London: “Moving to Mars” @ the Design Museum

You won’t find me climbing aboard a rocket to Mars any time soon, but I did recently go to see “Moving to Mars” at the Design Museum, which runs until February 2020. Because it was at the Design Museum, the primary focus was of course the design of items that could be used to travel to Mars, live on Mars, etc, but there were plenty of science aspects to this exhibition as well. Admission was £7.25 using the National Art Pass, but it is normally an expensive £14.50 on weekdays, and £16.30 on weekends(!) so definitely aim to get some kind of a discount (National Rail 2 for 1s work at most London museums)!

 

The first gallery was about the relationship between humans and Mars throughout history from Galileo on up to the present. It had lots of old astronomical charts I didn’t really understand, some Mars Rover prototypes, and the obligatory orrery or two.

 

My favourite part was the wall of film poster and scifi books about Mars, including a fair few alien ones. I have a bit of a soft spot for Ray Bradbury because he loved Halloween as much as I do, and I love campy ’60s movie posters, though I often find the movies themselves quite boring.

 

The exhibition description mentioned how interactive and immersive “Moving to Mars” was, and though I didn’t find it particularly so overall, I suppose the next area was. It contained a large screen showing footage of the surface of Mars with a voiceover describing the Martian environment, where you were invited to remove your shoes and step on a mat that was apparently meant to resemble the surface of Mars. Because I wasn’t wearing socks (with high-tops, yes, I’m gross), I didn’t really want to take my shoes off and expose everyone to my horrible cheese Dorito-smelling feet, but Marcus tried it and said it just felt like a gym mat. I did climb inside the rocket ship in the gallery after this though, even though it was probably meant for children.

 

This next gallery was about how the first rockets used in space flight were designed, which segued into spacesuits and equipment that had been used on the International Space Station. The thing in the middle that looks like a trampoline is actually a communal dining table with foot straps and rails to lean against to hold yourself in place. Despite the strict hierarchical system that existed on ships during voyages of exploration (historically the closest thing mankind has done to prolonged space flight), current thoughts about life in space emphasise the need for everyone to be on an equal footing (which makes sense!), hence the round table so no one can be seated at its head.

 

I enjoyed looking at all the space suit designs (the one that looks like it has blood circulating through it is actually filled with water pipes to regulate the astronaut’s body temperature) and trying out some of the prototypes, like space gloves that feature the smells of home. The glove maker had chosen to use two of her favourite smells, which were fresh grass and the smell of her horse. The grass one was fine, but the horse would certainly not be my choice!

 

The largest gallery was devoted to what life on Mars might actually look like, and included miniature mock-ups of Martian homes (depressingly futuristic, and designed to minimise exposure to solar radiation), everyday space clothes (ugly, and made of futuristic fabrics), and the excellent diagram of how the technology behind a Martian home would work, with all waste products being recycled as much as possible, including the .128kg of feces and 1L of gasses that a human apparently produces in a day. This made me laugh.

 

There was also a life-sized version of a Martian living room where you could sit on the 3D printed furniture (at least, I assume you could sit on the furniture, as there was no sign saying you couldn’t. Obviously I did anyway). The couch was more comfortable than it looked, though there was a weird divot for the butt that I could imagine getting uncomfortable after a while. Needless to say, I don’t think life on Mars is for me, unless there’s a major ecological catastrophe (and let’s face it, there probably will be) on Earth that makes life here impossible. However, the settlement of Mars plan is definitely a long term game, with robots being sent up about a decade in advance of humans to build housing and start growing crops, so it is highly unlikely any of this would come to fruition in my lifetime anyway.

 

The final gallery contained a short video about the experience of flying to Mars, and all the prep work that would have went into it. There was also an interesting video showing the way different plant samples from Earth might evolve on the Martian climate, and a wall featuring all the different variations that could occur (there seemed to be a lot of spidery looking things – apparently those evolve anywhere!). There was also a brief discussion of why we would need to colonise Mars in the first place, and whether we should be doing so from an ethical perspective (if we’ve destroyed Earth, why do we need to destroy another planet too? Either improve as a species, or give it up).

 

I’m not a hugely scientific person, and I suspect Marcus enjoyed himself more than I did, but it was nonetheless an interesting exhibition, and I liked seeing the more eco-friendly ways we could try to begin again on another planet (by necessity, because of the difficulty of getting supplies to and from Mars), though I think we’d be better off implementing some of those ideas on Earth first, whilst we still have a chance! As I’ve said, Mars life would definitely not be for me – all those futuristic/dystopian novels give me the creeps, and some of the ideas in this exhibition made me feel the same way – but thinking about the different ways things might evolve and the technology needed for it to happen was an interesting intellectual exercise, and some of the 1960s space art in here was really cool. Get a discount if you can, because this exhibition is definitely not worth 15 quid+, but for what I paid, I was perfectly satisfied, even if I did think it could be a bit more interactive. 3/5.

London: “Top Secret” and “The Art of Innovation” @ the Science Museum

I was originally planning on treating these two temporary exhibitions at the Science Museum as two separate posts, but I was having such a difficult time getting started that I took it as a sign that I didn’t have enough to say about either individually, so it would make more sense to combine them. I was alerted to “The Art of Innovation” first, having been asked to do a social media post at work about it as they had an object from our collection on display, and then saw “Top Secret” on the Science Museum’s website as I was booking for the “Art of Innovation” and thought I might as well see them both. They are both free exhibitions, but you do need a timed ticket for entry. I actually booked my ticket for “Top Secret” on my phone just as I finished seeing “The Art of Innovation,” for the slot in 15 minutes’ time, which was just enough time for me to get there (the Science Museum is big, and “Top Secret” is in the basement gallery, which I had somehow never been to before, despite temping as FoH staff there for a couple weeks some years ago). I highly recommend doing the same if you dislike waiting around as much as I do.

 

I’ll start with “Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security”, which runs until February 2020. Like many kids, I think, I was quite into spy stuff, secret codes, etc when I was younger, even doing a project on secret codes for a math fair, so I thought this exhibition sounded promising. And it certainly looked good! Not only did actually finding it feel like you had cracked a code (because the basement gallery was so well hidden. I never knew the Science Museum had a whole display case full of antique toilets, amongst other wonders I uncovered in the permanent collections down there), but the design of the exhibition was quite fun, featuring a lot of little “buildings” you could enter, like a mock-up of a suburban Canadian home that housed some Soviet spies, a faux Bletchley Park hut; and bold graphics lining the walls of the rest of it. However, the content didn’t quite live up to the promise of the design.

 

I liked the WWI section, which was mostly about zeppelin attacks and what the British did to combat them, but the section on code breaking machines was just a bit too technical to hold my interest. The exhibition was also quite crowded in places, so having been to Bletchley Park itself, I couldn’t really be bothered to queue to look at what was on display in the hut, and gave that whole area a miss.

