Category Archives: Museums
You might say horse racing is a family tradition, though I come from a family of spectators. My grandpa used to take my dad to the racetrack, and my dad used to take me. I have fond memories of afternoons spent at Arlington Racecourse (thoroughbreds) in Arlington Heights, Illinois, or Maywood Park Racetrack (harness) in Melrose Park. So I was thrilled to have an opportunity to visit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga, New York.
The Saratoga Race Course opened in 1863, during the American Civil War. It is the fourth oldest racetrack in the country. The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame was founded in 1950 and moved to its current location in 1955.
The museum takes you on an extensive tour of the history of thoroughbred horse racing, including the lineages of the horses. All thoroughbred horses can trace their ancestry back to three stallions originally imported to England from the Middle East in the 17th and 18th century: Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian. Ninety-five percent of all male Thoroughbreds today trace their lineage back to Darley Arabian.
The National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia is an incredible experience dedicated to the American soldier, with state of the art dioramas, displays, and hundreds of artifacts. While in Georgia away from my computer, I decided to experiment with making travel videos entirely with my iPhone. This video was shot with my phone, edited in iMovie, and I even recorded the voiceover here. I think it turned out pretty well, do you?
Plimoth Plantation, founded in 1947, is a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, featuring a replica of a 1627 Pilgrim village. It is located at 137 Warren Avenue, a few miles southeast of the actual site of the Plymouth Colony. The museum also owns and operates a replica of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower, but it was undergoing repairs when I visited in the spring.
The museum offers an impressive variety of things to see and do, including a large visitor center, Wampanoag Homesite, Craft Center, Maxwell and Nye Barns, Plimoth Grist Mill, and of course, the village itself. The visitor center has a large gift shop and even a movie theater, although it was playing two random, nonhistorical movies when I visited.
I completely overlooked the Witch History Museum on my first trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Located at 197-201 Essex Street on the pedestrian mall, this is not the same as the Salem Witch Museum, located on Washington Square. Like a half dozen other museums in Salem, this also features dioramas/wax figures, though of a slightly higher quality.
An actress in period costume gives a short introduction to the Salem Witch Trials before taking you down into the museum. I came in early spring, just before the tourist season started, so I was the only one in the audience that day. My host was gracious enough to show me around anyway.
The Witch Dungeon Museum is one of many diorama/wax museums in Salem, Massachusetts, with the added twist of a live performance. I didn’t get a chance to see it on my first trip to Salem, so I made sure to check it out on my second.
The museum appears to occupy an old church, but instead of the stations of the cross, numbered plaques bearing facts about the Salem Witch Trials line the auditorium’s back wall in sequential order. The tour’s highlight is a live performance of a dramatic moment from the trials, with lines drawn from an eyewitness account.
Established in 1950 by Roscoe William Smith, Museum Village in Monroe, New York is a unique open-air historical museum exploring daily life in the nineteenth century through historical dress and reenactments. Visitors can not only interact with people portraying daily life in the period, but also see an extensive collection of nineteenth century material culture, including tools, carriages, fire engines, and household items. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Roscoe William Smith founded the Orange and Rockland Electric Company and lived to be 99 years old. During his long life, he collected hundreds of artifacts, with a particular interest in historic craft tools and mechanical devices. Finally, his wife told him to do something with this stuff or get rid of it, so Smith created the Museum Village as both a way to exhibit his collection and as a window into the past.
In a way, this reminds me of a more organized and purposeful version of Wisconsin’s House on the Rock, which was also created by an obsessive collector. Smith custom built most of the buildings in Museum Village, but there is one log cabin he purchased for $10 and shipped to the site. He died in 1976, but volunteers and employees have kept his dream alive. Many grew up taking field trips to the museum before later deciding to work there.
At the turn of the last century, deep in the pine flat woods of southeast Florida near the small village of Estero, a group of religious believers sought to build a new Jerusalem on the Gulf Coast. These followers of Dr. Cyrus Teed, called Koreshans, believed the earth and universe were contained within a concave sphere. At its peak, their New Jerusalem was home to 250 people. Today, it is the Koreshan State Historic Site. Some visitors report eerie encounters with the vestigial remains of the so-called Koreshan Unity. Even without these stories, it is one of the most interesting ghost towns in Florida.
Cyrus Teed was born in 1839 in New York. He quickly gained an interest in science and medicine and opened a clinic in Utica. During one of his experiments, he was electrocuted and claimed a divine spirit had told him that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh and began to gather followers. This small group moved to Chicago in 1888 and established a commune. Apparently they were not well received. According to Jack Powell, author of Haunted Sunshine (2001), “The Chicago newspapers ran article after article on him. He was characterized to the public as the leader of a cult that took worldly goods from its followers and kept them enslaved through fear.”
Dr. Teed and his followers came to Estero, Florida in 1894 and acquired 1,600 acres of land through donation and purchase. There they held seminars for the public on Cellular Cosmogony, Teed’s own Hollow Earth theory. The group also believed in communal living, sharing property, gender equality, and various forms of celibacy. The Koreshan Unity was a thriving community with residences, gardens, a bakery, art hall, and store. The seven women who made up the Unity’s governing council lived in a large building called the Planetary Chamber.