Week Sixteen- Museum of History and Industry
One day I will run out of Seattle museums. Honest.
This time around, I took the stroll to MOHAI. Museum of History and Industry is less than a mile away, but I was tired. I was ready to go home. It was on a day like this where I needed the obligation of trying something new that kept me from going straight home and flopping down on the couch. Dedication and resolve won out over laziness. This time…
Of all the museums I have visited this month, this is the one that most meets my definition of a traditional or classic museum. You feel like you are walking through a textbook. The galleries are the chapter headings. The introductory signs are the headings, and the exhibits themselves are the details and paragraphs that you study. Much less emphasis was given to interaction; more time was spent on reading descriptions.
Oddly, the entire main exhibit, True Northwest: The Seattle Journey, is told in a “we” narrative. It starts off with a seven or eight minute video showing some of the highlights in Seattle, but location and history-wise. “We are” this and “we strive” for that. I understand that they are trying to be inclusive. I found it hard to take them seriously. If I disagree with one statement, then that ruins their credibility. “We are famous for work in the tech industry.” I don’t! Ha! Foiled! A meager nitpick, I know. I like my historians to be far enough removed that they have perspective. Again, my personal preference.
The path of True Northwest was a little confusing at times. As you walk through, the story of Seattle is told in eras. Start off with the Native American settlers, move into colonialism, see their response to railroads, gold rushes, wars, prohibition, etc. Yet the halls were absent arrows or stringent pathways. In the in interest of having wide enough walkways, I missed a turn here or there. Once I passed a family, somehow skipped about twenty years (museum time, not real time. No Rip Van Winkle effects), and found myself being passed by the family. I had glanced at the Great Seattle Fire, found no new information in that room, and turned around, not realizing I had missed a hallway at the other side. You would think it would be hard to get lost in what is essentially a long hallway, but I pulled it off.
(Also, after I exited history exhibit, I saw the Seattle Food exhibit in their Walker Gallery. The kick? You have to walk past the exit, go in the entryway, and when you exit, you walk past the entire space again to get to the next display. That is a lot of back and forth with no payoff.)
The main floor is where most of the “marquee” exhibits are visible. There is the former Rainier Brewing “R”. A large seaplane is mounted overhead. And, being right next to Lake Union, a hydroplane hangs over one side of the building. One nice thing about the main floor is that it is quite an open space. The building itself is wide open, with exhibit spaces and halls taking up the perimeter.
The third floor has one room, enough for a rotating exhibit. When I went, it was set up as a big play room, encouraging kids to build bridges, walls, and other practical construction sites that are common around Washington.
The fourth floor also contains only one room. This one, the McCurdy Family Maritime Gallery, is about aquatic exploration. An old steering wheel, a periscope, and an old diving helmet are on display.
There are some pros and cons, as always. On the con side, everything is named for somebody. Then entryway is named after one company. The main floor is named after one donor. A corner in that room is named after another family, while the screening room on the second floor is named after a foundation. You can learn almost as much about Seattle by who has donated as you can from the exhibits themselves. Naming things after people has never sat well with me.
However, they do have free admission every Thursday. If having donors see their names on walls allows people to experience history for free? I feel that is a reasonable trade-off. However, at a quick glance it appears that one formal Naval Reserve Armory building has room for ten different entities to claim naming rights. Oy.
If I am being honest, there are other places that cover the specifics better. Neah Bay, most northwestern part of the continental U.S., has a more thorough description of Native American life and their contributions to Seattle. The Seattle Underground Tour covers the early 1900s and industrial occurrences, especially the Great Seattle Fire, in far greater details. This is an introductory tour. Those wishing to get a brief overview of Seattle will find an hour-or-so cover-all locale. Those wanting specific information should seek those out elsewhere.
The few interactive exhibits were interesting, the staff did not try to insert themselves into my visit, and I learned one or two things. (Slinky dogs started in Seattle? So did UPS? Shows what I know.) The classic, textbook, keep it simple historian in me was rather pleased with what I experienced.