 

The final section was on GCHQ, the organisation so secret I’m not even sure what GCHQ stands for (oh wait, it’s Government Communications Headquarters). They are not so secretly celebrating their 100th anniversary this year, and there was a bit of information on their recruiting techniques, like leaving secret signs on the pavement that apparently only the right sort of person would notice; and some of the devices they use in their work. There was even a LEGO version of their headquarters (is that GCHQ HQ, or is that just a bit redundant?), but the very nature of their organisation meant I still left a little bit puzzled about what exactly they do. This exhibition was less interesting than I had hoped, but it was free, so all I wasted was time. 2/5. And on to “The Art of Innovation”, which I actually saw first.

As I mentioned at the start, this was also free but required pre-booking, though I would imagine if it’s not busy you can easily book a ticket there and then. This was much more my speed. The exhibitions in the second floor gallery tend to be a lot quieter, maybe because people don’t realise they exist, and this was no exception. This was basically what the title promised: artistic objects (or at least, aesthetically pleasing ones) and “the interaction between scientific progress and social change”. So there was plenty of art but also clothing, fabrics, machinery, etc. And some hilarious cartoons that mocked Humphrey Davy’s fascination with nitrous oxide by copious use of fart jokes. Obviously I loved those.

 

I discovered how much I liked Otto Dix at the Weimar art exhibition at the Tate Modern, so I was pleased to see one of his sketches here along with some examples of German prosthetics made for WWI veterans. Men who had lost limbs in the war were often then tied down to one specific job based on what their prosthetics were able to do, meaning they lacked social mobility, which is quite depressing, and Dix’s piece reflected the German ambivalence, bordering on cruelty, towards these men who had sacrificed so much.

I was also interested to see the results of mechanisation, like the puzzle board used by Rowntree’s to determine which workers were best suited to packaging chocolates (cue I Love Lucy-esque scenes of hilarity) and of course the train clock showing train time vs. local time before the clocks were standardised across Britain.

My favourite display was about the Science Museum’s part in the Festival of Britain, held in 1951. The museum had an entire new wing built just to showcase the Exhibition of Science, and the entrance apparently included five rooms where the things inside progressively got bigger as you moved through the rooms, so the visitors would feel like they were stepping under a microscope to explore the world of atoms. There were also fantastic textiles commissioned (above left) based on x-ray crystallography, each print showing different molecules. I would love a 1950s dress made from afwillite or orthoclase fabric, and I would like to wear it whilst exploring that historic exhibition. Don’t you wish we could travel back in time just for the sake of World’s Fair-type events like this?

 

This exhibition was not only interesting, it had some fabulous objects to look at too. I’d definitely recommend this over “Top Secret” if you only have time for one, though if you’re visiting with kids, I suspect “Top Secret” is probably more child friendly, as they had an actual interactive zone. 3.5/5 for “Art of Innovation.”

 

Rochester, NY: The George Eastman Museum

The final stop on our trip to upstate New York was Rochester, home of the George Eastman Museum. One of the curators at work had just been there to do research a few weeks before and had recommended it to me, and I also wanted to see Mount Hope Cemetery, where Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are buried (along with 350,000 other people). So after fortifying ourselves with very delicious waffles from Funk ‘N Waffles in Syracuse (I can highly recommend the banana bread waffle), we made tracks for Rochester.

 

The museum was very large from the outside, consisting of a theatre building, the museum building, and George Eastman’s former mansion, so I was expecting the inside to be huge! However, it wasn’t quite what I was anticipating. Admission was $15, and I’m not sure if it was because the site was undergoing construction at the time of our visit, but there didn’t seem to be quite as many galleries as the exterior would have implied, and virtually no permanent collections on display, which was a surprise. Because Eastman was the founder of Kodak, I was expecting the museum to have more of a comprehensive history of photography, and it didn’t really. But let me tell you about what actually was there.

 

Because the museum building solely has temporary displays, almost nothing that we saw is still there, save for Tanya Marcuse’s “Woven”, which was a collection of photographs of leaves and other things taken from nature. Her pieces were actually quite cool and tapestry like, but it was a small gallery, so it didn’t take very long to see (and by the way, I hope you appreciate the fact that there are photos in this post, since my brother took photos there with his fancypants camera (so I didn’t bother to take many photos with my phone) that I then had to spend the subsequent two months asking him to send to me. He finally did the day before this post was published).

 

The museum does admittedly have a History of Photography gallery, but it is only one room, and also has changing themed exhibitions of artefacts taken from the permanent collections. At the time of our visit, it was all about the moon, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. There were some very cool images in here, but we didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked due to some very annoying fellow visitors. We tried coming here right after entering the museum, but it was full of a very noisy tour group, so we decided to come back later. But when we returned, there were a couple in there who were basically shouting at each other about the photos, and then a tour guide came in, and they shouted questions at her too. So irritating. There was also a display of historical cameras in here, which I suspect is probably here all the time, but I didn’t spend much time looking at them because I couldn’t wait to get away from the shouty people.

 

This meant we headed to the special exhibition pretty quickly, which took up all of the museum’s main galleries. This was “The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons,” which wasn’t necessarily photography related, but obviously did relate to moving images, etc. I had mixed feelings about this going in. I absolutely loved the classic Looney Tunes growing up, and spent many a Saturday morning happily watching them. But then there was some weird Warner Bros. revival in the mid-90s, where everyone got obsessed with Taz and got lame tattoos of him, and it just kind of put me off. There’s also all those wartime cartoons that Warner Bros. produced that are hella racist. But this exhibition reminded me of all the good things about the classic cartoons, and I was quite happy to stand and watch some of the best ones, which were being projected on screens throughout the exhibit.

 

The exhibit mainly featured the cartoons themselves and a lot of animation cels, along with captions explaining how each character evolved over time. For example, Elmer Fudd was originally called “Egghead,” yet bizarrely, had hair at that time, and also simply wanted Bugs for a pet, rather than to shoot him. Porky Pig is the oldest continuing Looney Tunes character, and he went from being a child to an adult, and from being Bugs’s antagonist to sometimes being on his side, though those cartoons where Porky was hunting never made any sense to me. Why would a pig hunt a rabbit? My favourite Looney Tunes were always the ones with the monsters in them, like Witch Hazel and the Big Red Monster, who is apparently named Gossamer. We both really enjoyed this exhibit, and also the fun photo ops throughout (especially appreciated because you weren’t allowed to photograph any of the animation cels).

  

These exhibitions were all that was in the main museum building, but we still had to visit Eastman’s mansion. This was an attractive Colonial Revival building accessed by cutting through the garden behind the museum. The building itself is interesting because Eastman decided to enlarge the conservatory about fifteen years after the house was built, but he didn’t want to ruin the symmetry of the house so his architect cut the house in half, jacked up half of it and moved it forward 9 feet on tracks, a process that took three months. This should give you some indication of how much money Eastman had to burn.

