Art Institute of Chicago

Along with the Science and Industry Museum and the Field Museum of Natural History, the Art Institute of Chicago is probably among Chicago’s top 3 museums.  Additionally, it probably ranks among the best art museums in the United States.  Fortunately, for Illinois residents, the Museum is participating in Illinois’ free museum days.  That means that admission for Illinois residents will be free there until March 4th.  However, throughout the entire year, the Museum also has a free evening each week for Illinois residents.  Although the free evening has not always been the same day of the week, currently, it is on Wednesdays from 5:00 to 8:00 P.M.

The Art Institute of Chicago originally began as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879, which provided both art education and art displays.  When Chicago won the bid to host the 1893 World’s Fair, known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, it decided to build the current structure of the Art Institute of Chicago, in order to impress visitors.  Ever since then, the Museum’s collection and reputation has continued to grow, as has its affiliated university, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

The Art Institute of Chicago’s strongest collections are from Europe and the United States.  For example, the Art Institute of Chicago probably has the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings (such as Monet and Van Gogh) outside of France.  Despite the majority of the art being from Europe or the United States (including some Native American art), there are some sections specifically focused on East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.  Additionally, there is an even smaller section with archaeology.  These are all on the main floor.

If you visit the Art Institute of Chicago, you must visit the Thorne Miniature Rooms.  They are made up of 68 dollhouse-like rooms, each with extensive details of homes from different time periods.  A wealthy woman named Narcissa Thorne designed them between 1937-1940, and donated them to the Museum.  This collection is located in the basement of the Museum, so is often overlooked by visitors.  It is also worth visiting the Arms and Armor room on the second floor. 

Grant Wood’s famous painting, “American Gothic” can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago on the second floor.  You can also visit the painting used in the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is based on the 1891 novel of the same name, by the Irish author Oscar Wilde.  I will not provide further information about it, because it is worth reading and watching. 

In 2009, the Art Institute of Chicago added a Modern Wing, which houses most of the contemporary art.  My favorite art piece there is “White Crucifixion,” which was painted by the French-Jewish artist, Marc Chagall, in 1938.  What I especially find fascinating about it is that it was painted in 1938, right before the outbreak of WWII and the Holocaust.  The painting depicts Jesus in the center, with a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) as a loincloth, thus emphasizing his Jewishness.  Surrounding him are difference scenes of Jewish persecution in Europe.  One way to interpret this painting is that Chagall was reminding people that, if they are persecuting Jews, it is like persecuting Jesus, who was himself Jewish. 

If you like art, and are in Chicago, then the Art Institute of Chicago is worth the visit.

Sources and Further Reading

“American Gothic.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/6565/american-gothic (accessed January 25, 2020).

Dillon, Diane. “Art Institute of Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/79.html (accessed February 23, 2020).

Kogan, Rick. “Thorne Rooms Full of Small Wonders.” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 2012. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2012-12-03-chi-kogan-sidewalks-thorne-rooms-20121130-story.html (accessed February 23, 2020).

“Mission and History.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/about-us/mission-and-history (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Picture of Dorian Gray.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/93798/picture-of-dorian-gray (accessed February 23, 2020).

“Thorne Miniature Rooms.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/departments/PC-15/thorne-miniature-rooms (accessed January 25, 2020).

“White Crucifixion.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/59426/white-crucifixion (accessed February 23, 2020).

Field Museum of Natural History

During the month of February, one of Chicago’s best museums, the Field Museum of Natural History, is free to Illinois residents.  It ranks among the best natural history museums in the United States, along with New York’s American Museum of Natural History and Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 

This dinosaur standing in the Field Museum’s main hall is a model, and not one of its real fossils.

After the World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Marshall Field, a Chicago businessman, helped create the museum.  Originally called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, it soon took on the name of its chief benefactor.  The Field Museum not only began as a museum showcasing artifacts from the Chicago World’s Fair, but was also located in one of the few structures remaining from the Fair, the Palace of Fine Arts Building in Jackson Park.  However, as the Museum grew, it eventually moved into a newer building further north, in an area now called the Museum Campus.

The Field Museum is named after Marshall Field, who created a famous department store in Chicago in 1852. Macy’s bought it out in 2005, however the original building still has the historic sign and clock at 111 N State St, Chicago, IL 60602.

