About this blog . . .

This blog is about 80% journal, 20% review. These posts may describe very recent visits or visits taking place in the last 3 or 4 years--please feel free to update or correct any of my information in the comments or through an email message.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Old Slave Mart Museum

The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston is a "place" museum--much of its intrinsic appeal is generated by the history of the physical space itself.  As always with place museums, there is a trade-off between the historical appeal of the site and the logistics of display and presentation.  The available space here is limited, and the museum itself is squeezed between other storefronts.  It can be easy to overlook, especially for tourists expecting a more traditional museum front.

The exhibits inside rely heavily on text and reproduced images; there are a few artifacts, but the museum doesn't yet seem to have an extensive collection.
The museum does add to the immediacy and engagement of the historical space with a collection of audio recordings of interviews with former slaves gathered during the Depression.  At the entrance, visitors can hear the actual voice of Elijah Green, a former slave, describing his early life.  A listening station further within the entry room gives visitors a selection of additional interviews on sets of headphones.

While the exhibits are of necessity a bit cramped, and the reproduced images are often repeated throughout, an interesting theme does emerge as the museum explores the ways in which slaves found means to establish agency within the very narrow space available for self-determination.  The personal interviews provide one example of this.  Another exhibit describes the tactics used to negotiate whatever terms possible to find the best possible "situation"--perhaps by the threat of spoiling a sale or a price, for example.

The second story of the museum featured an exhibit titled "Lest We Forget," and featured posters and information on daily life for enslaved people, including material on religion and family life.

Since there is only one public entrance/exit for the museum, visitors walk through the area dedicated to the book shop on the way in and again on the way out.  Space was at a premium, so there was not an extensive area, but there was a selection of books and historical materials available.

From the National Park Service website:

 The Old Slave Mart Museum is located at 6 Chalmers St. It is owned by the City of Charleston and is open Monday-Saturday, 9:00am to 5:00pm. Call 843-958-6467 for information. Admission fees are charged.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Mob Museum

The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada actually begins in the street outside the building, as classic 40s and 50s hits associated with the heyday of the Mob in Las Vegas are piped out to approaching visitors.  The building itself--as the promotional information points out--was once the site of the Las Vegas Kefauver Hearings.  Inside, the hearing room is restored to its Kefauver condition, and functions as a multi-media exhibit itself, where visitors sit in the hearing room and watch as sights and sounds of the hearings are projected on 3 screens at the front of the room.

Before getting to the hearing room, however, visitors take an elevator to the 3rd floor, where they can participate in a simulation of a line-up. The hallways here are covered with photographs from the cities and neighborhoods that spawned branches of the mob.  The museum, in fact, seems oddly divided between treating mobsters as celebrities or objects of nostalgia and moralizing against their crimes--perhaps reflecting the same ambivalence of American culture in general.  Visitors even learn about the contribution of several mobsters to America's war effort in WWII, with some mobsters serving as translators, a few as soldiers, and one mobster's son, Butch O'Hare, for whom the O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named, becoming a war hero.

On the wall off one room, visitors learn what types of boys (always boys!) become mobsters.  Another room--decorated like an old-fashioned family parlor--displays framed family pictures of famous mobsters.  Another exhibit on life in the mob features a video of actor playing a mobster speaking to an initiate, describing the process of becoming a "made man" and explaining what that means.

A small movie-theater themed room showcases the gangster movie genre, with a screen showing clips from famous films and a display case filled with costumes.

Despite the nostalgia-tinged atmosphere of the building and early exhibits, the museum does showcase the viciousness of the mob; exhibits on murder weapons, victims, and those left behind illustrate the cost in lives.  Other exhibits point out the loss in tax revenue and general quality-of-life issues the mob leaves in its wake.  The museum has managed to obtain the original wall, bullet holes marked in red, from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago; it is displayed behind a plexiglass sheet so visitors can photograph themselves standing against the wall.  A short film on the massacre plays every few minutes.

Another exhibit diagrams the web of influence the mob has over political, social, and economic spheres of American life.

"The Museum: a Temple or the Forum," Duncan F. Cameron's 1971 essay on museum design, divided museums into temples, which presented artifacts as objects of veneration, and those that resembled a forum, inviting debate and discussion on the topics presented.  The Mob Museum's promotional materials--"There are two sides to every story--and then there's the truth"--suggest they're aiming for a forum here:  It's difficult to see how one could debate the moral or the message to be gained from an exploration of organized crime, but The Mob Museum does introduce the conflict between rights and law enforcement with a display on lawyer Oscar Goodman, who successfully represented several mobsters and served as the mayor of Las Vegas, debating the ethics of representing mobsters.  Goodman was also a major promoter of the museum when opponents originally denounced it as a poor use of taxpayer money.