 

The house itself was nice, but nothing really stood out in way of decoration except for the pipe organ. If I had one in my house, I would definitely wake guests up every morning by playing some kind of Phantom of the Opera music, and I swear there was a sign that mentioned Eastman doing something similar, though I can’t find proof of it! This was the only place in the museum where there was biographical information about Eastman himself, and he seems to have been an intriguing man. He never married, but had a long-term platonic relationship with a woman with the unfortunate name of Josephine Dickman. The museum did seem to be implying that Eastman might have been gay, and based on the evidence that does seem likely, but I’m not about to posthumously out someone. He gave to a number of philanthropic causes which strangely included both dental clinics for underprivileged children and historically black colleges, but also the American Eugenics Society. So in some ways he was kind of a shit, but in others not. He killed himself at the age of 77 as he had developed a number of degenerative health conditions and didn’t want to lose control over his own body. His suicide note, which was inside the house (in facsimile form), read, “To my friends, my work is done – Why wait?”

 

On a less depressing note, the house was also home to an interactive room probably intended for children that included a giant zoetrope and a room sized camera obscura (the earliest form of camera, basically a pinhole in a darkened room that projects an upside down image of whatever’s outside inside the room) and one forlorn room at the back of the second floor that (finally!) had some information about the history of Kodak. Other than the rooms downstairs, which you could peek into, the rest of the house is used as a research room accessible by appointment only, so we headed back to the main museum building.

 

There is of course a shop with some pretty good camera themed merchandise, and a small cafe that we did not visit. Although it wasn’t at all what I had expected, I really enjoyed myself, though I probably could have done with some more examples of early photography, which is what I had been hoping to see. Because the exhibitions have changed now, your experience will be different from mine, but hopefully it will still be worth the visit! I also have to mention the car that was parked outside during our visit, which is apparently not Eastman’s (per the sign attached to it), but belongs to a member of staff. Based on the sign and the skeleton astride the car, I suspect we’d get along. 3.5/5 for the museum.

 

We did also briefly visit Mount Hope Cemetery, and it was a bit too manicured and sunny for my tastes, but still worth seeing, though the map I found online wasn’t much help when it came to actually finding the graves of famous burials (I only managed to find Susan B. Anthony). We were disappointed in our quest to find ice cream in Rochester when the pretentious chocolate shop downtown only had the grossest of flavours (fig and wine? Blech!), but we did manage to grab excellent doughnuts outside Buffalo at Paula’s Donuts, which were a sweet end to our road trip, and helped keep us from starving to death when stuck in traffic most of the way back.

Syracuse, NY: The Erie Canal Museum

After leaving the disappointing Women’s Rights National Historic Park, we headed over to Syracuse for the Erie Canal Museum. I was super excited for this mainly because of my love of the “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal” song (apparently its real name is “Low Bridge”) which we learned in elementary school, and which I still catch myself singing at odd moments; but also because I grew up near the remains of the Ohio and Erie Canal, and spent a lot of time walking the old towpaths that have been turned into hiking trails (usually not walking by choice. I was not an outdoors kind of kid. Or adult).

 

We found parking in a lot nearby and headed on in, as we only had a little over an hour before the museum closed. We were already enticed by the canal boat inside we could view from the street, and the excellent mural painted opposite the entrance. Admission to the museum is free, though they do recommend a $5 donation, and we were the only visitors for most of our visit, which was lovely, though probably not great for the museum. The museum is housed in an original 1850 weighlock building, the last building of this type standing.

 

The layout reminded me a lot of the museum I work at, sort of narrow and labyrinthine, but the contents most definitely didn’t, because this museum was actually kind of fun! They had quite a few interactive things where you could see how a canal works, and even a computer game where you had to weigh various canal boats and then assess fees based on the weight. Unfortunately, the game that looked like the most fun, pictured above (badly, because the lighting was not conducive to taking photos without glare), was out of order, but at least we got to enjoy most of the things. As you might expect, the museum was primarily about the building and operation of the canal, which was completed in 1825. Labour standards not being great at the time, conditions for the men building the canal were horrendous, particularly when building through the Montezuma Marshes, which we had visited earlier in the day, but conditions for passengers were mixed, based mainly on how much money they had to spend. Some of the boats actually looked pretty luxurious.

We got to experience canal boat lives a bit ourselves by boarding the replica canal boat that we had glimpsed from outside the museum. Though accommodations on this model were spartan, the boat felt more open than a proper seafaring ship, and there was definitely a lot more head room! Of course I plopped myself down on the privy so I could show you my patented fake pooping face (again). On canal boats, men and women were typically forced to bunk separately, even if they were all part of the same family, though since canal boats weren’t all that large, they would have usually been in the same room with just a curtain pulled across the middle. The canal originally ran between Albany and Buffalo (though later canals would pass through Pennsylvania and Ohio and link up most of Lake Erie), and took about a week to travel in a boat pulled by mules, about half the time of the overland route.

 

The upstairs floor of the museum was all decked out like ye olde Syracuse, and you know I love a fake historic town. Disappointingly, you couldn’t actually walk through the shops, as you were separated from them by an alarmed rail, but it was still pretty OK. My favourite thing up here was the sign on the saloon till reading, “All Nations Welcome but Carrie,” which was a total history nerd joke I had to explain to my brother (Carrie Nation was a famous temperance advocate who was famous for smashing up bars with a hatchet). There was music playing in the background – all songs about the Erie Canal, though “Low Bridge” didn’t come on, at least not whilst I was standing there.

 

The last room of the museum contained a temporary display on the different types of canal boats, which felt a little half-assed to be honest, as it was just a handful of sign boards in the middle of an empty room, but I did enjoy looking at the images of people travelling along the canal (especially the boats that had become completely snowed in, because New York gets lake effect snow just like Ohio). I also enjoyed trying on hats in the hat corner, even though I wasn’t totally sure if you were supposed to.

  

My other favourite thing in the museum, which had nothing to do with the museum itself, was the poster advertising the “Eerie Canal Run” – you guessed it, fifteen miles on the Erie Canal! I hate running more than most things, but if I lived here, I would had to have done it. Halloween and Erie Canal puns? Yes please! The shop, though small, had some rather charming merchandise, and I couldn’t resist the Christmas ornament painted with a very crude mule. For some reason I always thought “Low Bridge” was written from the perspective of the mule, though the museum taught me it was meant to be the guy leading the mule singing it. Either way, I really like canal mules, so lucky for me that there was a statue of one right across the street from the museum! I thought this museum was totally fun and interesting, and the fact that it was free made it even better (it’s not a very big museum, but to be honest, it was bigger than I was expecting). 3.5/5.

Seneca Falls, NY: Women’s Rights National Historic Park

After leaving Corning, we headed north along the edge of Lake Seneca, one of the Finger Lakes, ultimately Syracuse-bound. Since this was very much a Russell (my brother) and Jessica (me, obviously) trip, we made the following pit stops: a cider farm, so we could get freshly made cider doughnuts; a brewery called Climbing Bines, so we could split a taster of their beers (this was a Russell stop); an ice creamery that uses duck eggs in their ice cream rather than chicken eggs (as in, they make their custard with duck egg yolks, not that they put whole eggs in the ice cream. That would be gross) where we got an actual flight of ice creams (so much better than beer), and finally Seneca Falls to see the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.

 

I remember reading an article about this area in the Plain Dealer a few years ago which made it sound as though the museum had been recently redone, and suggested that a long weekend would be an appropriate amount of time to spend in Seneca Falls in order to see all its attractions. Because of this, my expectations were somewhat different to what was actually here. Apparently the “historic park” consists of four different building sites, but since we hadn’t properly researched it in advance, we ended up at the main visitors’ centre. Like many NPS sites, admission was free, so that at least was a step in the right direction. We were greeted by the collection of bronze statues downstairs that initially looked like they were made out of chocolate, but in the first of many disappointments, they were sadly not.

 

The museum was located in the upstairs part of the building, and was much smaller than I had been expecting. It consisted of a number of very visually appealing displays containing information about women’s fight for equality, but the overall impression was that it was that it was style over substance, as the displays were a bit short on content. I was also disappointed that every single interactive element was no longer working – maybe I had misread the newspaper article, but it certainly didn’t look as though it had been redone in the last few years (though not quite as outmoded as though it hadn’t been touched since 1980, when the site opened).

 

There was also a small section on the Seneca Falls Convention, which after all, is the whole reason the museum is here! Held in 1848, it was the first women’s rights convention, and produced the Declaration of Sentiments, a version of the Declaration of Independence that included rights for women. It was held in Seneca Falls because many suffragists lived in the area, including Elizabeth Cady Stantion, the oddly apostrophied M’Clintocks, Lucretia Mott, who was visiting Stanton at the time; and Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass, who lived in nearby Rochester. Although it didn’t immediately accomplish anything, it did introduce the country to the women’s rights movement, and clarify that the main goal for women’s rights activists at that time should be women’s suffrage. Again, I could have done with more information about this on the site, as the text provided seemed to be a somewhat patchy account (I couldn’t quite work out how Amelia Bloomer, who also lived locally, fit in to all of this).

The museum also had a very small temporary display on Sojourner Truth. The role of black women in the women’s rights movement is often a depressing one, because despite the presence of Frederick Douglass at the Seneca Falls Convention, and the abolitionist stance of most of the suffragists, some of them were still hella racist, and thought it was appalling that black men were granted the right to vote before white women had it. So if black men were looked down upon, black women didn’t really stand a chance. Despite that, women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth still got involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. One of the most interesting sections here was on Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Although several sources reported on her speech after it was delivered (in Akron, Ohio, by the way), which originally did not contain the words “ain’t I a woman,” a version of it that was published twelve years later did, and the name stuck. This same inaccurate version also gave Truth a stereotypical black Southern dialect, though she had actually always lived in the North, and spoke Dutch as her first language, so it is highly unlikely that she would have had a Southern accent. Because of this latter, inaccurate, but most famous version of her speech, her actual words have virtually been wiped from history.

 

The Methodist church next door, where the convention was actually held, is also part of the historic site and is free to enter, though there was no one in there at the time of our visit, and virtually nothing to read. The other sites that are part of the park are the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, and the M’Clintocks’ house, though as no one at the park actually spoke to us or provided any information, I didn’t realise this until I was researching this post. We did stop, however, at the “When Elizabeth met Susan, plus Amelia!” statue (not its official name), which I only discovered existed after picking up a tourist brochure in the church. Although there was a map included, it was still a total pain to find due to a road being closed, and we had to park (probably illegally) across the road so I could run over and grab a photo whilst wearing my new suffragist sash (not as good as the suffragette sash. Green is better than gold). It depicts Amelia Bloomer introducing Stanton and Anthony. The statue was great (after we found it), but I’m sorry to say I was very disappointed in the visitors’ centre, particularly since NPS rangers are usually super friendly and helpful. Not here. 2/5 for the portions of the park that we saw.

 

Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass

Long time readers are probably familiar with the awful family vacations I used to have to go on whilst growing up, because I complain about them a lot. I suppose I should be grateful we got to go anywhere at all, as I had some friends whose families never travelled, not even to other parts of Ohio, but honestly, most of the time I would have much rather stayed home with a good book. Memorable (for the wrong reasons) trips include the year we drove all the way to North Carolina to go to a really big furniture factory outlet, and my parents didn’t even buy anything; the trip to Washington where the only museum we were allowed to visit was the Air and Space Smithsonian (the one I had the least interest in), the trip to Vegas when I was 16 and had to spend the whole time hanging out in the hotel’s crappy arcade with my then 9 year old brother, whilst getting hit on by the unattractive nerd that worked there; and of course, the trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York (known for its wineries, because 15 year olds love nothing more than going to wineries where they can’t legally drink, just like 16 year olds love nothing more than going to Vegas where they can’t legally do anything) where we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, but couldn’t actually go in because my father was too cheap to pay the admission fee (my policy is if you’re not willing to pay to do anything when you’re on holiday, you’re probably better off not going anywhere at all). Well, on my recent visit home, my brother and I decided to take a road trip together, minus the ‘rents, and since he travels to upstate New York a lot for work and knows the area well, we thought we’d give ourselves a redo of that Finger Lakes trip, only this time, we would go to the glass museum, and plenty of other places besides. And not a single winery!

 

Corning was our first stop, and having gotten an early start, we arrived around noon. We first headed into the quaint (albeit small) downtown for some tasty pizza by the slice and seriously one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (if you find yourself in Corning, you must go to the hilariously named Dippity Do Dahs. Get the Butternut Toffee in one of their homemade cones, which comes with the option of hot fudge in the bottom, which of course only a fool would refuse. Don’t be a fool), and then to the museum in time for our glass blowing session. Yes, glass blowing. Having been denied the joys of the Corning Museum of Glass the first time around, this time we were taking advantage of everything they had to offer, including glass blowing! Admission to the museum is $20 (which is admittedly on the steep side, though I’m quite sure it wasn’t nearly so much nearly 20 years ago), and the glass blowing classes were another $32 per person on top of that – we booked ours in advance to be sure of a place.

There are various things you can choose to make, including ornaments and jewellery, but since we were visiting during glass pumpkin season, the choice was obvious! There are some more intensive classes where you actually learn how to shape the glass yourself, but in the class we chose, the instructor shaped the pumpkin for us – all we did was the actual blowing (ha) and we got to choose the colours we wanted to use. Although I would like to take a proper glass blowing class one day, this is a good choice if you just want a quick taster, and honestly, not that expensive considering pumpkins in the museum’s shop were at least $32, and at least this way we got to customise them. My brother and I were thrilled that we got chosen to go first so we didn’t have to hang around watching everyone else make theirs (you can’t collect the pumpkins until the next day, as they obviously need to cool down in a controlled environment, but they do offer shipping within the US if you’re not going to hang around that long). My blowing technique was semi-ridiculous, but it seemed to work fine, and I’m super happy with my purple and blue pumpkin (which survived the trip back to the UK intact!).

