Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ghost In The Museum?

Although he could have lived anywhere in the world, Louis Armstrong lived in a modest brick house on 107th Street in Corona, Queens from 1943 until he died in his sleep there in 1971.  I could have ferreted out that information on the Web, but instead I learned about Louis Armstrong by actually visiting his house, which is now a museum and National Historic Landmark. With bar none, the coolest kitchen (below) I've ever seen.

There's something interesting in visiting a place and feeling, if not exactly the "ghosts" of the past, at least the "spirit" of the people who passed that way before you.  I have felt that way in visiting Graceland and the Mark Twain house, but also in very particular outdoor locations like The Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, or the shiny, silvery "bean" in Millennium Park in Chicago.  There was something very evocative in all of those spots  --- almost as if each one of those spaces had a "personality."

One of the best things I've ever heard said about The Exploratorium was that it feels like you've walked into Frank Oppenheimer's workshop after he's just stepped outside for a minute.  The feeling that real people, with real interests and foibles, have created something for you to experience is one of the most powerful, and most authentic, of museum experiences.

This authentic museum "spirit" is not something that just casually occurs, or manifests itself through some sort of formulaic exhibit development process.  But when all the elements of such a museum experience come together, they form something that really cannot occur in any other medium.

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