Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CHICAGO: Museum of Science and Industry

As a Chicago native, I remember first visiting the Museum of Science and Industry as a small child. It was fascinating then, and it’s still fascinating now. But…

The Museum of Science and Industry has been a fixture in Chicago ever since the building was originally constructed as the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a/k/a the 1983 Chicago World’s Fair. After the fair it housed the Columbian Museum, which evolved into the Field Museum of Natural History. A few years after the Field Museum got a new building nearer to downtown, the building was selected as the site for a new science museum.

Many of the attractions I remember from my childhood are still there: the coal mine, Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America, the old Main Street, the Ice Cream Parlor, the biology exhibits with the human babies in various stages of gestation.

The museum recently underwent an extensive renovation and more up-to-date exhibits have been added, including more interactive exhibits. But even more needs to be done to bring the museum fully into the 21st century.

Many of the recorded presentations that accompany various exhibits were obviously written and recorded many years ago and need to be updated to appeal to today’s audience and, candidly, to our shorter attention spans. Many of the presentations are too long and too detailed. And the audio systems need to be updated as well. It’s a big museum, often filled with squeals of delight and animated conversations, so the presentations need to be loud enough and clear enough to be heard above the din.

Finally, even though the museum is among the most popular attractions in Chicago, visitors should be prepared: it isn’t cheap. General admission is $13 (Chicago residents get $1 discount), with additional fees to tour the U-505 submarine ($7 additional), to visit the Smart Home ($10 additional), or to see an Omnimax film ($7 additional). If you drive, it’ll cost you $16 to park in the underground garage. And let’s not forget lunch, snacks, tschotskes and souvenirs.

But it’s well worth visiting. Allow plenty of time. Bring comfortable shoes, a healthy budget, and plenty of patience. 


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