Through a personal connection, I recently had the opportunity to visit part of the Field Museum’s archives, which are not open to the public.  I say “part,” because my visit made me realize how vast its archives are.  My connection does research on insects, so he only showed me the lab where they do their research, as well as the archives where they store thousands of specimens of different types of insects and arachnids.  If this large archival space only contains insect specimens, then I can only imagine what archives the mammals, fish, birds, minerals, mummies, etc., must each have as well.

This is the insect archives at the Field Museum.

A large portion of the Field Museum displays mammals, plants, and other creatures that have been preserved and stuffed.  This includes the Tsavo Lions, which were two lions in Kenya that killed between 35 to 135 people (a huge gap in estimates) in 1898.  The British colonel (John Henry Patterson) who shot them, eventually sold them to the Field Museum.  Apparently, Hollywood has made several movies about the two lions.  Another lion, which ate six people in Zambia in 1991, is also on display at the Field Museum.

In addition to the animals, the Field Museum also displays meteors, gems, and rocks.  One section of the Museum also describes Native American life in the United States.  Perhaps the most popular display is the dinosaur bones and fossils, including a new one from Argentina called Maximo the Titanosaur.  However, my favorite display at the Field Museum is called “Inside Ancient Egypt,” and contains 23 human mummies, as well as animal mummies.  The exhibit is designed to appear as if you are entering a pyramid, which makes the experience more exciting.

The Field Museum displays the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, which was named Sue after its discoverer, Sue Hendrickson.

For more information about Chicago museums affiliated with the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, see what I previously wrote below.

Chicago World Fairs & Chicago Museum Free Days

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

Sources and Further Reading

Conn, Steven. “Field Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/450.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

“History.” Field Museum. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/about/history (accessed January 25, 2020).

Rothstein, Edward. “Assessing a Future from 120 Years Ago.” The New York Times, November 1, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/02/arts/design/field-museum-looks-back-at-chicagos-worlds-fair.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Tsavo Lions.” Field Museum. February 10, 2018. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/tsavo-lions. (accessed February 13, 2020).

Sheldon Peck Homestead and the Underground Railroad

In United States history, a person became a member of the “Underground Railroad” if he or she assisted slaves from the Southern states to escape to free areas where slavery was illegal (often the Northern states or Canada).  Nobody had to formally join an organization called the Underground Railroad to become a member.  The phrase was more of an allegorical term for the many people who assisted runaway slaves until 1863.  Members of the Underground Railroad did not solely consist of white abolitionists, but also included former slaves.  For example, the most famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad was runaway slave Harriet Tubman, who in ten years, repeatedly returned South to help bring approximately 300 slaves to freedom.  (The new 2019 film Harriet is about this, and is worth watching.)

In 1998, the United States National Park Service began the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program, which requires them to identify and preserve sites throughout the United States that were involved in the Underground Railroad.  However, since participation in the Underground Railroad was a clandestine activity, it is not easy to find documentation of who was involved.  This was especially the case after the Fugitive Slave Acts were passed in 1793, and then further enforced in 1850.  These laws punished those who assisted runaway slaves, and allowed Southerners to search for and recapture their runaway slaves in the free North.

The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom has documented 626 Underground Railroad sites in the United States so far (as of the end of 2019).  A map depicting how many sites are currently documented in each state can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/undergroundrailroad/about-the-network-to-freedom.htm

Ohio and Maryland currently tie for the most sites: 83.  Next comes New York with 66, Pennsylvania with 54, and Virginia with 41.  Illinois ranks at number 9 with 24 sites.  I have visited two Illinois sites so far, the Sheldon Peck Homestead and Wheaton College.  Both are in the western suburbs of Chicago in Du Page County, which also has a few other sites. 

Sheldon Peck was a farmer and folk artist.  He built his home in rural Lombard, Illinois in 1839, and eventually opened up his home to be used as the first school in the area.  He was also a radical abolitionist (meaning that he wanted the immediate rather than gradual cessation of slavery) and worked as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.  The evidence of his involvement comes from his son’s oral testimony and diary.  Historians currently believe that the runaway slaves hid in his barn, which no longer stands, and not in his home, which does still stand.  This home is currently owned by the Lombard Historical Society.  It is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4 and Saturdays from 10-2 (however, it is closed in December and January).  Admission is free.

Sheldon Peck Homestead located at 355 E Parkside Ave. Lombard, IL 60148.

Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois was founded by Wesleyan Methodist abolitionists in 1860.  Its first president was a staunch abolitionist named Jonathan Blanchard, who was also the College’s first president.  According to a sign about Wheaton College’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, located in the campus’ oldest building, Blanchard Hall, Wheaton became the first college in Illinois to graduate African Americans.  Blanchard Hall was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Wheaton College’s Blanchard Hall located at 501 College Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187.

Bonus Photo

Scotsman, Allan Pinkerton, is known as the founder of one of the first detective agencies in the United States. He helped prevent an assassination plot on Abraham Lincoln. However, his home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, as is attested by his wonderful tombstone at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

Sources and Further Reading

“About the Network to Freedom.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/undergroundrailroad/about-the-network-to-freedom.htm (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Blanchard Hall.” Wheaton College. https://www.wheaton.edu/about-wheaton/visit-wheaton/campus-buildings/blanchard-hall/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Harriet Tubman.” PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.html (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Path to Freedom on Illinois’ Underground Railroad.” Enjoy Illinois. https://www.enjoyillinois.com/travel-illinois/illinois-underground-railroad/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

“The Pinkertons.” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/august-25/ (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1281.html (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Lombard Historical Society. https://www.lombardhistory.org/ugrr (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Underground%20Railroad (accessed November 28, 2019).

“Underground Railroad.” Wheaton College. http://a2z.my.wheaton.edu/underground-railroad (accessed November 28, 2019).

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is one of the only surviving buildings from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was in Jackson Park, in the South Side of Chicago. Like most of the other buildings at the World’s Fair, it was built in the Beaux Arts (Greek Revival style) architectural style.  Unlike many of the other buildings built for the Fair, it had a more solid structure, which is why it still stands today.  Originally called the Palace of Fine Arts, and bordering a lagoon that no longer exists, the building, as its original name implies, displayed art.  Original photos of the Palace of Fine Arts building can be found here: https://chicagology.com/columbiaexpo/fair039/

This is a current photo of the Museum of Science and Industry (formerly, Palace of Fine Arts).

A year after the 1893 World’s Fair, the building became the Columbian Museum of Chicago, and then the Field Columbian Museum, named after Marshal Field, one of the Museum’s benefactors.  The Museum began as a place to house items from the Chicago World’s Fair (now mostly housed in its archives).  However, as the museum grew, it eventually moved to a new location in 1921. 

The Palace of Fine Arts building / former Field Museum then fell into disrepair.  However, a wealthy businessman named Julius Rosenwald, who co-owned Sears, Roebuck and Company, eventually purchased and restored the building.  He wanted Chicago to have a museum dedicated to science, just like the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  This became Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  Its opening, in 1933, corresponded with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933, called “A Century of Progress.”  Several items from the 1933 World’s Fair actually made their way into the Museum of Science and Industry afterwards, such as Dr. Helen Button’s “Formation of the Human Embryo” exhibit, which contains real fetuses, and shows how they develop in the womb.

This is the tomb of Julius Rosenwald, the founder of the Museum of Science and Industry. He is buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago: 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave. Chicago, IL 60660.

Today, entry into the Museum is a little over $20 for adults, and a little over $10 for children.  However, during the winter months, the Museum usually has free days for Illinois residents.  Here is the list of free days for 2020: https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/ I do not think that the free days apply for entry into their special exhibits, though.

The Museum of Science and Industry often has temporary exhibits.  However, this massive building also contains many permanent exhibits.  These include an exhibit called “Yesterday’s Main Street,” which recreates what an American town would have looked like in the early 20th century.  Another exhibit includes vehicles and equipment used during different space explorations.  You can also go inside older transportation vehicles, see baby chicks hatch, watch a giant model train set, see a circus exhibit, and peek into a beautiful fairy castle dollhouse (highly recommended).  Other permanent exhibits require an additional entrance fee.  These include a tour of a captured U-505 German submarine from World War II and a tour of a recreated coal mine.  Finally, visitors can also purchase tickets to watch a film in the Museum’s 5-story domed-theater.  The film options frequently change, but are always related to science (e.g. tornadoes or climbing Mount Everest).

If you visit during the Christmas season, you can see an annual exhibit called “Christmas Around the World.”  This exhibit is made up of over 50 Christmas trees near the Museum’s entrance.  Each tree is decorated by local volunteers and represents a different country or ethnic group.  The annual tradition began in 1942 during World War II.  Originally, there was only one tree which was decorated differently for twelve days, with each day representing a different allied country fighting alongside the United States.

