Category Archives: Museum

Out and Back

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The official motto of the United States Coast Guard is “Semper Paratus,” or “Always Ready.” But, since the heyday of the United States Life-Saving Service (which merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form our modern USCG), at least, another phrase has adorned the flipside of that figurative coin: “The rules say you have to go out, but they do not say you have to come back.”

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On February 18, 1952, four young men with those words in mind set out from the Chatham (Massachusetts) Lifeboat Station in a 36-foot self-righting, self-bailing wooden motor lifeboat – clinically named CG36500 – into a hellish nor’easter, and the annals of lifesaving lore. In what has since been considered the greatest small-boat rescue in USCG history, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber and his crew of three – Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey, and Ervin Maske – battled at-times hurricane-force winds and frigid, 60-foot seas to rescue the crew of the S.S. Pendleton, a 500-foot World War II-era tanker which had broken in half several miles offshore.

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En route, the CG36500’s engine briefly quit, and the angry seas smashed the boat’s windshield and tore away her compass. Yet, somehow, Webber and his crew successfully reached the stern of the mortally wounded Pendleton, and despite the odds, successfully rescued 32 of the ship’s crew in a boat designed to hold a maximum of 12 (including its own crew).

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Not surprisingly, this seemingly impossible feat became the stuff of Coast Guard legend, yet Webber, Fitzgerald, Livesey, and Maske did not consider themselves “heroes”, per se; rather, they regarded their actions simply as a fulfillment of duty. By the late 1960s, the old 36-footers, including CG36500, had been decommissioned, and the slick, new 44-foot motor lifeboat became the Coast Guard’s standby.

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The CG36500 languished in dry-dock, neglected, for more than a decade, until a collective of intrepid locals, recognizing her historical value, set about painstakingly restoring her. Today, the fully restored and operational CG36500 is maintained under the auspices of the Orleans Historical Society and Museum, which features an impressive exhibit on the famed rescue in its nearby museum. As the son of a career Coast Guardsman, having the opportunity to visit the boat was a borderline spiritual experience. The 2016 movie The Finest Hours – based on Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s 2009 book of the same name – faithfully recreates the Pendleton rescue. While the film was not a commercial success, in this era of hyperbolic action movies that inexorably seek inspiration through the spilling of blood, it is good to see the four lifesavers from Chatham Station – and, by proxy, all who have come before or since – finally get their due.

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Orleans Historical Society and Museum
3 River Rd, Orleans, MA 02653
http://www.orleanshistoricalsociety.org/
orleanshs@verizon.net
call 508-240-1329

Hours:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9:00 – noon and 1:00 – 5:00 or by appointment

The boat moves seasonally, so please visit the website to check on its location.

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The Edward Gorey House

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Museums to dedicated individuals can be a tricky thing. I remember going to the Ava Gardner Museum and walking away thinking she was even more boring than I suspected, but the idea that there was a museum devoted to her was fascinating. I’ve now walked away from the Edward Gorey House twice and each time I am further intrigued.

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Many of us knew of Edward Gorey before we knew who he was. His theme for PBS’s Mystery! was ubiquitous:

His pen and ink drawings are recognizable around the world. The settings are often Victorian and display the dark humor of someone who can’t but help see the ridiculous in the morbid. He illustrated many books, including a well-known edition of Dracula, and published his first book, The Unstrung Harp, in 1953. Graham Greene said of the book, it is “the best novel ever written about a novelist and I ought to know!”

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In a New Yorker interview, Gorey said, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children—oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”

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It is in the small details of his home that Gorey becomes the person behind the children in peril. He enjoyed cats, which any fan would know, but he also enjoyed Buffy, X-Files, Petticoat Junction, Golden Girls, and Xena. He collected rocks, traveled to Cuba as a child, and often had the exact same breakfast every day. There is a waffle framed in his kitchen. His parents married each other twice and he described himself as asexual. He loved animals and provided for them in his will. He was a child prodigy and one of his first jobs was in the art department at Doubleday, illustrating more than 50 book covers. It is estimated that he illustrated over 300 book covers in his lifetime. He created his own independent press, The Fantod Press, in 1962.

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He purchased the home in Yarmouth Port in 1979, which now stands to share his art and life with the public. There are different exhibits, so even if you have gone once, go again.

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Edward Gorey House

8 Strawberry Lane
Yarmouth Port, MA 02675
(508) 362-3909
info@edwardgoreyhouse.org
http://www.edwardgoreyhouse.org/

Hours:

April 15 – July 3: Thu/Fri/Sat: 11:00am – 4:00pm; Sun: 12:00 – 4:00pm
July 6 – October 9: Wed/Thu/Fri/Sat: 11:00am – 4:00pm; Sun: 12:00 – 4:00pm
October 14 – December 31: Fri/Sat: 11:00am – 4:00pm; Sun: 12:00 – 4:00pm

Admission:

Adults: $8.00
Students & Seniors (65+): $5.00
Children 6-12 years old: $2.00
Children under 6 are free

 

PS – To my zine friends who read this, the curator and associate director of The Edward Gorey House is Gregory Hischak, the creator of Farm Pulp, one of my all-time favorite zines. I recognized his name the first time I visited. I suspect from his surprise that few visitors recognize him from Farm Pulp. That or I totally creeped him out.