Entry to Apalachin Meeting display
The museum covers the law-and-order aspect as well, with exhibits on g-men, informants, wiretapping
techniques and technology, and even Dick Tracy cartoons.   Real-life heroes in the fight against the mob are showcased, and a large exhibit retells the story of the Apalachin Meeting of 1957--a conference of New York's crime bosses that was raided by state police.  The raid changed the way Americans and the FBI looked at the mob, forcing them to acknowledge not only its existence (many, including J.Edgar Hoover, denied that there was any such thing as the Mafia operating in the U.S.) but its extensive reach.

Howard Hughes and Las Vegas
Tucked into the museum is sort of mini-museum on Las Vegas history; one room features maps, artifacts, and even interactive games on early Las Vegas, while another area covers the evolution of Las Vegas in the 20th century.  Gambling--and cheating--are also explained in a room featuring types of gambling machines and ways in which enterprising cheaters have attempted to beat the house. Howard Hughes gets some space here, with a display on his life and his influence on Las Vegas.  There's even a nod to the Las Vegas beyond the strip, with a case full of artifacts of middle-class life in Las Vegas.

Visitors are invited to share their own stories of interaction with the Mob

The gift shop has a large selection of humorous items--tee shirts, caps, shot glasses shaped like Prohibition-era mugs--along with movie posters. and DVDs.  Books on the mob provide more serious fare.  A small snack stand rounds out the experience.  I do wish the museum could find a way to squeeze in a 50s era diner--perhaps even just a counter downstairs in the basement.

From the MuseumWebsite:


Sundays – Thursdays:  10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Fridays & Saturdays: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Please note that these times are subject to change due to private event bookings.  We suggest that you contact the box office at 702-229-2734 before your visit to verify hours.

 General Admission Prices for Individuals

Adult (18+) $19.95
Children (5-17 w/ID)** & Students (18-23 w/ID) $13.95
Seniors (65+), Military, Law Enforcement, Teachers (w/ID) $15.95
Nevada Residents (w/ID) $10

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Experience Music Project (The EMP Museum), Seattle

The Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center opened in  2000 and still seems to be working on defining its mission.  Conceived and financed by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen,  it boasts the sophistication in its exhibits and design expected from a much larger non-profit foundation.  The building, designed by the unmistakable hand of Frank Gehry, sports the usual foil curves and ripples of a Gehry building, and for a popular culture oriented museum in an arts district, the form works well.

For a tourist, the introduction to the museum is a bit confusing.  One guidebook in our hotel room mentioned a "Science Fiction" museum, which piqued my interest.  Another online source mentioned, by name, the "Experience Music Project," which also seemed worth a visit.  It wasn't until we arrived and looked around the area that we realized they were both the same museum after a few makeovers.  According to Wikipedia, in fact, the EMP has undergone more than one change in focus--presumably reflecting the decisions of its founder.

Despite the confusion, the Project itself is well worth the experience.  The entrance opens into a darkened "Sky Church," a large, dark, open room with a viewing screen several stories high and several lounge-type chairs scattered throughout.  The screen was playing Hendrix's performance of the national anthem when we first arrived.

From the Sky Church, visitors enter the main foyer area, dominated by If VI Was X: Roots and Branches, an enormous tower which, according to the display sign, "is composed of nearly 700 instruments...which perform a series of Trimpin's compositions expressive of the roots of American popular music."  Along with several other guests, I spent a good deal of time trying to find a way to photograph the sculpture; I finally took the lead of another visitor who laid down on the floor a few feet away and pointed her camera upwards.  Another gave up trying to get a good view in a still camera, and took a video sweep.   Later in the visit, I found a much better vantage point from a higher floor.

From Nirvana Exhibit

The museum's starting point for exhibits is Seattle native Jimi Hendricks; one of the first exhibit hallways features his work.  Costumes, instruments, personal letters, and even a yearbook from Hendricks's school days fill out this section.  Washington state natives Nirvana also feature in a prominent exhibit, including the usual guitars, album covers, personal letters, and taped interviews.