There are other exhibits in the Museum of Science and Industry that I did not even mention.  It is a huge and beautiful museum that is definitely worth visiting.

P. S.  There is another building from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that still exists, but it is no longer in Chicago. This is the Norway Building, which was a building Norway built and sent for the 1893 World’s Fair.  It moved several times, and was a part of a Norwegian historical village/museum in Wisconsin, called Little Norway, from 1935-2012.  The grandson of one of its builders brought it back to Norway in 2017.  The remainder of the buildings from the World’s Fair either burned down or were demolished.

Sources and Further Reading

Conn, Steven. “Field Museum.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/450.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Keyes, Jonathan J. “Museum of Science and Industry.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/859.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Mastony, Colleen. “Norway Building from 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Heads Home.” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2015. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-little-norway-blue-mounds-met-20150919-story.html (accessed January 25, 2020).

Museum of Science and Industry. https://www.msichicago.org/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Palace of Fine Arts.” Chicagology. https://chicagology.com/columbiaexpo/fair039/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

Snell, Joe. “Assyrian Christmas Tree Joins Popular Chicago Exhibition.” The Assyrian Journal, December 2018. https://theassyrianjournal.com/assyrian-christmas-tree-joins-popular-chicago-exhibition/ (accessed January 25, 2020).

Chicago World Fairs & Chicago Museum Free Days

The coldest months of the year in Chicago, January and February, are also when Chicago’s museums have the lowest number of visitors.  Because of this, Chicago’s most famous museums usually have a large number of free admission days for Illinois residents.

Here is the list of free days offered at Chicago museums in 2020:

https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/

Two of the top three museums in Chicago (in my opinion), which generally have pricey admission, are offering generous free day options for Illinois residents in February.  These museums are the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry.  The Art Institute of Chicago is not actually offering free days in February, although Wednesdays from 5-8 PM are always free to Illinois residents throughout the entire year.

Coincidentally, I realized that all three museums have a connection with the Chicago World Fair of 1893.  Known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World Fair of 1893 was supposed to commemorate 400 years since Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Western Hemisphere in 1492 (preparation for the Fair delayed it to 1893 instead of 1892).  There had been many World Fairs prior to 1893, and many more to follow, although Chicago’s probably ranks as one of the more famous ones.  People from all over the world came for Chicago’s World Fair. 

I will discuss each of the three museums in separate posts, but here is a brief summary of how each museum was connected to the 1893 World Fair.  The Museum of Science and Industry was one of the many Classical-style buildings built for the World Fair.  However, it is the only one that still survives.  The Field Museum started out as a museum that housed artifacts from the 1893 Chicago World Fair.  Finally, the Art Institute of Chicago was built in 1893 because of the World Fair, although it was not directly part of the Fair. 

Most of Chicago’s 1893 World Fair took place in the South Side of Chicago, specifically in the Jackson Park area.  Today, the area has an abandoned and eerie feel to it, although the future Barack Obama Presidential Center is supposed to be built there soon.  Significant legacies from the Fair include the introduction of the Cracker Jack snack, the zipper, and Wrigley’s chewing gum.  Additionally, the first Ferris wheel was built for Chicago’s World Fair as a rival to Paris’ 1889 World Fair, which introduced the Eiffel Tower.  The original Ferris wheel was demolished soon after the Fair, but Navy Pier in Chicago now has a Ferris wheel to commemorate the first one.

This statue is located near Jackson Park, and was built in 1918 to commemorate 25 years since the 1893 World Fair. The originally statue was demolished soon after the Fair ended, was much taller, and was located in the Fair’s center.

If you want to learn more about the 1893 World Fair, I recommend the following two resources.  The first is the book, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson.  It juxtaposes the story of the construction of the World Fair (nicknamed the “White City” because of its massive white buildings) with the story of H. H. Holmes (the devil).  During the Chicago World Fair, Holmes went about murdering people, and is known as the first serial killer in the United States.  A second resource is the film The Current War (released in 2019), which portrays the electric current race that occurred between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and less directly, Nikola Tesla, and their competition to illuminate the 1893 World Fair. 