 

And then it was time to explore the museum, which was huge! I think there are six main galleries, with a couple extra in the outbuilding where we did the glass blowing. Some of the galleries have scavenger hunts that you can access via the Glass App available on the museum’s website – these were fun, but the museum’s wifi kept cutting out without my noticing, so I ended up accidentally using quite a bit of my expensive overseas data, which is a bit annoying.

 

Coincidentally, not long before visiting here, Marcus and I had watched the Netflix series Blown Away (which I like to call Blow Master), which is a glass blowing competition that is strangely compelling. I super hated the woman that won because she seemed ultra-pretentious and kept referring to everyone else’s pieces as “pedestrian,” and since the grand prize was a year’s artist in residency at the Museum of Glass, I was really hoping there’d be some of her work here so I could stand in front of it and call it pedestrian. To be honest, I quite liked her sausage chandelier (meant to be some kind of metaphor about the patriarchy), but I called it pedestrian anyway out of spite. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see an exhibition of work from the show (I would have planned the trip differently if I’d known), but I was glad I at least got to see one thing.

In addition to the modern glass art, the museum also had a huge gallery of glass throughout history (entitled, rather overwhelmingly, “35 Centuries of Glass”), with pieces dating back to the Ancient Romans. This was a bit too large to take in properly all in one go, but they had a paper version of a scavenger hunt in here, which was definitely intended for children, but my brother and I of course still did one, and at least it gave our visit some sort of focus. I loved the crazy intricate miniature glass tableaux, which were mostly religious in nature. I forgot to grab a picture of the captions, and can’t find them on the museum’s website, so I can’t tell you more about them other than that they were early modern European, but they were definitely my favourite things in here, and the museum had at least ten of them.

 

There was also a gallery on the science of glass blowing, and that was where all the fun interactive stuff was hiding. This included a lot of different mirrors, science experiment things where you could see the different ways glass refracts and reflects light, and even a thermal camera so you could see how double glazing helps to hold heat in (I’m always more interested to see how cold my body is compared to other people’s – my nose and hands are always freezing!). This was also the area where they gave science demonstrations, so we hung around to watch one on glass breaking (demonstrations are free and offered throughout the day) – my brother and I took strongly against the obnoxious kid who was picked to assist, and cracked up when the woman worked there kept referring to him as “Garius” instead of “Darius”, which was actually his name. We now call all obnoxious children “Garius”.

The shop, which was all we were allowed to see of the museum on our first attempt to visit all those years ago, is also really big (seriously all the glass pumpkins and gourds), though as we had already made our own glass pumpkins, we didn’t feel the need to buy anything. Since Corning is where Corningware comes from (hence the glass museum being located here), they had a whole separate section in the shop just for that. $20 is definitely a lot for a museum visit, but we spent three hours in the museum, and could easily have spent more if we had been bothered to read all the information in “35 Centuries of Glass” (it was so much information though), so I think it was a worthwhile splurge, and of course I love my pumpkin! 4/5, and I’m glad we got to remedy this failure to visit at last! I also liked that our hotel was within walking distance of the museum, as was the downtown area, so it was that rare American city where you didn’t actually have to use a car. Bonus points for that and the amazing ice cream.

 

London: Abney Park Cemetery Tour

Happy almost Halloween everyone! I have more posts from the US coming up, but since I’ve managed to keep the spooky theme going for the whole of October, I couldn’t resist posting about a cemetery tour I went on recently first. Over the years, I have managed to visit almost all of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries (garden cemeteries built during the Victorian era in what were at the time suburban locations as a way to accommodate the growing number of London’s dead that could no longer fit in central London’s churchyards). The only ones I had yet to see were Abney Park and Kensal Green, so when I saw that Abney Park was offering a special Halloween tour, I jumped at the chance. Even though it meant going all the way out to Stoke Newington, which is quite a trek from Southwest London.

 

Our tour was due to start at 3, but we got to Stokey (as the cool people call it) a bit early so I could grab some cake from a local bakery and get a few photos of the cemetery before the tour started. The cemetery is quite near to Stoke Newington Overground station, so is easier to access than some of the Magnificent Seven (looking at you, Tower Hamlets). The tour cost around £13, which ended up being more like £15 once Eventbrite fees were added in, but the description did say we would have mulled apple juice, soul cakes, and bones of the dead to end the tour, which was honestly one of the main reasons I booked on. It also meant I had to miss a London Month of the Dead event that I had accidentally booked for the same day, but I’ve been to a few of those and they’re always slightly disappointing, so it wasn’t a major loss, though I wasn’t pleased that they refused to refund our money even though we contacted them more than two weeks ahead of time to say we couldn’t make it. It was a sold out event, and I’m sure they could have resold our tickets to someone on the waiting list rather than have them go to waste (but that’s a complaint for another time, I’ve got plenty of others for today!).

 

Initial impressions of the cemetery were good. Although obviously overgrown and in a state of disrepair, like all of the Magnificent Seven, it wasn’t as bad as Tower Hamlets (can you tell that is my least favourite of the seven?) – in fact, in terms of atmosphere, I’d rank it up there with Brompton and Highgate, though the condition was a bit worse than either of those. However, the tour itself seemed a little disorganised when we arrived. It wasn’t clear who would be leading it, and there were various staff members standing about, but only one had the guest list and she kept disappearing inside, so you had to catch her to get your name checked off. They also abruptly decided we would all walk to the chapel to begin the tour right after Marcus had gone in to find a toilet, so I had to awkwardly wait around for him to come back (fortunately, the group didn’t move very fast, so they were easy to find). Instead of having treats at the end, apparently we would start the tour with them, which was fine with me as I was starving (I got the aforementioned cake to take home, so I hadn’t eaten since breakfast).

 

The chapel itself was quite a neat design, although there were no modern conveniences like heat or light. In fact, there was nothing in the interior except a set of folding chairs and a whole lot of ladybugs flying around, which kept landing on people (I started thinking of them as death beetles, and was glad none landed on me). However, it is the only one of the Magnificent Seven to only have a non-denominational chapel (most of the others started with an Anglican one, and then added one for dissenters (anyone who wasn’t Anglican)), and it was cool in every sense of the word, so the mulled apple juice was much appreciated! I liked that the default drink was nonalcoholic, because they serve this revolting hot gin punch at London Month of the Dead events. There were no soul cakes, but there were cookie-esque things that were meant to be ossi dei morti, but according to the woman who baked them, they had all run together, so were just broken into chunks. No matter, as they tasted delicious, like the crunchy brown edges of sugar cookies.

Once we were all settled in, the woman giving the tour appeared, and this is where things started to get disappointing. Not because she was bad at public speaking or anything like that, but because my expectations for these events are clearly unrealistically high. Because I’m really fascinated by certain subjects (Halloween, crime and punishment, medical history, the macabre), I tend to know a lot about them, so if I attend a talk by someone who doesn’t really know their stuff, I end up disappointed, and that’s exactly what happened here. She had clearly done some research, but she was working towards a MA in Victorian history rather than anything directly related to Halloween, so these subjects were not necessarily her forte. Really it’s my own fault for booking on, because I know this will happen every time. She started off by giving a brief history of Halloween, which seemed to be taken almost verbatim from David J Skal’s Death Makes a Holiday (I know because I own it, and just happened to be re-reading it in the lead up to Halloween). So I suppose this was interesting for people who don’t know much about Halloween, but I don’t know if those type of people would have attended an event like this in the first place. I would so much have rather heard about the history of the cemetery, which seemed to have been much more the tour guide’s speciality, but she touched on it only briefly.

Once she’d finished with Halloween history, we headed out into the cemetery to visit the graves of five Victorians buried there who she thought fitted into the Halloween theme. This sounded much more promising, but unfortunately also turned out to be not what I was hoping for. For one thing, almost all the actual graves of the people were located in the overgrown inaccessible parts of the cemetery, so we didn’t even get to look at them! For another thing, some of the facts she was giving us contained glaring omissions, or were just plain wrong. She mentioned the Bloody Code, and described it as coming about because “people cared about property more than people”. Fair enough, but that’s painting an incomplete picture. It was also tied in to the lack of a police force and the need for punishments to be severe enough to act as a deterrent (not defending the Bloody Code, because it was a horrible thing, just saying it was more complex than she made it sound). The primary reason it was gradually revoked in the 19th century was because Britain had established an effective police force and alternative means of punishment, such as transportation, by that point, not because property had become any less important!

Anyway, the five people she discussed were William Calcroft, one of Britain’s most prolific and brutal executioners; a member of the Mather family who was distantly related to Cotton Mather, chosen for Cotton Mather’s role in the Salem Witchcraft Trials (the connection was tenuous at best, as was her grasp of medical history. She mentioned how Cotton Mather was interested in inoculation, which he was, but then went on to imply that he and Edward Jenner were contemporaries who were influenced by each other’s ideas, which was not the case at all! Mather died years before Jenner was born, and though Jenner was influenced by inoculation, Britain and America had independently adopted inoculation at almost exactly the same time, and the practice was popularised in Britain by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Can you tell I can go on about this sort of thing all day?); a famous aeronaut and astrologer named George Graham; and finally a father and daughter who practised stage magic. The father was known as the “Wizard of the South,” and there was another odd moment where she seemed to say that Houdini and the Wizard knew each other, even though Houdini was born 15 years after the Wizard died. There was a lot of jumbling of timelines). Even though I obviously had some issues with some of her research (or lack thereof), I am at least polite enough to keep my mouth shut whilst someone is delivering a talk. Not so her friend, a self-described historian, who stood in front and kept interrupting to add bits in (but not make necessary corrections). It was just obnoxious after a while.

Honestly, I did enjoy the overall experience more than I’m probably making it sound like I did. The mulled cloudy apple juice and cookies were delicious (and the very nice cemetery volunteers were waiting for us at the end of the tour with more mulled juice, which was much appreciated), and the cemetery itself was great, I just wish the tour guide had bothered to do a bit more research and maybe picked graves we could actually see! I hope I’m not coming down too harsh – I just get annoyed sometimes because this is exactly the sort of thing I would like to do, but have never really been given a chance to do so, so it irks me when I see people who have had the opportunity not use it to the fullest of their abilities! I also think that if someone is talking about a subject I know about myself, and saying things I know are wrong, it makes it difficult for me to trust what they say on subjects I know nothing about, like George Graham. I enjoyed getting to see Abney Park, but I would have liked more of the focus to be on the cemetery itself, which I think would have let our guide play to her strengths – I think she would have been great under the right circumstances, this just clearly wasn’t her choice of subject. Still, not a bad thing to do pre-Halloween, and certainly better than London Month of the Dead’s horrible hot lemon gin would have been. I’ll be spending Halloween night watching all of my favourite films (Hocus Pocus, Braindead, etc) and vintage Treehouses of Horror, and maybe I’ll even get some trick or treaters this year, now that we’ve moved into an actual house! Hope your Halloween is just as spooky as you want it to be (even if that’s not very)!

Cleveland, OH: Grays Armory

Grays Armory is meant to be one of the most haunted buildings in Cleveland (right up there with Franklin Castle, which is not open to the public), and it’s certainly one of the coolest looking ones. Even though I grew up in Cleveland and went downtown with reasonable frequency (considering there’s not actually much to do in downtown Cleveland), I don’t recall ever seeing this building before. It is open to the public for tours on the first Wednesday of every month from 10-4, which happened to coincide with my recent visit to see my family, so my mother and I decided to check it out (though we were not optimistic about actually seeing any paranormal activity).

 

We managed to find metered parking on the street behind the Armory (we were short on quarters, so we paid for an hour, which was cutting it close – I’d probably pay for at least an hour and a half to be on the safe side) and headed in, only to be greeted by one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen (picture does not give sense of scale). I can sometimes be a bit scared of big dogs, so walking in to see one the size of a wolf waiting for me was initially a little intimidating, but he was very friendly, and I was happy to give him all the pats once we’d gotten better acquainted and I realised he was a total sweetheart. Tours normally cost $8 per person, but the day we visited was free for some reason (though we did leave a donation at the end).

 

We were initially the only visitors, but after waiting a few minutes with no one else turning up, the guide was happy to start the tour (a couple came in about a third of the way through, and she offered to recap for them at the end, but they just left immediately after the tour finished). Since I was keen to see the building, I thought we’d start walking around it right away, but most of the “tour” was actually just a talk delivered in the reception room (which also served as the ladies’ waiting room back in the day before ladies were allowed to join), which was fine, just not what I was expecting, so the whole time we were sitting there I was anxious that we wouldn’t actually have time to see the rest of the building.

 

I didn’t really know anything about the Armory going in, and the poster behind our guide was a little misleading because of its incorrect punctuation, which read “Gray’s Armory,” so I reasonably assumed it was named after someone called Gray. Nope. It should actually be Grays’ Armory, or Grays Armory (as they call themselves on their website), because it is named after the Cleveland Grays, one of America’s oldest militias, and it is America’s oldest independent armory. I’m not really down with the whole militia thing, especially given what it’s become today (weirdos with a million guns living in compounds in Idaho), but I can concede that there probably was some need for law and order in the days before a police force when Cleveland was essentially frontier. The Grays were founded in 1837 and the current building dates to 1893, its two earlier incarnations having burnt down. This building actually partially burnt as well, but the thick stone walls saved the front portion of the building where the reception room was located. I guess after the third burning, they finally learned to stop using fire in a building where gunpowder was housed, or they just stopped housing gunpowder there.

