Hi,

In and around Cincinnati we’ve visited three museums. They may not be the best or biggest in town and they certainly aren’t exhaustive of the options–the GPS sees dozens of museums in the metropolitan area. But they’re each, in their own way, pretty important public spaces, in my opinion.

The first is the American Sign Museum, run by a guy named Tod Swormstedt with ties to the industry that go back at least three generations. If I recall correctly, the family involvement began with his grandfather, the first editor of a trade publication “Sign of the Times,” I think. The Swormstedt family has been engaged in the industry world-wide ever since.

Tod’s passion has been to establish this museum, dedicated to preserving the best examples of the art and technology of this mode of informative and persuasive communication. It’s an easy place to find, and certainly worth a reflective look. www.signmuseum.net

The real reason that we went to Cincinnati was to see the Underground Railroad Museum ( http://www.freedomcenter.org/ ). We’d been following the history beginning in Maryland and checking out stops on the railroad in West Virginia and especially in Ohio along the way.

This museum is housed in a huge and magnificent new structure located on the Cincinnati waterfront. There are two theaters in the museum, one showing a series of well-done animations on the subject and the second with a pretty good brief narrative of the abolitionist history in Ripley Ohio. This last one was narrated by Oprah Winfrey. There were lots of places where some sort of durable composite tablets or wall-mounted flip charts summarized the experiences of this individual slave, or that particular abolitionist (or the many individuals who, once freed from slavery, themselves became conductors on the Railroad.) The cumulative effect was pretty powerful.

Not many people were reading these pieces while we were there, though. Nor were visitors paying much attention to the myriad two-dimensional cutouts of people, each with a few paragraphs of narrative attached. In fact, people walked out of every film clip I visited, except the two mentioned above. Some docents tried valiantly to engage youthful visitors and the audio tour seemed popular.

Actually, there weren’t that many people in the museum at all. We stayed there from the 11:00 AM opening until around 2:30 PM and I imagine we encountered fewer than 100 people. That may account for the very bored demeanor of the staff at the admission desk.

In fairness, I’m told that the Center has a top-notch genealogy center, which we didn’t take in. I also witnessed some pretty enthusiastic docents working hard to engage some of the patrons, but I was generally somewhat let down by the experience of visiting the Center. I’d learned more reading plaques in the small towns leading up to the museum in Cincinnati.

Still, it’s good that a place like this exists. Hopefully, the presentation will broaden and perhaps the patrons on this day represent nothing more than an off day at the museum.

So, heigh-ho, it’s off to Illinois we go with the intention of finding a camping place along the banks of the Ohio.

This involved a brief tuck into a corner of Kentucky and a short jaunt on an Interstate highway, our first since leaving Maryland nine days ago. Just outside of Petersburg, KY we passed an official brown government freeway sign announcing the Creation Museum at the next exit. Of course I had to visit and Denise, to her everlasting credit, didn’t object.

I knew a bit about the beliefs of Creationists, and was aware of a fairly recent decision on the part of some key proponents to change the Creationist proselytizing style from one of exhortation a less confrontational and more Socratic discussion about the “difference of opinion” over how the observable facts should be interpreted.

The museum is a masterpiece of propaganda, which I suspect the proprietors would agree with, take away the negative connotations of the term “propaganda” and substitute something like “focused education and persuasion.” Anyway, the place was packed with adults forking over $21.50 each to wander the many dioramas and interactive multi-media displays. The parking lot was full and traffic was directed by a gun-toting constable.

When we declined to invest over forty bucks in viewing the display and politely walked out we were shortly followed by a staff member who told us she was empowered to share with us her “staff discount” and could get us in at $8 apiece. That sort of commitment moved us and we invested.

What can I say: I thought the place was pretty well done; Denise tended to see the presentation as pretty creepy, especially the part about the Bible’s directive to go forth and “subdue” the planet. But we both agreed that it played well with the patrons, and they were doing a land office business. http://creationmuseum.org/

We’ve spent a couple of days recovering from this cultural history in a little Inn on the banks of the Ohio in Madison, Indiana. Very pleasant, very quiet, very restful and the hiking in the nearby state park wasn’t too strenuous.

Now it’s time to move along.

Bill

Creationist mannequins.

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