As a bonus, I want to mention that Chicago also hosted another World Fair in 1933 and 1934, known as the Century of Progress Exposition.  It helped boost morale and bring new job opportunities during the Great Depression.  This Fair was held a little further north, on Chicago’s Museum Campus area, where the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field, and the Shedd Aquarium are located.  The theme of the 1933 World Fair was to promote industrial progress and commemorate Chicago’s 100th birthday, since it was incorporated in 1833.  Unlike the 1893 World Fair, the second World Fair’s architecture was more modern and included a lot of Art Deco style.  Unfortunately, none of this Fair’s buildings still remain.

I found two flagpoles from the 1933 Chicago World Fair at two Chicago suburb schools. I wonder if they were originally a part of that Fair’s “Avenue of Flags” walkway.

This flagpole is outside of Main East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. It is where both Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford attended high school.
This flagpole was set up at Niles Township Community High School in Skokie, Illinois, which no longer exists. It is now Oakton Community College’s Skokie campus.

Recommended Books

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Book of the Fair: An Historical and Descriptive Presentation of the World’s Science, Art, and Industry, as Viewed through the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. New York: Bounty Books, 1894.

Buel, James W. The Magic City. New York: Arno Press, 1974.

Ganz, Cheryl R. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2002.

Sources and Further Reading

Adams, Barry. “On Wisconsin: An End for Little Norway and the Possible Return Trip for Its Signature Building.” Wisconsin State Journal, December 7, 2014. https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/columnists/on-wisconsin-an-end-for-little-norway-and-a-possible/article_7b584af9-fb7f-584d-ab29-876febb948c0.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

The Current War. DVD. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Dallas: Lantern Entertainment, 2019.

“Free Days for Chicago-Area Museums.” Chicago Parent, January 2, 2020. https://www.chicagoparent.com/learn/museums/free-museum-days-chicago/ (accessed January 25, 2019).

LaTrace, A.J., “A Look at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair in Color.” Curbed Chicago, May 12, 2017. https://chicago.curbed.com/2017/5/12/15629342/1933-chicago-worlds-fair-color-film-footage (accessed January 25, 2019).

McNamara, Chris. “Remnants of the White City. Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2004 https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2004-07-02-0407020064-story.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

Rydell, Robert W. “Century of Progress Exposition (May 27, 1933-November 12, 1933; May 25, 1934-October 31, 1934).” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/225.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

Rydell, Robert W. “World’s Columbian Exposition (May 1, 1893-October 30, 1893.).” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2004. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1386.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

Wadsworth, Kimberley. “Relics of the World’s Fair: Chicago.” Atlas Obscura, January 10, 2014. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/relics-of-the-world-s-fair-chicago (accessed January 25, 2019).

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian is a network of 20 museums (as of January, 2020), that are run by the U.S. government.  The newest museum on the list opened in 2016, and is the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Like most of the Smithsonian museums, it is located in the Nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Since it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, it seemed like a good week to describe this museum.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was designed by a Ghanaian man named David Adjaye.

Although the Smithsonian museums are free, until recently, visitors to the African American museum needed to obtain free entrance tickets far in advance, due to the Museum’s popularity.  Now, since the Museum is not as new as it used to be, visitors are only required to obtain tickets on the weekends.  I visited the Museum on a weekday in 2019 between Christmas and New Year’s, and although I did not have to obtain an advance ticket, I did have to wait in line for 45 minutes just to get into the building.  Once inside, I had to wait an additional 45 minutes to go see the three exhibits on the lower levels, which provide a chronological display of African American history.  The Museum’s other three floors did not have lines, but because I waited in so many, I did not have a chance to see them.  They focus on the cultural aspects of African American history, such as famous athletes, musicians, and actors.  The second floor also has a library, but visitors can only enter by appointment.

Although the 45-minute line to enter the Museum was boring, I did have the privilege of overhearing a thought-provoking conversation while waiting.  The conversation was between two African American men, one appearing to be middle-aged, and the other possibly in college.  It is based on my memory, so may not be 100% word-for-word.

College-Age Man: Where are we?

Middle-Age Man: Do you mean where are we physically, or where are we going?

College-Age Man: Where are we going now?

Middle-Age Man: This is the African American history museum.

College-Age Man: Oh.  [Pause]  I was going to say a white people joke, but maybe this is not the best time.  [Pause]  It’s not that funny, but I was going to say that for being an African American history museum, there are a lot of white people here. 

