Posted by: Mickey Goodman | October 17, 2009

Sentimental Journey

“Memories,

Like the corners of my mind

Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were…”

——————-Barbra Streisand

The Museum of Science and  IndustryChicago, Illinois

Strange things, memories. Some are skewed by size — like the size of my grandmother’s house in Canton, Miss. that loomed large in my mind (but was actually tiny). Or my Dad’s height when I was a kid. Was he not as tall as a tree?

Other memories, like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (the largest in the Western hemisphere), are right sized – the same behemoth of my youth. And equally fun, especially when explored with my best grammar school friend, Sue.

During my visit to Chicago, the home of my birth, we reconnect for the third time in as many decades but pick up the friendship as if we had never lived afar. On the long drive downtown, we reminisce. “Remember when we pulled our little red wagons to the library on the first day of summer vacation and each checked out the 10 books?” I ask. “What was the name of the dragon lady who looked down at us crossly and admonished, ‘You must return all 10 before school starts.’” We dissolved into gales of laughter – then and now. Little did the dragon lady know we had vowed to read every kid book in the library, beginning with the A’s. And between us, we did our best.

“Afterward, we’d get a cherry coke for a nickel at the drug store,” Sue reminds me.

“How could I forget,” I giggle. “We twirled around on the counter stools until we were nearly too dizzy to finish our drinks.”

But on this day, instead of the old Clearing Public Library, we are exploring the largest science museum in the world where 35,000 artifacts showcase the wondrous inventions of man. Our scheme is to see our three childhood favorites, the coal mine, the miniature trains and Colleen Moore’s famous fairy castle.

Favorites from the past

Since we are on a limited time frame, we head immediately to the coal mine, recreated from the real thing. Our droll guide reveals he is the great grandson of a coal miner. “Back then, many, many miners died from black lung disease, caused by long-time exposure to coal dust,” he says. “It didn’t stop my granddad from following in his footsteps, but my daddy had more sense. He became an attorney.”

Then he turns out the lights in the elevator and a 3-year old whimpers. “This is the way it would have looked to my great granddaddy,” he says. “Miners began the work day before daylight and didn’t emerge from the mine until after dark six days a week. Can you imagine seeing daylight only on Sundays?”

Like everything in the famous museum, the mine is authentic. Time cards are neatly placed in racks at the entrance. Actual coal cars sit on real tracks. A deafening machine moves loaded coal cars along the track and dumps it in a heap, as if it were going to be hauled to the top. Even though the air is pristine today, the narrow tunnels and blackness feel claustrophobic. We are almost relieved to return to the wide open spaces of the exhibit galleries.

We pull out our maps to locate the miniature train exhibit and feel a rush of excitement as we enter The Great Train Story, a football field-sized gallery where 34 miniature trains zip around the room, replicating a train trip from Chicago to Seattle. As mesmerized as the children who stand with mouths agape, we watch the trains race past skyscrapers, cross bridges, travel through prairies and climb over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Docks. Each item is made to scale. Draw bridges open with the press of a button. A tiny tree is felled by a miniscule lumberjack. Skyscrapers light up. My five-year old grandson would adore it. How I wish I could spirit him up from Atlanta.

Colleen Moore's Fairy CastleTrue confession: I’ve never grown up — and never plan to. My favorite exhibit – then and now — remains the miniature Fairy Castle donated by 30s silent screen star, Colleen Moore. We pretend we are 5-inches tall so we can “walk” through the rooms of the house designed for a fairy queen and king. We stop in front of each room and pick up the telephone receivers to hear a docent as she describes its wonders.

In Cinderella’s Drawing Room, the floor is rose quartz and jade and the chandelier is made from gold encrusted with real diamonds, emeralds and pearls. The floating staircase in the center of the room has no railings because fairy folk balance themselves with their wings, the telephone docent explains. The knights in armor, standing guard on either side of the door, are silver and came from the collection of Rudolph Valentino, another famous silent film actor.

I’m fascinated by King Arthur’s round table which is set with gold plates and utensils, as if readied for guests. Impossibly small crystal glasses set the scene and needlepoint tapestries on the wall with stitches so small they can only be seen with the aid of a magnifying glass hang on the walls. I long for my four granddaughters who would surely have to be pried from this room.

Day’s end

Sadly, our day comes to an end before we have an opportunity to descend into the WWII U-505 submarine or climb aboard the Zephyr train. But old and new memories blend. I hope to return to Chicago soon with grandchildren in tow. First on my agenda: the Museum of Science and Industry, then the world famous Art Institute, the architectural boat tour, the site where Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern that ignited the Great Chicago Fire and more. I want to write new memories with them so they can tell their grandchildren about the fun time grammy walked their legs off in The Windy City.

Best part: Re-visiting with my childhood friend, Sue.

Tip: Take you grandkids and plan at least 3 hours to explore the vast museum.

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Responses

  1. Mickey-You are such a good writer. Thanks for sharing the memories!
    Best,
    Bob

  2. Thanks for the comment, Bob. Where have you and Brook been lately?

  3. Well, this was fun to read. I enjoyed your first 2 entries and had no idea if I continued that I would be reading about our visit to the museum. That was such a “fun” day, and I’m glad we have started our annual get-together.
    Happy Holidays! Susan


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