Saturday, October 25, 2008

Where The Lorax Roam

Rain was expected Saturday, so it didn't look like we'd be able to do much outside. We opted instead for some indoor activity, at the Springfield Museums at the Quadrangle. The Lorax invited us into the Quadrangle area, where the statues of the Dr. Suess Memorial were swarming with visitors.

We toured the Natural History museums first, where there are examples of animals of all stripes available for viewing. Some are from far away points on the globe, like this Matamata Turtle from the Amazon, that uses natural plant life for camouflage.

The aquarium tanks are full of other exotic species, along with local varieties.

All the local mammals are represented; from the hard to miss Moose to the rarely seen Bobcat, which actually are much larger than I thought they were. Beautiful, but I would certainly step back slowly, if I were lucky enough to encounter one in the woods....

We went from there to check out the prehistoric section, sneaking in under the hungry gaze of a T-Rex.

Along with the prehistoric animals, the museum has a lot of examples of fossils from all over the valley, which is rich with them. Below is fossilized evidence of a storm like the one brewing outside, millions of years ago.

The lives of the indigenous people of the Americas are displayed. This coat looks pretty comfy, though oddly shaped, with the arms seemingly placed a little too far forward.

But it turns out it is shaped that way for a very good reason.

(And while on the topic, this picture begged to be taken.)

All forms of native american stone tools and weaponry are displayed. It's mostly forgotten that the native americans were actually still in the Stone Age, with no metal tools to speak of, no pack animals, and not even the wheel when the Europeans arrived. (Unfortunately this situation hindered a burgeoning stone-bicycle-seat industry, due to a shortage of actual bicycles... )

With rocks on the brain we headed for the geological museum. There are tons (probably literally) of examples of rock, and amazing crystal formations to be seen there.

On a cleverly lava-melted video monitor, a professor discusses the geological formation of the Pioneer Valley.

To sum up a few hundred million years in a few sentences:

The giant land mass of Pangaea began splitting up, separating the local mountains and creating a new valley. This new valley partially filled with sediment washed down from the surrounding mountains. The continued break up of Pangaea then began causing world-wide volcanic eruptions and lava flows. Local lava flows here in the valley created a thick layer of lava over the sediment. Over more time, more sediment accumulated over the top of the lava field, creating a kind of lava 'sandwich'. Over even more time and more land mass movement, the lava field in the valley began to sink down on the southeastern side, which tilted the northwest corner of the lava field up. More time goes by, and the relatively softer sediments above the lava began to erode away, leaving just the northwestern edge of the tilted lava field exposed above the surface. The huge tilted edge of the lava field is what we know today as the Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke, capiche?

The professor in the video did a good job of explaining it, with on location views, and a hamburger.

From the hard ground of geology, we moved on to a more ethereal view of the universe in the space museum.

At this interactive console you can vent any frustrations by designing your very own asteroid, and watch it slam into the planet of your choice.

But why destroy when there is so much beauty? Nearby is an example of famed local glass-blower Josh Simpson's beautiful, planetary looking glass orbs.

The one on display can be seen through a magnifying glass set up next to it, for a good look at the ingenious art piece:

A video screen shows Josh Simpson working his art.

This interesting, almost Simpson-esque display mimics the cloud formations of a gaseous planet like Jupiter, by allowing you to spin it around and set the liquid medium in motion.

Slightly out of place but still pertinent, is a display showing the physics of financial markets:

We were starting to run out of time, so we rounded out the museum visit with a quick look at the Museum of Springfield History in the William Pynchon building nearby.

This museum is much smaller, but there's some pretty interesting stuff, like the original plot layout of Springfield. Mostly, it was longs strips of land dividing up where downtown now is, allotted to the original settlers. The Main Street and the Mill Street areas are already clearly laid out.

The shrewd business man that started it all, William Pynchon.

The Springfield Armory at one time caught fire, in a big way. And the only way to fight it was bucket by bucket. The Springfield Armory was the national armory for most of America's existence, and the main manufacturer of rifles for the armies.

There really is a lot of nationally renowned products and history made here in Springfield. Everett Barney's skates were very popular.

As were (are) Milton Bradley's games and toys. Here he is in his youth and elder years, after a lifetime of spreading happiness through gaming.

Hendee's Indian motorcycles were famous and gave Harley Davidson a run for their money as the premier American motorcycle. Interestingly, before Hendee got into motorcycles, he was practically the Lance Armstrong of his day, winning 302 of 318 bicycle races. And I'm talking about racing the old bikes, you know, the big-wheels.

There were a few examples of these on display. The one in the foreground with a slightly larger rear wheel was mostly made almost entirely out of wood, except for the main frame holding it all together. It had the cool name of 'Velocipede'.

Kelly noted that the spandex was just as old as the sport.

Of all the famed Springfieldites, the most famous is arguably the venerable Thoedor Geisel, aka Dr. Suess. Here he is during his 1986 return visit to the city.

Closing time. We didn't have enough time to see the Museum of Fine Arts, or the Walter Vincent Smith museum, with it's Ancient Treasures exhibit. It'll have to wait until next time...


Mary E.Carey said...

What a great and complete tour. Is that moss covered turtle alive? I assume the "spandex" is finely hand-knit wool?

Tony said...

The turtle is alive as possible, under the circumstances... I don't know but I would guess the spandex was indeed wool, rather than absorbant cotton. They look pretty aerodynamic, don't they?

Anonymous said...

Sacajawea is pretty important in Idaho.