Middle-Age Man: That’s not a bad thing.

College-Age Man: I know.

Middle-Age Man: I used to work with the Smithsonian, and we analyzed what kind of visitors came in.  Even for the African art exhibits, more white people visited than black people. [Pause] It’s a good thing that they built this museum.  The Holocaust museum, which is nearby, always has as many visitors as here, or more, and that museum isn’t even about something that happened on our soil.  But the African American museum is about what happened here.  We needed this museum.  I think you’ll like it.

The college-age man’s comments made me analyze my surroundings, and despite his comments about the number of white people in line, the majority were not white.  This then made me come back to what the middle-age man said about how more white visitors tended to visit the Smithsonian museums than black people.  I am not an expert on this topic, but my guess is that this is because museums were not a part of African American culture for a long time, since they were enslaved, historically barred entrance into many cultural institutions, or were underpaid and needed to save their money for more important needs.  Perhaps, many museums are often not as relevant to African Americans (i.e. art museums in the U.S. tended to focus more on European art, and less on other types).  Regardless, I am thankful that, after several decades of trying to make it happen, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was finally created.  I have visited several of the main Smithsonian museums, and the African American one is definitely among the top 3.

This is a timeline of the slave trade in the Americas. Portugal brought the most African slaves to the Americas: 5.8 million people.

I spent several hours at the Museum, and probably only saw a third of it, so make sure you allot plenty of time if you ever visit.  Among the many things you will see are a slave cabin, a segregated train, Nat Turner’s Bible (he led a slave rebellion), a plane used by the Tuskegee Airmen (African American WWII pilots), and Harriet Tubman’s shawl and hymnal.

This is a nineteenth-century slave auction block from Hagerstown, Maryland.

In addition to the 45-minute line to enter the Museum, and the other 45-minute line to enter the main history exhibit, I waited an additional 45-minutes to enter the Emmett Till Memorial.  This line was very confusing, because it wrapped around the segregated train, making me first think that the line was for entering the train.  However, I eventually learned that I was in the line for the Emmett Till Memorial.  The Memorial is important, especially if you do not know about Till, since this is the only place in the Museum that talks about him.  Nevertheless, I am still not sure why the line went so slowly.  It contains Emmet Till’s casket, but why he is no longer in it is a different story for a different blog post.

Sources and Further Reading

“The Building.” National Museum of African American History & Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/building (accessed January 6 2019).

“Facts about the Smithsonian Institution.” Smithsonian. https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/factsheets/facts-about-smithsonian-institution (accessed January 6 2019).

“Museum Maps.” National Museum of African American History & Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/maps (accessed January 6 2019).

“The Building.” National Museum of African American History & Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/building (accessed January 6 2019).

Musical Instrument Museum

In 2010, Phoenix, Arizona opened up a museum dedicated solely to musical instruments called the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM).  The MIM strives to display instruments from every country and territory in the world, so, with about 7,000 instruments on display, there over 200 countries/territories currently represented. 

The museum is categorized by geographic regions, meaning that the instruments from South Asia are all in one section, whereas the instruments from Europe are in another.  However, the displays are categorized even further by individual countries.  For instance, the room devoted to African instruments does not lump them all together, but provides a separate display for each individual country. 

The MIM is organized by different geographic regions.

When you arrive at the museum, you receive an individual headset, which you wear while walking through the museum.  Once you arrive at a specific country’s display, a sensor picks up your headset and starts playing the music of that country.  Additionally, most of the countries also have a screen next to them, showing people playing the music that is coming through your headset.  This is what makes the MIM so amazing.  You not only have the ability to see a variety of instruments from all over the world, but you are also able to hear and watch them being played.

Since the MIM is located in the United States, the U.S. has the largest representation of any country within the museum.  However, this means that the sections about the United States are divided by genre, so jazz, rock and roll, and country music all have their own sections.  The U.S. section even has the first Steinway piano, which is impressive, since this U.S. company is considered one of the best piano companies in the world.  Although classical music is often performed on Steinway pianos, the classical music genre is actually covered in the European instruments section.

The first Steinway piano dates to 1836.

The Musical Instrument Museum is definitely worth the visit, especially if you have an interest in music.

Sources and Further Reading

“FAQS.” Musical Instrument Museum. https://mim.org/faqs/ (accessed October 25, 2019).