Maritime Museum of San Diego

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Several times each year, I attend work conferences that take me to cities all across America. Between educational programming, receptions, and catching up with old friends and colleagues, it can be quite exhausting. Still, I try to make the most of the small bits of personal time allotted by exploring points beyond the antiseptic confines of a conference hotel.

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Given my limited free time, I assigned utmost priority to visiting the Maritime Museum of San Diego during a recent trip to that city – particularly the Museum’s centerpiece, the tall ship Star of India. The Museum bills the 212-foot “Iron Lady” – launched as the Euterpe from the Isle of Man in 1863 – as “the world’s oldest active sailing ship.” (NOTE: Following a recent overhaul, the wooden whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841, left her home port of Mystic, Connecticut, for an extensive tour of the New England coastline. However, even if this fact muddies the superlative waters, that both ships are so well-maintained, never mind operational, is nothing short of commendable.) The Star of India hauled everything from salmon to timber to New Zealand-bound immigrants until her retirement in the 1920s. Following a half-century of idle decay, she put to sea again in 1976. Today, the Star tells her illustrious story (which includes collision and mutiny) through a host of exhibits both below deck and topside. Visitors may take note of the ship’s ubiquitous knot-work, whose decorative aesthetic was in fact secondary, in nearly all cases, to serving practical purposes.

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But for me, the most pleasantly unexpected moment of my visit came aboard the in-this-case-aptly-named H.M.S. Surprise. You see, the ship, launched in 1970, is a replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate, the H.M.S. Rose, a name she bore for the next three decades. A substantial portion of that time was spent berthed in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was during this time that an uncle of mine volunteered on the ship, and in fact was aboard when she sailed for New York in 1986 in commemoration of the Statue of Liberty’s centennial.

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At the dawn of the 21st century, 20th Century Fox purchased the ship for use in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, renaming her H.M.S. Surprise. The Maritime Museum acquired the Surprise/Rose in 2006. But to this day the ship’s engraved bell belies her original namesake.

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Other Maritime Museum highlights include the 1898 steam ferry Berkeley, which evacuated survivors of the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Oakland; the Californian, a replica of the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence and the official tall ship of the state of California; the B-39, a Cold War-era “Foxtrot” class Soviet submarine; and the U.S.S. Dolphin, a deep-diving diesel-electric U.S. Navy research submarine decommissioned in 2007. Fans of all things nautical will revel in the Museum’s collection, unparalleled, in my experience, this side of Mystic Seaport.

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Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

Having grown up near the shore, I’ve a great affinity for the small unsung museums that serve as the repositories for coastal lore and culture. Much like the beach in January, such places – like the Barnegat Light Historical Society and Museum, at the north end of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, which in a former one-room schoolhouse contains, among other artifacts, the original first-order Fresnel lens from nearby Barnegat Lighthouse – tend to draw those who most appreciate a place for what it is in and of itself.

While other attractions superbly highlight the area’s past within a greater historical context (e.g., the Wright Brothers National Memorial or the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island), the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum in Nags Head provides a glimpse into the daily lives of the hardy souls who inhabited these parts long before mini-golf and timeshares.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

When a Google search prior to our trip turned up the Beachcomber Museum, I was thrilled to have found such a hitherto unexplored nook. My jubilation, however, was quickly tempered by the chilly realization that, like many beachfront concerns, the Museum would most likely be closed in mid-January. Nevertheless, Davida, taking a shot in the dark, sent an email to the address on their website – and soon received a reply from the Museum’s proprietors, Chaz and Dorothy. They arranged a time for us to visit the museum during our trip. We were especially lucky because the museum does close for the winter, but they kept it open and heated the space just for our visit.

A cold rain fell as we drove down the beach road (NC Route 12), past shuttered summer homes left alone to face the wintry seas, to Mattie Midgette’s 1914 general store, which now holds the late Nellie Myrtle Pridgen’s collection of washed-up ephemera collected from the surrounding coastline over the course of the Outer Banks native’s 74-year lifetime.

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Chaz and Dorothy warmly welcomed us. Following brief introductions, Dorothy, herself a cache of historical knowledge and local goings-on, took us on a tour of what in my experience is a most singular collection, the only one of its kind that I have ever seen, anywhere. Here, for example, you will find an expansive array of shells, sea glass, photographs, bottles (some dating back to the 1600s), Japanese glass fishing net floats, Trinidadian relics, and notes found in bottles, as well as several examples of fulgurites, the product of a lightning strike upon sand.

