Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's for the curious, it's for the hopeful

The other day we went to Seattle's Museum of History & Industry, something I had been looking forward to for quite awhile, having spent some days as a kid skipping school with my mom and my brother to do just this. We would go to the museum and look at all the old stuff they had on display, and then we'd ride the bus downtown to the Paul Bunyan room at Frederick & Nelson for banana splits. I remember my mom saying the bus would "turn on Pike or Pine." For a long time after that I thought there was a street in Seattle called Pikerpine.

The Museum of History & Industry has a fancy new acronym: MOHAI. Either everyone in that committee meeting was 85 years old, or this is some genius ploy to get people to smoke up and visit the museum. (Or both. Who knows, the Northwest is crawling with hippies.)

Whatever the case, sadly, the MOHAI has seen much better days. It used to be like Seattle's own Mütter Museum of junk, but in attempting to become more kid friendly it's gotten a bit schlocky. (This phenomenon is not unique to the MOHAI—I experienced the results of this trend in my stint at the Museum of Natural History in New York several years ago. I actually think kids are better off if they aren't always treated like kids. When you over-think what is kid friendly or not, it often just makes things boring.)

Writing in The Stranger a couple weeks ago after visits to both the MOHAI's storage facility and the Las Vegas Neon Museum, Erin Langner put it well:
In the process of creating a comfortable and often sterilized facility, the environment that allows objects to be explored rather than just explained can be lost. Both MOHAI's warehouse and the Neon Museum evoke the traditional wunderkammern, or "cabinets of wonder," back to which American museums trace their origins. The overpowering curiosity that comes with entering a space abounding with unlabeled artifacts is a natural inspiration to look closely and to ask questions, two tasks that mainstream museums spend large amounts of time, money, and text trying to encourage in their 21st-century audiences.
So that's that, I won't go on about it, I was disappointed overall. I'm really hoping that once the MOHAI moves to its new location at the Naval Reserve Building on South Lake Union, it will re-integrate some of the weird stuff.

That being said, there are still are some cool things to see at the current location:

People protesting the massive Boeing layoffs of the early '70s.

Boeing's first plane (the B-1, introduced in 1919) still hangs from the ceiling. Below it sits the Slo-Mo-Shun IV Hydroplane.

An early computer from Boeing. Everyone likes a good control panel.

An old dress from a couturier window in the fake circa-1889 town.

"Gradual withdrawal can mean a lifetime."
Or a hundred years or whatever, but who's counting.

The men's bathroom still has its nice old wood and metal fixtures – very nautical, aren't they? (I'm not sure why but they seem like they'd be on a boat. The Côte d'Ivoire maybe. Very much so.)

And the parking lot still has this old cannon, pointed across the lake at Kirkland.

So, basically, in conclusion, the place is worth seeing but hopefully it will be even better when they let some stuff out of storage.

Also, it's still a good idea to have a banana split after you go.

More info at

No comments: