putting the "spring" in Springfield

Despite having lived all but 3 of my years in Illinois, and most of those in the central bits, I have spent very little time in the state capital. This week we took a field trip for work - a definite perk of the job - to Springfield to visit three museums:

  • The Museum of Funeral Customs

  • This was not nearly as bad as I was anticipating. You can never tell with these weird little topic-based places. Although it only discussed the US from about 1835 or so, it was still really interesting. Death is complicated, and attending to it caring for it may be even more so. There's something itneresting about how we handle the great equalizing force in the world. Except, as these exhibits show, there really isn't much equal about it, as the differences that exist among us in life are clearly in death too. Also, I must add, as if we needed further proof: the Victorians were nutty. As a museum person, I am deeply grateful for their tendency to collect stuff and put it on display. And I like their domestic architecture. But yikes. What weird social rules they had. There were codes about how long women had to wear mourning clothing depending on their relationship with the deceased. Men, of course, didn't have to wear anything different.

  • The Dana-Thomas House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Beautiful, of course. Clean but rich, calming but engaging, quiet but full of detail, unobtrusive but glittering and utterly useful. Why don't we build more buildings like this? Think of all the big, flat shopping centers and office buildings that could so benefit from these principles and visual vocabulalry.

  • the brand-spankin' new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

  • Oh. My. Gawd. Mannqeuins of the presidential family, ideally situated for posing and being photographed with - just like Mikey Mouse. Mannequins of young, idealistic, hard-working Abe! Mannequins of other 1860s celebs, including John Wilkes Booth, glaring at you as you enter the museum. Mannequins of the Cabinet pondering the Emancipation Proclamation. My colleagues and I diverged on this place. It gave me the heebie-jeebies and for the first time I can remember I found myself sitting on a bench making phone calls because I really didn't want to spend any further time in the galleries. This never happens to me - I can always spend more time in a musuem. But not here. Problem 1: there were a lot of holes. No museum can tell the "whole story," if there even is such a thing, of any topic, but the omissions here seemed large. I know very little about Lincoln and I would love to visit this place with someone who knows what isn't being said. Problem 2: halfway through I was struck by the anti-South bias. We can all agree slavery is bad but the picture is so much more complicated than that, and I don't think the museum explained enough about slavery, why it was used, why people objected, why it was such a hot topic for new states, etc. Clearly this is not a slavery museum but they talked about it too much with too little information. There were some cheap tactics too, like a diorama of slaves being sold that had bright red lights projected on the faces of the traders. Thanks, got it, they're demonic. Problem 3: there is a really good gallery with reproductions of contemporary political cartoons from all over the place, showing both how Lincoln was not much loved at the beginning of his presidency and how complicatedly troubled the US really was. Then a few rooms later, Lincoln is dead and is clearly already a hero of epic proportions. But there's no in between. They didn't describe much about what he did to inspire such a transformation in perception. Problem 4: mannequins. Problem 5: too few artifacts. The word on the street is that this insitution assumed that other museums and private collectors holding Lincoln items would donate them as this place opened, but it hasn't happened. They wouldn't need so many mannequins and shiny new replicas of tin candle sconces and crisp wooden crates in the "cabin" if they had more artifacts. I'm all for props and replicas - but in proportion, and not as filler. Problem 6: you have to use finger quotes a lot when describing this place. As one of my colleagues said, it's a theme park, not a museum. Weird. I did really like how they emphasized Lincoln sites in Springfield, using maps and integrating distances to the sites into the discussions in the text. Also they had bibliogrpahies in the labels for further reading. Both of these devices are really smart and thoughtful, and I hope they inspire people to see the real sites and to fill in the gaps. I'm going to take the easy way out and ask my mom and an Abe-o-phile friend, who between them should give me a much clearer picture. And maybe go to New Salem sometime this summer. But only if the costumed interpreters don't pretend it's 1835. That's worse than mannequins.

    I rambled about other stuff too. Wanna see?

    April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 May 2006 June 2006 August 2006 October 2006 December 2006 February 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 September 2007 July 2008

    projects, friends, etc.

  • I love Bollywood so much that I made a separate blog for it.
  • remember when I went to Australia?
  • when you take grad school too much to heart re: literature
  • when you take grad school too much to heart re: travels
  • The Trophy Wife
  • rock and roll lifestyle
  • Why God Why
  • Technically not a friend, as not a human, but still a place I love very much, so it counts: Massey College
  • credits

  • Blog design is based largely on Not That Ugly with some ideas from Firdamatic with some additional tweaking
  • Flickr rocks! Really.
  • Hurrah for Blogger
  • And for folks trying to library-ize blogs: Blogwise and Blogarama
  • Sorry this looks like poo in Firefox. I've no idea why.