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Monday, June 27, 2011

Bored? Go visit a museum!

Many of my blog readers know that, in addition to being a Realtor, I’m also the President of the Milford Historical Society out in Milford. I appreciate history, but can’t claim to be a history buff. However, when Carolyn and I travel we’ll often spot a museum that peeks our interest and stop in. Sometimes we even make those venues our destination, as we did recently when we set out to see the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

That trip was a wonderful success. Stockbridge is one of the small towns in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts that the rich and famous of the 1800’s in New York made their summer getaway. In those days, one didn’t just visit for a weekend; families stayed on for the entire summer season, enjoying the cool mountain breezes in the area. Little towns like Stockbridge and Lee, Lennox and Great Barrington and others in the area attracted artists and the rich alike from New York.

The Norman Rockwell museum was everything that we thought it might be, with all of his works (mostly ion prints but with some key originals) on display and his last studio open for tours too. We also visited the nearby home and studio of Daniel Chester French, a noted sculptor of the 1800’s who created the Abraham Lincoln statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Both of them and all of the historic stores and homes in the area were fun to visit. You get a better since of place and tie when you see that many of their historic homes have been there since the 1700’s.

On our way there I noticed that the JELLO museum was just off the highway in the historic town of Leroy, New York, so we stopped there on the way back. Leroy was the summer getaway for rich people from Rochester and Buffalo, New York. The JELLO museum is housed in a historic building that was once part of the JELLO factory complex that was in Leroy.

The museum is full of artifacts and pictures and stories about the early days of JELLO and the man, Pearle B. Wait, who invented what his wife dubbed Jell-o in 1897. He failed as a salesman of his new invention and sold it in 1899 to Frank Woodward for $450. It was Woodward who figured out how to market the product and made a fortune off of it. The displays of the history of JELLO had many of the familiar TV and print ads for JELLO that I remember as a kid. In the basement of the JELLO museum is a display of carriages and an antique car from Leroy of the late 1800’s, as well as pictures of Leroy in its summer retreat heyday.

Carolyn and I often aim for, or stumble upon, unique museums as we travel. In Florida on one trip we came upon a little place called Sponge-O-Rama. It is located in Tarpon Springs, Florida, which was the sponge capital of the world for a while (or so they claim). Sponge-O-Rama focuses upon the history of the sponging industry in America and specifically that in Florida, which was the sponge capital of the U.S. It also has some information about sponging in other parts of the world and has fascinating displays of the hard helmet diving outfits that were used for much of the sponge diving in Florida waters. Like many other things that people do, the sponge industry basically over worked the sponge beds until the killed off their own livelihood and the industry died.

On another trip, this one around Lake Michigan (a part of the Great Lakes Circle Tour) we stopped in at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the winter home of many of the great touring circuses in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. From their Web site comes this history - The Ringling Bros. Circus was founded in Baraboo, WI, in 1884 by five brothers: Al, Otto, Charles, John and Alf T. Ringling. Ringlingville was the name for the original Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters in Baraboo. The buildings, standing along the north bank of the Baraboo River, date from 1897 through 1918 and are the largest surviving group of original circus structures in North America. Circus World's collection of circus artifacts is perhaps the largest in the world. It includes over 210 original wagons and vehicles once used by American, English and Irish circuses.

Circus World houses an exceptional collection of circus ads and posters, with over 9,500 multi-colored circus posters that range in size from half-sheets to a large 80-sheet Buffalo Bill Wild West poster measuring 9' high and 70' long. The collection also includes thousands of journals, manuscripts, business records, original fine art oil paintings, hand bills, heralds, programs, artifacts of circus performers and a collection of rare photographs and negatives.

On a trip that is closer to home, we went to the Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio, where they have interesting displays of carousel history and on the art of carving carousel animals. They actually have animals being carved, so that you can watch the carving techniques used. Of course they have a working carousel, so you could take the kids and let them ride. There is another museum dedicated to carousels and it’s actually called he Carousel Museum. It’s out in Bristol, Connecticut, which I dare say will now become a must see destination for a future trip. The Carousel Museum claims toe have the worlds largest collection of carousel animals and is dedicated to collecting, restoring, and preserving carousel art and memorabilia.

Of course, even closer to home is the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Island, which provides a fascinating look at the life at “sea” on the Great Lakes. You could also drive to Vermillion in Ohio to Located in the nautical town of Vermilion, Ohio Its Inland Seas Maritime Museum is a key attraction on Ohio's north coast, and is a focal point of the historic Harbour Town district of Vermilion. Visitors to the museum come from around the world as well as from the U.S. and Canada. The museum contains one of the world's largest collections of Great Lakes historical maritime artifacts, documents, ship models, and original artwork. And just a couple of hours north of us is the Great Lake Lore Maritime Museum in Rogers City, Michigan.

Without even leaving the area there are a bunch of great museums and historical attractions that document what life was like for the pioneers in this region. The Milford Museum, in downtown Milford; the Waterford Historical Society’s display of buildings and artifacts in Fish Hatchery Park and Greenmead Historical Park are three good local destinations. Since most of these smaller museums are run by volunteer organizations, it is best to look them up on the internet first to see when they are open. Of course we also are blessed with the Henry Ford museum, which is large enough to require several trips to take it all in.

So, the next time you’re bored, go find a local museum and learn something new. Maybe you can find a museum that focuses on some specific person or product or other obscure bit of our history. It’s great to see how kids take to some of these sites. Since they get so little exposure to history in school any more, and most of that at a national or international level; many of them know nothing about the history of the towns and villages that they live in or about the lifestyles of the pioneers and early settlers. Take the kids and show them how their great, great great, grandparents lived. Then they can ask mee-maw the next time they see her if she churned her own butter or carried water into the house in wooden buckets for a bath.

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