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One of my favorite items was an elaborately embossed Guinness bottle from 1959 – part of an ingenious “message in a bottle” advertising campaign celebrating the brand’s bicentenary, wherein 150,000 of the special bottles were dropped into the Atlantic Ocean. Each one contained a memo “From the Office of King Neptune” that invited the finder to inform Guinness as to when and where they made the find.

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Chaz, it turned out, is also a photographer, and though we paid no admission fee, we did purchase two of his prints, which help to support the Museum. I commend Dorothy and Chaz’s efforts to preserve a collection unlike any I have ever seen. This place is a must-see for Banks visitors new and old, and a fascinating glimpse into the lifelong obsession of one of the beach’s more vocal keepers and defenders.

Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

A friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years was coming to Baltimore. Her only tourist request was to see Edgar Allan Poe-related spots. We only had a few hours before her conference started, so the challenge was to put together a 3-hour tour (one that did not strand us on the island). The Poe House is closed until May 2015, so that left the graveyard at Westminster Hall and possibly areas around Fells Point.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death 
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

I knew of another delightfully macabre site not far from Westminster Hall, which I thought might make for a fun surprise, and asked for a tour. And so it was that early one Saturday morning we arrived at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for a tour of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. (Note to self – you should probably tell people why you are taking them to the ME’s office in advance.)

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Bruce Goldfarb, Special Assistant to the Medical Examiner, graciously agreed to provide a tour on his day off. The Nutshells are miniatures of crime scenes – essentially dollhouses of death – created in the 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee. She’s one of the founders of forensic science. Each scene shows a corpse in situ and students are expected to deduce if the death is homicide, suicide, accidental, or natural. The answers to the cases are closely guarded and only a few have ever read them.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The 18 diorama dollhouses include barns, bedrooms, living rooms, apartment buildings, suburban homes, a bar, an attic, and more, all done on a 1-inch to 1-foot scale. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are unbelievable, from printed newspapers to blood-spatter and buckshot camouflaged on patterned wallpaper to working light fixtures. The windows open, clothes are aged, and shoes just sitting in a closet are hand-beaded.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Glessner created the scenes to train investigators how to study a room. In addition to the Nutshells, she also created models of bullet wounds – showing the impact on flesh using various distances and calibers. She used her substantial inheritance to not only create these teaching tools, but she also helped fund the creation of a Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University. It was there the Nutshells were used until the department was disbanded in 1966. They then moved to Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. They are still used to train investigators.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Highly recommended for lovers of that wondrous combination of history, art, and the macabre. Baltimoreans, next time you have an out-of-town guest, take them here instead of Café Hon.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
900 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21223
Phone: 410-333-3225
Website: http://welcometobaltimorehon.com/places/museumsattractions/the-nutshell-studies-of-unexplained-death
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Nutshell-Studies-of-Unexplained-Death
Documentary: http://www.ofdollsandmurder.com/
Admission: Free
Hours: Call for tour

Among The Little People Now

National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin
National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin

Between the holdover time in Boston, the duration of the flight, and the five-hour time difference, we were thoroughly exhausted by the time we reached Clontarf Castle. Nevertheless, figuring our best bet for acclimating to local time was to forge on until bedtime, we checked in, threw down our bags, and after a short rest were off for Dublin Town.

Traveling with a 9-year-old (who’d held up amazingly well thus far) meant that our first stop should be of correlative interest. And so it was that we found ourselves at the door of the National Leprechaun Museum. Despite the hokey implications of its name, the Museum could be as easily marketed as a crash course in Irish mythology – Aos Sí 101 – which manifests throughout Irish culture to this day.

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National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin

As our seanchai led us through a series of exhibits depicting leprechauns of lore as well as their modern convention (rooted in the 1959 Disney film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People), elaborating upon the púca and bean sídhe, Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fenian Cycle, I recalled, of all things, one Friday night in high school, when a friend and I drove a half-hour to see Schindler’s List. However, we faltered at the ticket window. Were we, a pair of strapping lads perched at the precipice of the weekend, really up to facing three-hours of celluloid-induced depression?

Indeed, common sense prevailed, and we blew off the Oscar-winning Holocaust epic in favor of seeing Leprechaun 2 (which happens to contain one of the most hilariously inconsistent nude body-doubles ever committed to film, but that’s another story). I related this tale to Warwick Davis (who plays the namesake leprechaun) a decade later at a horror-con in Baltimore. His reaction belied an unparalleled sense of diplomacy.

William P. Tandy regaling Warwick Davis with his cinematic preferences
William P. Tandy regaling Warwick Davis with his cinematic preferences

But back to the matter at hand. A noteworthy gift shop awaits visitors at the end of this rainbow. However, a word of note: although the National Leprechaun Museum is indoors, there seemed to be no source of heating, so should you go there in January, dress accordingly.

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National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin
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National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin