Today we went to the Nordic Heritage Museum over in Ballard. Despite having heard good things about it, I had low expectations. “Nordic Heritage” is an interesting enough topic, but it just didn’t seem to me to provide much material for a good museum. I’m happy to say I was wrong. The main exhibit area on the first floor traces an immigrant’s journey from a farming village in Denmark, to Copenhagen, onto a ship across the Atlantic, through Ellis Island, and across the continent to Ballard. Each room is a full-size diorama, with additional photos, artifacts, and text on the walls. It doesn’t exactly break new ground in museum design, but it was surprisingly effective.
It was an interesting contrast to the heavily promoted touring exhibit now at the Pacific Science Center. Henry and I saw SPACE: A Journey To Our Future the week before Christmas. This big-budget extravaganza costs adults $9.00 on top of the normal museum admission. As a member of the museum, I got in for $5.00 and still felt thoroughly cheated.
As we entered the exhibit, we were told we would have to wait in a little ante room until the previous group was done with the intro presentation. Not exactly something a 3 year old wants to hear, especially when the room offers nothing much of interest. Henry managed to hold it together, though, and we headed up the stairs to the “Forest of Dreams,” a room with two very fake looking tree trunks and a backdrop of stars.
We stood there wondering which way to look as the lights dimmed and a narrator made his way through a very dramatic “mankind has always looked to the stars…” monologue as the stars in the backdrop gradually got brighter. The lights came back up and we were left wondering whether we should stay for the rest of the presentation or move on. An awkward pause and a shrug later and I came to the same conclusion as the people next to us: “I guess that’s it.”
Around the corner was an actor dressed as Galileo and a couple fake telescopes through which we could “view” Jupiter and four of its moons as it might have been seen in his day. The actor’s fake Italian accent as he incorrectly answered a visitor’s question about the solar system was a perfect little microcosm of the whole exhibit.
Next was the “hall of boredom,” a long narrow room with photos and text on the walls that managed to bore Henry without conveying any interesting information to me. Keep in mind that Henry is really in to rockets, the solar system, and everything else space-related (this evening as I was getting him ready for bed, he was quizzing me on how the Saturn V escape rocket system works). Anyway, at long last we came to the one and only thing that was the least bit memorable for Henry: a life-size replica of a section of a Saturn V. Stretching from floor to ceiling and filling a room, it was pretty impressive.
At last, we had reached the “hands on” part of the exhibit, but it wasn’t much better than the rest had been. Despite his interest in the subject, virtually none of the exhibits were appropriate for Henry, even with my help. We wandered lonely as clouds through the full-size mission-to-Mars diorama and sat down in a little theater. When the obnoxiously loud show started, Henry said “let’s just get going,” and I agreed. Through the door and we were in–could it be?–the giftshop.
That was it? How could such a big and expensive exhibit on Space manage to bore both a kid obsessed with the topic and his science-geek dad? In comparison, the relatively low-budget exhibits at the Nordic Heritage Museum were a delight: visually pleasing, but also much more informative. I found out after our visit that SPACE was produced by Clear Channel Exhibitions, a division of the media giant Clear Channel. They’ve managed to drain much of the life out of radio, so why wouldn’t I expect the same in a museum exhibit? Then again, maybe I’m being too cynical…