Ben and Barbie
May 12, 2010
| . . and Dracorex Hogwartsia!
Our adventure today took us from the stately home of our 23rd President to the exuberant halls of the Children’s Museum. From a thoughtful look at the past, to a hopeful glimpse of the future - it was a day of fun and surprises every step of the way.
We started the day with a visit to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, an elegant brick home on Delaware Street in Indianapolis. The home was built by Harrison in 1875, and with the exception of the White House years he lived in it until he died in 1901. On this rainy morning we were the only visitors, so our guided tour was both personal and comprehensive.
Our docent was a retired Air Force colonel, a well informed man who is passionate about the house and it’s history. He took pride in the fact that his tours are ‘Socratic’ in nature, meaning he asked frequent questions as a means of provoking interest and stimulating thought. It worked! He made this lesser known President come alive - as a lawyer, as a soldier, as a politician and as an honest and intellectual man who was devoted to his family.
Grandson of our 9th President, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison was elected President in 1888, defeating Cleveland in the Electoral College even though he had lost the popular vote. He served only one term as President from 1889 to 1893, but in that term he admitted 6 states to the Union, added Sequoia and Yosemite to the National Park system, and signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act into law.
He was nominated and ran for President again in 1892 but this time he was defeated by Cleveland. Our docent blamed the loss in part on the fact that Harrison did not believe in patronage and did not appoint his supporters to offices in any great numbers. He also failed to campaign hard because his wife was sick with tuberculosis. She died a few days before the election.
The house is beautifully restored and preserved, and it has the distinction of being furnished mostly with the Harrison family’s own personal belongings. In the end our ‘half hour’ tour lasted nearly two hours.
From the Harrison site it was a short drive to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. This museum is ranked as the largest Children’s Museum in the world, and while it’s exhibits are aimed mainly at kids, it’s a great place to visit for anyone who’s young at heart. From life sized dinosaurs invading the front of the building, to colorful and exciting exhibits on the inside, there is something for everyone and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it. The museum is cleverly ‘educational’ making every exhibit a learning experience without making it seem like one.
One of the first things to catch your eye is the water clock, a fanciful and fascinating device you have to see to appreciate. It stands in the main lobby where exciting exhibits beckon from every direction. There's a 4 story tower of blown glass by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly, and a locomotive that was once the largest and most powerful steam engine in the world. There's a great exhibit on Egypt, there's a planetarium and a doll house, but most enticing of all there is Dinosphere, a world where dinosaurs and dragons come alive.
A recently discovered new species, a 66 million year old dragon like dinosaur is being examined and cataloged right here at this museum! It's being done in the museum's paleontology lab where you can talk to the scientists and watch them work. To add to the fun they've made the official name of the new dino Dracorex Hogwartsia, a direct homage to Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling and her 'magical creatures'.
There are many reconstructed skeletons in the museum and some of the displays are awesome. Stan is a T-Rex named for the man who discovered him. Kelsey is a Triceratops named for the daughter of the man who discovered her. The skeletons of Stan and Kelsey are displayed in classic dinosaur confrontation, a smaller T-Rex nipping at Kelsey’s flanks. The effect is awesome, and questions are asked to get the visitor involved.
But there's another 'fossil' on exhibit in the museum, and it's not to be found in the Dinosphere. Barbie has an exhibit all her own. Yes - that Barbie! Barbie Mattel, who turned 50 last year and still can’t stand on her own two feet.
For five generations Barbie has served as a caricature of the ‘American girl’, shoulders like a quarterback, hips like a boy, boobs like a pair of watermelons and tiny feet grotesquely deformed by stuffing them into high heeled shoes from the day she was born.
You might think this would make American women mad but Barbie won them over. They were mesmerized by her vapid stare, and her ever changing ‘fashions’ made them run for their purses. Every girl wanted a Barbie, and every mother made sure she got one. Generation after generation fell into line, with Barbie keeping nimbly ahead of them - changing fashions, hair styles, friends and ’accessories’ - to keep the money rolling in.
Nobody in their right mind wanted to see Barbie naked - that was too weird for words, but everyone wanted to dress Barbie up. Mattel introduced tiny clothing with real zippers and hand sewn buttons and snaps, and when Mattel couldn't cut it moms and grannies pitched in to make Barbie clothes themselves. It was an American phenomenon and the museum sticks to the positives. They ask no significant questions but never mind, It was all in fun anyway - wasn’t it?.
Another ‘Special Exhibit’ tells the story of Etch A Sketch, and does it with history panels, incredibly detailed artist’s drawings, and plenty of demo units the visitor can play with. This exhibit brought back as many memories as Barbie, and I liked them better.
The most poignant exhibit is titled The Power of Children. It tells the stories of three courageous children who faced prejudice, danger and death with a uncommon dignity and character. Anne Frank, a Jewish girl in Nazi Germany, Ruby Bridges, a black girl in Louisiana, and Ryan White, an Indiana boy diagnosed with AIDS - all suffered threats and intimidation and triumphed over them. Their stories are told in pictures, writing and through live performances. The result is riveting - for children and grown-ups alike.
On the way out we passed workers on a lift that had them several stories off the ground. They were painting a dinosaur who was trying to get into the building. Like everything else in this place, it sure looked like fun!