Category Archives: Museums and Historic Sites
If you find yourself visiting southern California and you’d like a good crash course in the area’s history, let me recommend a visit to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Most of us associate natural history museums with fossils and taxidermy, but the NHMLAC also has an exhibit called “Becoming Los Angeles,” which covers L.A.’s story from the arrival of the Spanish up to the present. It opened last year.
I’m not that familiar with the history of California, so this exhibit was an education for me. The section on the Spanish mission system is especially interesting; it explains the impact of European colonization on both the land and the people. The arrival of domestic cattle, for example, dramatically impacted southern California’s vegetation. Cows ate up the grasses that were native to the area while depositing foreign seeds in their dung. Hence the slogan emblazoned on souvenirs in the museum’s gift shop: Cow poop changed L.A.!
Becoming Los Angeles features some pretty neat artifacts. Here’s the table on which the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed in 1847, ending hostilities in the Mexican-American War in California. Of course, the war didn’t officially end until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the following year.
The exhibit also covers more recent history, including the city’s role in WWII and the birth of the local aviation and entertainment industries. Here’s another historically significant piece of furniture: Walt Disney’s animation stand, used to make the first Mickey Mouse cartoons.
Other objects on display include Spanish crucifixes from the colonial era, Indian tools, and one of Charlie Chaplin’s costumes.
But hey…I didn’t go to L.A. to see history exhibits. I was off the clock. You guys know where this is headed, right?
If you like tyrannosaurs, you’re in luck. There are more T. rex mounts at the NHMLAC than you can shake a severed goat leg at. One of them is facing off against a Triceratops in the foyer.
More tyrannosaur skeletons are in the main dinosaur exhibit. This is a really cool mount, because it’s the only place in the world where you can see three T. rexes of different ages posed together in a growth series. At two years old, this is the youngest known T. rex specimen.
The second tyrannosaur is a twenty-foot adolescent. T. rex grew remarkably fast in its early teens, packing on up to 1.5 tons per year.
And here’s the third animal, close to full size.
Mamenchisaurus, a long-necked sauropod from China, dominates the first dinosaur gallery.
Carnotaurus, the bulldog-faced meat-eater from Argentina. On a related note, on my last night in town my friends took me to an Argentine restaurant. Best thing about L.A. is the variety of dining options.
A hadrosaur skull. The horny part of the “duckbill” is really visible on this specimen.
Allosaurus vs Stegosaurus. I do love a good Allosaurus skeleton. The Denver Museum of Natural History has a very similar mount.
An ornithomimid. I think it’s Struthiomimus, but I don’t remember exactly.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the La Brea Tar Pits, but the NHMLAC does have quite a few specimens from the site, like this saber-toothed cat.
And while we’re on the subject of all things prehistoric, the grand finale of my L.A. trip was a pilgrimage to the original Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studious Hollywood.
I was wearing a t-shirt from the Jurassic Park River Adventure at Universal Orlando, and some of the ride operators at the Hollywood version asked me which one was better. As a connoisseur of all things JP, I feel eminently qualified to address this question, so here goes.
In terms of the rides themselves, it’s pretty much a toss-up. The Hollywood version has a couple of neat outdoor effects that are absent in Orlando, an additional (albeit brief) encounter with the T. rex, and better-looking sauropods in the opening scene. On the other hand, I think the Florida ride seems a bit less rushed, which means much better pacing, a more coherent story, and a more effective build-up of suspense. For these reasons, I have a slight personal preference for Orlando’s version, but you can’t go wrong with either one.
Looking beyond the boat ride to the overall Jurassic Park experience, Orlando has one big advantage in that Universal had room to build an entire Isla Nublar there, complete with a replica of the visitor center, more dino-themed dining and shopping establishments, and some other attractions besides the main boat ride. But Hollywood still has plenty to offer. On the studio tram tour, you’ll see vehicles used in The Lost World and the water tank used to film the final Spinosaurus attack in JPIII. The die-hard fan should visit both parks—Hollywood because it’s steeped in the history of the franchise, Orlando because you can immerse yourself in the movie’s fictional universe. (Assuming, of course, you can ignore that darned Harry Potter castle looming above the treeline. Zoning laws, people. Zoning laws.)
