all ships are female.

Heather said...

Wow. We need to go to Chicago!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It's truly an amazing museum, but I'm even more enticed by both the Oceanarium and the Field Museum. I'm a total sucker for anthro. exhibits.

Jenn in Holland said...

I am so impressed. I am so impressed. I am so impressed.