My favorite exhibit was probably the guitar room.  Display cases here followed the history and evolution of the electric guitar, and a continuing looping video--about 20 minutes long--ran through a sampling of dozens of distinctive guitar stylists.  The samples ran the gamut from Les Paul and Mary Ford to Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, Andres Segovia, Bonnie Raitt, Chet Atkins, Albert King, and about a dozen more.  It was interesting to see the range of styles, and to see the inclusion of early female artists such as Mary Osborne.  I spent a good 40 minutes here looking first at the displays and then watching the film

.In another wing, the Science Fiction incarnation of the museum takes shape.  The definition of Science Fiction, apparently, included  Horror Films, and a slick, often interactive section brings visitors through theories about the appeal of horror and observations from directors of horror films.  Vintage posters decorate one wall, and cases display famous/infamous artifacts from classic horror films, including the creature from Alien and various axes and weaponry.  Another case holds one of the costumes from Michael Jackson's "Killer" video, and an interactive display uses shadows and light to show visitors how their own silhouettes can be transformed into frightening shapes.  I'll have to say that I'm not a fan of this genre, but the exhibit was fun and interesting.

In May of 2012, an extensive exhibit based on Avatar represented most of the Science Fiction aspect.   Most of this entire section was interactive.  One station allowed visitors to create their own plant life for the Pandora; others allowed visitors to shoot film with robotic characters.  Lighting and music enhanced the effect.

Sound Lab exhibit
Pop Kitchen and Bar
In addition to the permanent and revolving exhibits and displays, the museum features several Community Spaces, including a "Rec Room" downstairs, which provides a space for music education and experimentation.  A Sound Room offers a space for visitors  to try out dozens of electronic instruments and recording techniques, and musicians can even use a recording room to create their own demos, as we noticed at least one aspiring musician doing while we were there.  The Pop Kitchen and Bar near the downstairs entrance completes the museum experience; offering drinks and American cuisine.  We only had coffee, but, as one would expect in Seattle, it was good coffee, and the atmosphere was welcoming.  We would definitely plan our day around a light lunch there if we were to visit again.

From the museum website:


325 5th Avenue N 
Seattle, WA 98109
Open Daily   10:00am-5:00pm 

Ticket Type
Regular Online
Adults 18-64 $20 $18
Seniors 65+ $17 $17
Students w/ ID $17 $17
Military w/ ID $14 $14
Youth 5-17 $14 $14


Monday, September 17, 2012

Facebook Page

Just trying out a Facebook page---will have more pictures, less text.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia--not to be confused with the Baltimore Poe Museum and House--is a quirky collection of artifacts presented in a set of buildings described as the oldest house still standing in Richmond, built in 1737.  According to the information on the website, the museum holds the largest collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia.  The property, alas, was never inhabited by Poe himself, who moved from Boston to Richmond when he was orphaned at the age of three and maintained his connection with the city throughout his life.

The entrance to the museum is the main room of a small house, and it doubles as a gift shop offering books and vintage-style items.  Visitors can take a picture with a cardboard stand-up of Poe here, and then step into an adjoining room with a few artifacts from Poe's young adulthood.

The visit continues out the back door of the first room into a courtyard linked to the other buildings.  One houses material on Poe's younger years, with a timeline displayed over a diorama of the City of Richmond in Poe's day, a re-creation of his childhood bedroom, and information on his family.  The lighting is a little dark, and some of the displays are a little hard to view in the cases provided, but the setting is perhaps appropriate for the topic.  Visitors are provided with a menu-style guide and map, which I found to be a helpful alternative to the usual paper brochure that is folded and unfolded, then discarded after the visit.  The guides are returned at the end of the visit.  No pictures are allowed inside the buildings of the museum, but I wanted to have a reminder of the information in the guide, so I photographed it outside.

The upstairs section of the Exhibit Building seems to be used for meetings and discussion groups and for displaying rotating galleries of Poe-related artwork in the Raven  Room.   When we visited in Spring of 2012, the artist featured was James Carling (1857-87), a pavement artist from Liverpool whose illustrations of "The Raven" resembled modern graphic novel artists' work.  According to the website, Carling's 43 drawing will remain on display until July of 2012.

After visiting the galleries, we stayed for quite a while in the courtyard.  The weather was nice--just finishing a light rain--and benches are provided, making for an enjoyable, quiet place to rest   We also had a view of Poe's bust at the end of the walk in a sort of altar-like structure.

The entire visit took about an hour to an hour and a half.  The museum is near the recently gentrified Shockoe Bottom section of Richmond, so the museum would be a good later afternoon stop before having dinner and going shopping,

From the museum website:

(804) 648-5523

1914-16 E. Main St.
Richmond, VA 23223

Sunday 11:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Self-guided Tours available. Please call ahead for times of guided tours.
(Gift shop closes at 4:30 P.M.) 

Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Self-guided Tours available. Please call ahead for times of guided tours.
(Gift shop closes at 4:30 P.M.) 

Monday Closed

Adults $6.00
Senior Citizens $5.00
Students $5.00

Friday, May 25, 2012

Blue Star Museums

Over 1,500 museums across the United States are offering free admission for active military personnel and families this summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Check the Blue Star Museums website for information on participating museums and an interactive map.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

International Museum Day May 18

The theme for 2012 is "Museums in a Changing World."
Every year since 1977, International Museum Day is held worldwide sometime around 18 May. From America and Oceania to Europe, Asia and Africa, International Museum Day aims to increase public awareness of the role of museums in developing society.

Huffpost LA also has a slideshow of Los Angeles Museums to visit in honor of IMD.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Presbytere and Cabildo/Louisiana State Museums, New Orleans

The Presbytere and the Cabildo are both part of the Louisiana State Museum.  The two  buildings flank the St. Louis Cathedral at one end of Jackson Square.

The Cabildo--originally a government building for the Spanish colonial administration in the late 18th century --focuses on early New Orleans and Louisiana.  On the ground floor, down the hall from the entry room, two large rooms feature exhibits on Spanish and French Colonial artifacts and information.  Small 2-3 person benches paired with video screens allow visitors to sit and take in short films on episodes in Louisiana history.  Other exhibits display furniture, documents, and other artifacts of early Louisiana.

A large carpeted stairway--decorated with a portrait of famous New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Leveau--leads to the upstairs galleries.  An airy connected hallway overlooks Jackson Square.  Take a few minutes to rest and drink in the view below.  One room--at one point part of the Supreme Court where Plessy v. Ferguson was argued--has more artifacts from earlier centuries, including a death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Another looks at hard times in New Orleans--specifically, the epidemics that plagued all river and port cities in previous centuries.  Information on medicine and funeral rituals completes the experience.

Next door, the early culture of New Orleans is spotlighted, with images of theaters and performance venues and a display of musical instruments, including some hands-on drums visitors can try out. Visitors can follow the Battle of New Orleans through maps and artifacts, including a lock of hair purportedly belonging to Andrew Jackson.

The top floor covers the horrors and hardships of slavery and the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Louisiana.  Letters and diaries, personal narratives, clothing, and other artifacts illustrate the history here.

 The Presbytere continues the story of New Orleans--in particular, the 21st century and Katrina.  The entry room uses indigo lighting to create a somber mood, and Fats Domino's piano--posed in the position in which it was found after Katrina--greets visitors.  Beyond the entry, exhibits cover the science of hurricanes.  One darkened room plays a repeating loop of Katrina footage on a wall-sized screen.  Another features artifacts and stories from the storm--a wall with the distinctive red markings of city inspectors, the handwritten narrative scrawled by a survivor on his wall as he remained trapped in his house, videos of interviews with survivors, and stories of rescuers.

Bottles hanging from ceiling in entry room

Upstairs, the museum shifts into party mode for the Mardi Gras museum.  Besides the obvious--and entrancing--displays of opulent costumes and magnificent images of floats--the museum covers the origins of Mardi Gras in the United States.  One helpful poster explains how to determine Mardi Gras dates each year.  Others discuss the complex culture of Krewes, Kings, and other Mardi Gras traditions.  The museum goes beyond the modern New Orleans version of Mardi Gras to look at folk traditions and Carnival celebrations in rural areas. 

The final touch--restrooms that resemble the port-a-potties on the parade route.

The museums offer a two-fer; admission to both sites for a reduced charge.  Visitors should definitely visit both; I would suggest on consecutive days to avoid museum fatigue.  You'll be in the area every day of your visit anyway--or you should be--so take them both in and steep yourself in New Orleans history from the 1700s to the present.

From the museum website:

The Cabildo and Presbytere

701 and 751 Chartres St., New Orleans LA 70116

Admission--for each museum:
Adults                                                          $6.00
Students, Senior Citizens, Active Military     $5.00
Children 12 and under                                  Free
                   **** 20% discount if tickets for 2 or more museums are purchased.
Hours:  Tuesday-Sunday 10:00 am - 4:30 pm
Closed Monday and state holidays.
 Phone: 504-568-6968
Toll-Free: 1-800-568-6968
Fax: 504-568-4995