And that’s a wrap. Back to business as usual.
My fellow Tennesseans, we now have irrefutable evidence that a minuscule portion of your tax money is going to private museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions. DUN DUN DUNNN!!
Noting the attendance at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the writer of the article linked above asks, “If the museum and other attractions are seemingly doing well, why then, do they need taxpayer money?” But then, after citing evidence provided by the Chattanooga History Center showing that their visitors are economically beneficial to the community, he claims that the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center is located in a small community where the “economic development argument may not work,” and describes the museum’s low visitation and financial struggles.
So your museum doesn’t deserve public support if business is booming, and it doesn’t deserve public support unless business is booming. I confess that I don’t find this line of argument persuasive.
I’m also irked that the article describes the institutions receiving these funds as “tourist attractions.” The Chattanooga History Center and Alex Haley’s home do indeed attract tourists, but referring to these historic and cultural institutions as “tourist attractions” conveys the impression that this is equivalent to giving taxpayer-funded grants to Six Flags or a miniature golf course.
Russell Kirk defined a conservative as “a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions,” and noted that conservatives believe the past to be “a great storehouse of wisdom.” If we can’t spare even a small portion of our public funds for history and culture, then what is it we’re trying to conserve?
If you were planning to watch some reenactors do their thing at Minute Man National Historical Park this year, you’re out of luck.
It’ll be at the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison starting Feb. 25, and it’s about the war’s impact on NJ civilians. Too bad I’m not within driving distance; I’d really like to see it.
From Springfield’s State Journal-Register:
A 23-year-old Springfield man faces federal criminal charges after he was arrested in the basement of the Lincoln Home early Saturday.
Springfield police and National Park Service rangers said Jordan L. Clark, of the 800 block of North Sixth Street, might have been attempting to steal copper wire from the heating and air conditioning system.
Damage was estimated at $500 to $1,000.
Police say Clark appeared to be under the influence when he threw a brick through the basement window and crawled inside about 1:20 a.m. Saturday.
No word on whether the homeowner, a local lawyer and former state representative, was inside the residence at the time. Neighbors do report, however, that he earned a reputation as an amateur wrestler in his youth, and probably could have held his own until police arrived.
Eight Tennessee sites have joined the National Register of Historic Places, including Crockett Tavern in Morristown, just down the road from my hometown. Davy Crockett’s family moved to the site when the famous frontiersman was still a boy. The present structure is a replica built in the 1950s, during the Crockett craze whipped up by the Disney series.
I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been there yet, but I’m going this year, as soon as they re-open for the spring. It’s not that uncommon for history buffs to spend years driving all over the country to visit sites and let the ones in their own backyards fall through the cracks, but the fact that I’ve gone this long without crossing Crockett Tavern off my bucket list is downright scandalous.
Also, the East Tennessee Historical Society is hosting a Brown Bag Lecture on Jan. 16 at noon about an interesting archaeological site in downtown Knoxville: the home of Peter Kern, a remarkable guy who turned a run of bad luck into a fortune in the food business. Kern was a German immigrant who settled in Georgia and signed up to fight for the Confederacy. Wounded in Virginia, he went back home to recover. While returning to the front by train, he ended up in Knoxville just as the city fell into Union hands. Stuck in town for the duration of the war, he made the most of his situation and established a bakery and ice cream parlor. Kern’s bread business was quite a success (you can still buy baked goods with the Kern’s label here in East Tennessee) and he stayed in Knoxville, running successfully for mayor in 1890.
So on behalf of my fellow East Tennesseans to whichever Yankee soldier managed to knock Kern out of the action—thanks for all the awesome sandwiches.