Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Busman's Holiday

     I went on vacation with my family to Philadelphia for a few days last week, and what did I do?  I visited museums!  Although I love going to museums, I always feel like I need to go through them twice.  I need one trip through to view the museum as a regular visitor, and another trip to look for different display methods, mounts, lighting, monitoring devices, and labels.  I'm always looking for new ideas!
     Since we were in Philadelphia during the week of July 4th, we had to visit Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted.  The Liberty Bell once hung in its bell tower, but now it has its own display in a building across the street.  I was glad that building had glass walls so I could get a glimpse of the Liberty Bell.  The line to get inside was always very long!

While I protect the artifacts inside my museum building, dealing with an historic building presents additional issues. The building itself needs protection from the elements and the constant stream of visitors. Note the barriers along the street, which keep both pedestrians and traffic away from the building. There were security guards posted near the building as well, to keep people on the correct side of the fence!

Here’s a view of the interior of Independence Hall.  The large windows are good for letting in lots of natural light. While this is good in order to view the museum, it is not so good for the wood and paint of the interior. I would strongly suspect that these windows are equipped with UV-filtering films, which block most of the ultraviolet radiation that can cause damage.  

     We also stopped at the Free Quaker Meeting House and saw a Living History performance by a gentleman portraying a Free Quaker of the period.  We learned that Betsy Ross had attended meetings there!  We visited the Betsy Ross House as well.  It was very interesting and informative, but photography was not allowed.  It is understandable though.  The light from hundreds of visitors taking photographs using a flash can cause damage to artifacts. 

I had to chuckle at this sign on the door of the Free Quaker Meeting House! Old buildings can present challenges such as this.


     While we were walking through the Historic District, we happened upon the National Liberty Museum and decided to take a look inside.  It is a unique blend of the concepts of liberty and heroes, along with history and art.  There are some amazing pieces of glass artwork on display, as well as a 9/11 flag signed by some of the first responders, and a recreation of the attic where Anne Frank was hidden.  I was surprised to see that some of the artwork was not behind glass or any other protective barrier.  I suppose some of it is meant to be touched by the visitors, but that’s a concept that makes me a little nervous in my museum!

The National Liberty Museum knows how to make an entrance! This is the first piece you see when starting your tour, and it definitely makes you want to see more of the museum.

I like the way they use mirrors in this display, so that visitors can see the entire object. It does make photographing it a little tricky though!

     My favorite visit was to The Mütter Museum, where we were treated to a tour by the museum’s Director, Dr. Robert Hicks.  The Mütter is a medical museum which is probably best known for its collection of medical oddities.  On display were many skeletons, pathological samples (including a giant colon), some very realistic wax models of various diseases, samples of items people have swallowed (lots of safety pins!), a corpse called the Soap Lady, a cast of the original Siamese twins Chang and Eng, and antique medical instruments.  Dr. Hicks and the museum’s Curator Anna Dhody also showed us some of the interesting sights behind the scenes in the library, the collection room, the wet room where samples preserved in various fluid-filled jars are stored, and the bone room which obviously houses bones and skeletons!  As with several of the museums we toured, photography was not allowed inside the museum.  Fortunately, you can take a peek at part of their collection here:  Mutter Museum video 

I was at least able to take a picture of the entryway!

     Outside the Mütter Museum is a Medicinal Plant Garden, which features plants that can be used for various medicinal purposes.  I enjoyed comparing it to the medicinal garden out at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum.  I think I may have a couple of ideas to pass along to its gardener!

One plant featured in the garden is Stachys lanata, which is also known as Woolly Betony or Lamb’s Ears. The leaves are very soft and can be used as bandages.

The garden was a peaceful, pretty spot to relax for a while.


     While I would recommend visits to any of the museums I have mentioned here, you don’t have to travel to Philadelphia to enjoy a museum visit.  If you can’t travel far, I encourage you to visit and support any nearby museums.  You will probably be pleasantly surprised at what you can find in your local area.

Photos courtesy of Lori Eggleston

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