 

Given the armory’s reputation as super haunted, I would have assumed some people died in the fire, but apparently no one did (which is good news, but not great for alleged paranormal activity!). So maybe the whole haunting idea stems more from the fact that some of these men did serve in the American Civil War, where undoubtedly some of them died, and maybe they returned to this building in the afterlife. The Grays were named after the colour of their uniforms, so you can imagine that caused some confusion in the Civil War, what with being a Northern unit and all! They were pretty quickly switched to the standard Union blue, and veterans of the war were subsequently allowed to wear a blue uniform to militia related events, including standing guard over Lincoln’s coffin, which they did when it passed through Cleveland on the funeral train and was laid out in Public Square. They were meant to take part in the Spanish-American War, but by the time they completed training, the war was basically over. And the US government got rid of independent militias in 1903, so that was the end of the Grays as a fighting unit.

 

However, the Grays still exist as a social and historical organisation, which women are allowed to join (the tour guide gave us a bit of a hard sell, but since I don’t even live in Cleveland (and am not much for clubs), I declined), and they still have their original uniforms, which is pretty bad ass! When we were finally allowed to leave the reception room, one of the rooms our guide took us to see was the uniform room, which had been ingeniously designed with flip down seats in front of each locker, and air vents at the top to keep things ventilated (not great for keeping out clothes moths, but I don’t think they’re as much of an issue in the US as they are in Britain). They also still have some of their original bearskin hats, which look very similar to what the Queen’s Guard wear in the UK. The guide mentioned that the type of bear they’re made from is now endangered, so they will fortunately be switching to a synthetic version when they need replacing.

 

I’d like to really emphasise the social part of the organisation, because when the militiamen weren’t off fighting, they just seemed to party. The Armory, although it did house weapons, was basically a big clubhouse, and I get the impression the men just hung out upstairs drinking and smoking. Women were allowed to attend certain events here, and the large drill hall was the perfect space for dances and performances by the Cleveland Orchestra. It has housed a 1930 pipe organ since 1969 when Warner Brothers decided to donate it, so they still put on concerts using it, as well as hosting lectures and “haunted evenings,” none of which took place during my visit to Cleveland, sadly.

 

We were eventually allowed up to the first floor as well, which had some uber masculine wood panelled rooms, one of which is meant to be haunted by a cigar smoking former member (the only ghost mentioned by the tour guide). I don’t know about all that (definitely didn’t smell any cigar smoke, and to be fair, the guide pointed out that a smoke smell likely seeps out of the walls when it gets hot outside, so she wasn’t exactly credulous either, which I appreciate. I like to learn about ghosts, but people who take them seriously are a bit much), but there was a splendid little collection of taxidermy, including a furry deer butt, and a goat in a sailor hat.

 

Unfortunately, the second floor is currently closed for restoration, so that ended our tour. Considering it was free, I think it was really pretty informative – though there were a few incorrect facts (general historical ones – I don’t know enough about the Grays to know if that information was accurate) and of course the irritating punctuation mistakes throughout the signage (at least get your own name right!), it was definitely interesting to learn about this lesser-known piece of Cleveland’s history, and the building was of course fantastic. I can’t say if it’s actually haunted (probably not, since ghosts aren’t real), but it sure looks haunted, and that’s really all I care about. I will say that there are various Haunted Cleveland tours that will take you in here, but they are about ten times the price of the Armory’s tour (when it’s not free), and they have pretty crap reviews, so I think this is your best way in to the building, and at least this way you know the money is going to preservation. 3/5 for the Armory tour. As I said at the start, you can’t go inside Franklin Castle, which is meant to be even more haunted (if ghosts existed), but it is nearby (Ohio Cityish, past the West Side Market), so if you want to grab a shot of the exterior whilst you’re downtown, it is definitely doable. You can see my photo of it below. Spooky!

Cleveland, OH: “Medieval Monsters” @ the CMA

I think this week is less of a stretch than last week in keeping with the Halloween theme of October. C’mon, monsters?! Scary! But obviously the Cleveland Museum of Art doesn’t agree with me, because this exhibition closed well before Halloween, on 6th October. So you can’t visit it now, but I couldn’t have blogged about it in time anyway because I didn’t see it myself until the week before it closed, what with not living in Cleveland (frankly, I was glad I got to see it at all, after longingly watching CMA post about it for months on Instagram).

 

“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” was a free exhibition, as is the museum itself, but good luck finding parking nearby other than in the museum’s $10 lot (and public transport in Cleveland? Forget it!), but I can’t really begrudge them that income before it is such an excellent museum. However, they could have had better signage, because it took me ages to figure out where this exhibition was (I could only find paper maps, when a big mounted map somewhere would be much more eco-friendly), and I couldn’t even find a member of staff to ask. Eventually I realised it was downstairs, opposite the main special exhibition that you have to pay for (on Michelangelo at the time of my visit. I skipped it).

 

As you may have guessed from the title, the exhibition was divided into three sections: Terrors, which was meant to be about how monsters “enhanced the auras of those in power,” though I seem to recall it being primarily about saints and the ways in which they were tortured to death (admittedly, many of those pictures and manuscripts were originally owned by various kings and queens, hence the power I guess); Aliens, which was about marginalised groups in medieval European society; and Wonders, which was more in the vein of teratology, and included fabulous beasts and anomalous (and imaginary) humans.

 

The museum had also produced a rather fabulous free Field Guide to Medieval Monsters, which included images of all the monsters featured in the exhibition, with a brief description of each. This included some of my old favourites like Blemmyae (the supposed race of headless people with faces on their chests) and the Hellmouth (literally a mouth that was meant to be the entrance to hell); and others I’d seen but never knew the names of, like Gryllus (a human head on horse-like legs. Different from a centaur, because Gryllus is just a head sitting right on top of legs, no body) and the Ziphius (meant to be a horrible sea monster, but he’s grumpy and adorable! I want one as a pet. Please go look at him via the link at the start of this paragraph).

 

Even considering that much of the art was religious in nature – which is not normally my thing – because it was for the most part so weird and gory, this ending up being so my type of exhibition. There was thoughtful text in each room describing how the idea of monsters shaped the medieval world, and covering serious themes like mental illness and xenophobia, but I have to admit that I was mainly in it for the illuminated manuscripts and the promise of marginalia, and that is what has stuck with me the most when it came time to write this post. Though I probably shouldn’t, I find many medieval pictures depicting the martyrdom of saints completely hilarious, and my favourite here was the piece above left depicting St. Bartholomew keeping his chin up with a jolly grin whilst being flayed alive (and clearly the medieval church had a sense of humour just as sick as mine, because he is the patron saint of tanners, leather workers and butchers. Talk about black humour).

 

There was also some charming marginalia here, including my personal favourite, a man mooning some sort of ceremony (I forgot which) with his thumb up his butt to indicate disrespect (in case the mooning wasn’t disrespectful enough). Not quite as good as a butt trumpet, but close enough!

