Before we left Pittsburgh, we went to St Anthony’s Chapel. The Chapel has over 5000 relics, which is, outside of the Vatican, the largest collection of relics in existence. The collection also used to be much larger – I think 24,000 relics, but many were sold off by family (against the wishes of parishioners) when the collector/priest died. The parishioners raised money to buy the 5000 relics that were left, and those form the core of the collection. Rich Pell at the Center for Postnatural History recommended that we go here, and he described it as a precursor to a natural history museum, which it really was. We did the audio tour, and it was interesting and informative and the space was quiet and also totally gorgeous, completely at odds with the violent deaths that had resulted in the bits of teeth and bone that ended up on the shelves in the church. I’m glad we went.
In fact, I’m very glad we went, because our next stop was the complete opposite scale of religious experience. We stopped at the Creation Museum in Peterburg, Kentucky. So let me preface this by saying that I’ve actually been teaching about this museum in the Museum Studies class for several years, as an example of a private collection/museum with a very obvious ideological bent that is displayed as if it is a public museum. It is very controversial. The museum cost $27 million US to build and it was funded entirely by Answers in Genesis supporters, or people who believe in Young Creation Theory, that is, that the earth is less than 6,000 years old, that God created everything in that time, and that all answers lie in a littoralist reading of the Bible. Many museum professionals, including the American Alliance of Museums, refuse to accept its status as a museum, but I find it fascinating because it adheres extremely closely to museum principles as a way of granting a fairly ridiculous theory some legitimacy and authority. The museum employs several hundred people, and all have to sign a statement of faith saying that they are in agreement with the principles of the museum. There was a huge debate surrounding its building, but at each turn, private enterprise won out – it won over teachers, scientists, the museum community and on and on. And since it opened it has been extremely popular, both for believers and for people like me and Tim, who are really there to ogle. Overall, we both found it pretty depressing – there are a lot of families going through there and people taking notes, it is completely nonsensical in parts, unsurprisingly ideological and actually really boring in other parts. It also feels like you might never get out – there are huge gates at the entrance and security guards with dogs wandering around. It’s also located right under a giant cloud of smoke from a nearby coal-burning electricity plant, which gives an overall sense of apocalyptic doom (which maybe they were going for).
This is right in the entrance way – happy children and dinosaurs. It gives a sense of what’s coming.
The obsession with dinosaurs is focussed on the age of dinosaurs. Paleontologists say they’re millions of years old, but no … this can’t be. There’s a weird questioning of fact that goes on: where did the fossils come from? How did they get there? And then there’s an exhibit that supposedly “explains” that they have been there less than 6000 years. “Different interpretations from different starting points,” is the overarching theme of this section. Canyons can appear in a matter of years (example, Mount St Helen’s), landscapes can change dramatically overnight, dinosaurs and humans could have lived together etc. etc. etc.
The paleontologist is on the right with his scientific notes and the Believer (who is also possibly the museum founder – they certainly look alike) is on the left with his Bible. One is supposed to leave thinking the paleontological interpretation is on shaky ground – it is mere opinion.
There’s a Garden of Eden, with Adam hanging out with penguins, dinosaurs and monkeys (who are most definitely not our ancestors). What I didn’t realize about this room before I went to the museum is that there’s an incredibly loud repetitive soundtrack – one line from the Bible, on repeat, at epic volume. It’s completely overwhelming.
Dinosaur eating pineapple – dinosaurs and humans got along because all dinosaurs were vegetarian in the Garden of Eden (it actually says that, I’m not making it up).
A lady friend for Adam (at which point the soundtrack switches to yelling about ribs. It’s very disconcerting because I know these passages from my childhood, but here they sound like army drills).
Adam and Eve and a friendly vegetarian dinosaur.
Adam and Eve in the lotus pool. This is actually supposed to demonstrate their innocence prior to knowledge, because who is above them but the non-friendly serpent….
And then the museum visitor gets kicked out of the Garden of Eden, along with Adam and Eve, and is sent into a room with movie screens and terrible scenes (heavy on women in labour).
Dinosaurs are no longer friendly, nor vegetarian.
And honestly, this was probably the most disturbing thing in the whole museum. Adam and Eve now had to clothe themselves, so this horrifying diorama shows them skinning their former sheep friends so that they can dress fashionably.
In the next rooms, there’s a great deal about the depravity of humans. Depravity is often equated to graffiti.
And the museum goes on and on and on and on. I’ve shown maybe 1/10 of what we saw. Near the end one ends up at a diorama of the Ark.
with a few extra passengers.
I think I can say with complete honesty that this was one of the weirdest places I have ever been, and I’ve been to some weird places. We were both so uncomfortable – at first it was kind of funny, but then it wears you down and is totally exhausting. The amount of money that must go into keeping the exhibits running (a lot of them are animatronic), making new films and constantly changing the exhibits shows that there’s a lot of support for its existence. I was glad we didn’t see any school groups – apparently they do visit quite regularly though.
We hit the road again, pulled into Cincinnati (only about 20 minutes away from the museum), and went somewhere very different.
We went to the American Sign Museum, and just happened to be there for a tour from Tod Swormstedt, who started the collection and knows A LOT about signs.
I now know more than I thought possible about neon, plastic signs, lollipop signs, sputnik signs, backlit signs etc etc. It was actually very interesting and totally different from our last excursion.
I was clowning around, trying to imitate Big Boy. I think I sort of got it. But I actually had to stop after this attempt because my trying it made everyone else want to try it. New trend at the Sign Museum!
We only stopped in Cincinnati overnight before making our way back into Kentucky. As requested, the next post will contain many, many pictures of Lucy. I might even title it “Lucy’s Big Day.”