Friday, July 3, 2015

The Re-opening of the West

Where: American History Museum

When: through September 1, 2015

For several years now, the west wing of the American History Museum has been closed.  I never saw any announcement of the closure; I just realized one day that I hadn't been over there in a while, and when I went to investigate, I saw it was closed.  The museum is in the midst of a multi-year renovation of that part of the building, which is sort of surprising since they did a full renovation several years ago.  How could they need to renovate again?  I can only imagine that they got some money and are now able to do work they weren't able to do before.

Whatever the history behind all this, the first floor's west wing is now open again.  If I'm being honest, it still looks like an airport to me; I always feel like I'm making my way to a gate, worried that I'll miss my plane in a long line at security.  I'm hoping that's just me - American History was always my favorite museum when I was a kid, and I want people to like it.

Dedicated to American innovation and invention, it's a bright and shiny new array of exhibits, many of them interactive and designed to hold the interest of the museum's younger visitors.  I'm all in favor of displays that will leave a lasting positive impression on kids.  That's how you build a constituency for museum funding in years to come.  Some of my fondest memories are of class trips to the Smithsonian, and I like to think that other children are now having a great time there, just as I did.

For me, the best thing about this re-opening is that the museum's library and archives are open again.  Both have exhibits, and because they are a bit less "whiz bang" than the rest of the displays, they tend to be a little oasis of quiet in a desert of noise and hustle-bustle.

The current archives center display is on the television show, "Mr. Wizard."  I confess, I racked my brain, trying to remember this program on my way over to the museum, but try as I might, I could conjure no image.  Thinking that middle age was destroying my memory, you can imagine my relief when I discovered that the show was on the air from 1951-1965.  I don't feel bad about not recalling a show that went off the air when I was one year old.

Don Herbert was the star of the show, which revolved around science experiments suitable to be replicated at home.  The idea was that it was a way to interest kids in science, by allowing them to do actual experiments.  Each episode involved a young assistant, both boys and girls.  In its heyday, it had over 800,000 viewers, which seems like an enormous number.

Verdict: Have a glance at these two display cases and learn something about 1950's television.  If nothing else, it's a bit of breathing space amidst all the hoopla of the new exhibits.

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