Disclaimer: I was invited to a blogger/media preview of the Ben Franklin exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. My wife and I received free admission and parking for the event.
My wife and I have never been to the Minnesota History Center and when I received an invitation not only to preview a new exhibit but to freely wander the rest of the Center, I jumped at the chance. Known for their inventive and interactive displays, I knew that this was going to be an interesting day–and boy I was not disappointed.
We arrived about 30 minutes before the preview was to begin. Walking into the Minnesota History Center reminded me of some of the Vegas casinos we wandered into during our visit there. A gorgeous building that was much larger than life houses some of the most interesting displays of history I have ever seen. With sweeping views of St Paul and the Capitol, an excellent cafe serving locally grown produce and meats (I complained on Twitter that they claim their meals are “farm to fork” but the chefs working the counter didn’t know which farms were being showcased. I was assured by their social media guru behind the @mnhs account that this would be mentioned. I love the way Twitter works!) which was quite reasonably priced (we ate a ton for just under $20), free wifi, and a library which can be used for genealogy research, there are plenty of other great things to do there besides tour their exhibits.
The Ben Franklin exhibit was developed by Remer and Talbott and has already been seen by nearly 3/4 of a million people around the world. Now that it’s at the Minnesota History Center, we had an opportunity to wander through the exhibit touching, looking, watching, and even feeling history.
I spent about 30 minutes with Ros Remer who walked me through the second and third part of the exhibit. She was obviously very excited by the entire project and was most pleased with two things:
1. The layered effect of what is presented. She said that people learn in many different ways and they were careful to show an artifact, clip, or painting and let you interact with the history in one of the ways presented so that everyone would have a chance to be a part of what was shown there.
She also mentioned that while most other exhibits allow only one person to view content at a time, their exhibit includes wide screen monitors and/or displays that allow groups to look, learn and interact together. While there weren’t many people in the exhibit when I viewed it as there will be when it opens to the public you can see here and here that children are definitely working together and learning as they go. To be honest with you, when I was a kid museums were boring. This exhibit was definitely cool (said as a 30 year old father-to-be who has a history degree) but I probably should have asked the kids wandering the halls to be sure–sorry, I didn’t.
2. The extremely rare draft copy of the US Constitution that’s on display. With notes in the margins and corrections over the actual text, this was a working document that is dated only four days before the actual Constitution was presented. I received an awesome history lesson about the preamble and how it evolved from a listing of the individual states to what we see it as now today. What a wonderful experience for a history dork!
After making my way back through more of the exhibit I ran into Ben Franklin himself. He was done chatting with the kids (as you saw above) and was looking for someone to brag about his life’s work to. He spent the next twenty minutes going over the large electrostatic generator interactive display. A large crank wheel with some wool hooked up to brass tubes and various experiments, visitors are giving the opportunity to play with static electricity in ways I didn’t even know about including Leyden jars (a very short video of my wife discharging one of the jars), floating confetti and others. My wife mentioned that she could just see some smart-ass kid wandering around with a built up static charge in one of the jars and giving his sister a good jolt.
After our talk I asked “Ben” if he would be on hand when the exhibit actually opened and he replied that he would be there on some days and other well trained staff would be there to explain how everything worked otherwise. There were plenty of informational signs available but I probably would have started to play without knowing that you can get a serious jolt if you touch one of those Leyden jars inappropriately. I was given an example that Page Talbott (one of the consultants who developed the exhibit), during a TV interview, touched one of the jars and jumped about four feet in the air (something she later corroborated) on live TV. Fun times.
After finishing up in the Ben Franklin area, we went down to eat at the cafe (~$19 for some really decent and filling food. Much better than what I could have gotten nearby downtown for more). After that we went up and saw both Weather Permitting (which includes a realistic and interesting basement level recreation of a Minnesota tornado which struck in Fridley in 1965) and the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit (which includes a ~7 minute recreation of flying over Normandy as a member of the airborne infantry).
This is a thrilling museum and one of the best I’ve ever been to. Many of the exhibits reminded me of the Hormel Spam Museum. We both look forward to returning soon to check out the rest of the exhibits that my pregnant wife’s tired body couldn’t handle yesterday. The exhibit opens November 27, 2009 and runs through July 2010. The museum has free admission on Tuesday nights from 5pm to 8pm but is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, or $5 for children (6-17).
We highly recommend you check out the Ben Franklin exhibit (my free admission has nothing to do with this opinion–my history degree and love of interactive exhibits does however) and the others that are available at the Minnesota History Center. It was an awesome time and I am positive you’ll enjoy yourselves!
Have you been to the Minnesota History Center in St Paul? If so, what’s your favorite exhibit? Have you seen the Ben Franklin exhibit either in St Paul or elsewhere in the country? What did you think? Do you agree that the interactive nature of the exhibit is what makes it? Whatever you think about the Ben Franklin exhibit or any of those that are currently on display at the Minnesota History Center, go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear what you have to say!
Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Blvd W
St Paul, MN 55102-1903
See all the pictures from the Ben Franklin exhibit at the Minnesota History Center on Flickr here.