 

I also loved all the beasts – even the real ones like elephants and crocodiles appeared to have been drawn by someone who had never seen such things in person, and I find the naive nature of their illustrations endlessly charming. This exhibition was an absolute joy to look at, and I’m sorry you won’t be able to see it too, but I hope my (poor quality) images at least gave you a sense of what was there. My only complaint was that the postcards in the gift shop didn’t feature the best of the monsters, but I know having custom postcards made is always a bit of a gamble, so I can’t bitch too much. 4/5.

 

Whilst I was here, in addition to visiting my favourite Henri Rousseau (Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo) and Jacques-Louis David (Cupid and Psyche) paintings, I also popped in to see their “Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design” exhibition, which was in one of the small galleries upstairs. Based on the name, I was expecting something IKEA-esque, but it was so much better than that. This was actually about textile design, and though it was a bit light on signage (perhaps because it had been put together by grad students at Case), the fabrics themselves were absolutely lovely, as you can hopefully see from the images below. It only took me about ten minutes to view, but it’s worth the detour if you’re here anyway. Good old CMA!

 

 

London: The Moon @ the National Maritime Museum

I’m trying my best to keep to a Halloweeny theme in October (I don’t even think Halloweeny is a word, but it doesn’t stop me from using it constantly), and even though this exhibition wasn’t directly related to Halloween, what could be more atmospheric on Halloween night than a big old full moon (or even a spooky crescent moon)? I’ve always loved the moon, as I think I’ve said on several occasions – my old bedroom was star and moon themed, and I currently have four moon tattoos (with probably more to come) – there’s just something about the whole nighttime/dark side of human nature aspect of it that I can relate to.  The Moon exhibition is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and runs until 5th January 2020. This is the first special exhibition the National Maritime Museum has had in quite a while (or at least, the first one in a while that has been worth seeing), and you know I’m always up for an excuse to get Brazilian churros from Greenwich Market, so off to Greenwich I went!

This exhibition was a little bit cheaper than their exhibitions normally are, at £10 (half off for National Art Pass), but it was also a bit smaller than normal. The woman at the ticket desk was really lovely and friendly (it’s always flattering when they ask if you’re under 25, especially now that I’ve hit 34…), which was nice, since I’ve encountered a few grumps there in the past. Amazingly, you were actually allowed to take photos, which is almost never the case at the National Maritime Museum – had I known, I would have brought Marcus, but as it is, you’re left with my crappy phone pics. Hopefully you can still get some sense of how pleasingly dark and lunar it was inside.

The gallery was divided into four different sections, each with a different theme, and opened with an exploration of how different cultures have viewed the moon throughout history, and the role that it plays in society and religion. This included the really cool moon mask shown above, some gorgeous silver moon jewellery, and a few bits and bobs from the Romans, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians, including a little tablet inscribed with lunar eclipse rituals.

 

Not being a big ancient history fan, the more interesting section to me was about the moon and the role it played in four humours theory medicine right up until the 19th century. I loved the crescent moon apothecary sign! And of course the term “lunatic” derives from the moon and the role it was thought to play in human behaviour (it was thought to influence moisture in the brain, which in turn could lead to fits of “lunacy”). The exhibition highlighted the sad case of James Norris (who I think I mentioned in the Bedlam exhibition write-up), who was kept chained up for fourteen years in Bedlam before campaigners demanded his release (he died soon afterwards). Pierrot is kind of a creep (since he’s a clown), but I would definitely hang out with his charming moon friend.

 

The second section was more scientific in nature, and I guess was trying to tie in the moon to the National Maritime Museum’s collections, because they really pushed the moon as navigational aid and bringer of tides angle (I mean, it is a navigational aid and bringer of tides, so it’s not really an angle as such, but they were clearly trying to get the whole maritime theme in there in a way that felt a bit forced). And I know I’m always showing you that portrait of young, dishy Joseph Banks, so you might as well look at one of the fatter, less dishy older man he became.

 

This part of the exhibition was full of a lot of drawings of the moon, a moon globe (much cooler and rarer than an Earth globe), and some Victorian photographs taken by a guy of a plaster model of the moon he had made that actually won some prizes for photography (they knew he used plaster models, they just didn’t care because they were good photographs. Have totally forgotten guy’s name though). I really hate Pink Floyd (and now I know that song is going to get stuck in my head), but I liked the first photograph of the dark side of the moon, taken by Soviet craft Luna 3 in 1959.

 

The third section was about the space race, and I suppose this had all the exciting items that most people would have come to see (certainly judging by the people gathered around the cases – most of the exhibition was pleasantly empty, but there was a small crowd in here who fortunately dispersed by the time I made it to that side of the display), including Neil Armstrong’s “Snoopy helmet” (so named for the flaps that bore a resemblance to the cartoon dog’s ears), a watch worn on the moon, the camera equipment that was taken on the Apollo 11 mission, and a whole bunch of chunks of moon rock (the US brought back something like 340 kg of it and Nixon presented a little chunk to every country in the world. You can see the UK’s fragment further down in this post).

 

Me being me, I was much more interested in the weird stuff, like the display about HG Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, which was quite scientifically accurate about some things, but not about the aliens (there was a little model alien here based on Wells’ description), Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, which was playing on a video screen (it totally creeps me out, but I like it), and of course, the excellent Soviet and American propaganda posters (I have to say that I vastly prefer the Soviet style. What’s with all those lame eagles everywhere on the American one? It looks like a joke poster).

 

The final (small) section was about the future of the moon. Are we going on more moon missions? Will people ever colonise the moon (or will America just exploit its natural resources?)? These and other questions were discussed here, and there was a touchscreen where you could answer some questions yourself and see what other visitors had said, one of the only interactive elements in the exhibition (I don’t consider touchscreens that simply play a video on command to be interactive. They’re just kind of boring).

 

Although there weren’t as many interactive elements as I’d have liked, I found the staging of this exhibition to be quite cool, with a lot of interesting visual effects that really added to the atmosphere (or lack thereof, since we’re talking about the moon). The was a large lunar calendar on one wall, a big rotating moon on another, and of course the giant lit-up crescent moon shown at the start of the post. It felt like a space I could have hung out in all day (if there had been more content to read), and I would definitely have the big old crescent moon in my house (which is exactly what a guy did for an art project, as you’ll see at the end of the post).

 

Though I don’t really believe in it (I’m more of a non-practising, non-theistic Pagan, except when I’m in the mood to whip up a spell), I would have liked to have seen more about the witchy aspects of the moon, as the exhibition focused more on ancient and mainstream religions. Even more mythology would have been interesting – there was a chart listing all the different faces that people see in the moon, depending on hemisphere, which was really neat, and I wanted more of that – but I did only pay a fiver, and for that price, I’m pretty happy with the size of the exhibition, just wish it had been a bit more interactive. I still enjoyed the environment of the exhibit (definitely helped that there were very few other visitors) and all the great moon themed art and artefacts (though I could have done with more of that in the shop, instead of boring old t-shirts and magnets). And of course I loved my pre-exhibition churro in Greenwich Market. 3/5 for The Moon exhibition.