Yet Another Journal

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» Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Big Time Machine
 
First of all, I hate high heels.

I wasn't wearing them, I was hearing them. At 7 a.m.

Again, this is a suite: living room separated from bedroom by bathroom and "hall" with tile floor. Also, to move the air from the window air-conditioned bedroom to the living room, there is a vent above the hall. Big empty space, perfect as an echo chamber. Apparently whomever was in the suite upstairs was getting ready for a business meeting this morning and spent at least 20 minutes trotting around the bathroom tile in high heels, which you could hear, tap by infuriating tap, downstairs in our room. Arrrgh.

Both of us were therefore very tired today.

After breakfast we drove back into Dearborn to "the Henry Ford," this time to visit the museum building. Ironically, we are touring the place at the time the entire automotive exhibit is being remodeled, so we did not see many of the cars. Some of them were at the edges of the automotive exhibit, and there were also cars in the transportation exhibit, but we probably missed 80 percent of them. We could see some, covered in plastic, and see the bits of the new exhibit they are working on, including the improvement of overnight shelter during road trips (from self-carried tents to motor courts to the Holiday Inn), and also an exhibit on diners and fast food—James says he read the diner will eventually serve road food; heh...maybe Jane and Michael Stern will eventually eat there.

The museum is divided into several sections. We started at the agricultural implements, from a primitive colonial plow to one with a steel plowshare all the way through McCormick reapers, corn shuckers, and finally, modern, huge combines. There was also a home arts exhibit comparing four different kitchens: colonial, early republic (1830), Victorian and 1940s, and a set of elaborate dollhouses once owned by wealthy girls, from a four-room colonial to a more elaborate twelve-room home to a set of townhouses.

We did walk through the Wizard of Oz exhibit, which was intended for small children and was mostly based on the film. We had to check out the toys, which included poseable dolls based on the characters, books from the original novel to Gregory McGuire's Wicked, to other little items like a stuffed Toto sticking his head out of a basket and Oz costumes for your American Girl dolls!

A unique exhibit was the only surviving Dymaxion House designed by Buckminster Fuller. This was a house conceived to solve the housing problems that occurred after World War II. It was an aluminum, doughnut-shaped structure supported on a central pole, complete with two bathrooms (tiny ones, to be sure!), two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room, complete with air conditioning, which was nearly unheard of in a private home in those days. The closet and other storage areas were on rotating shelves to save space: no dressers or bureaus were needed for clothes or linen. Only one was ever sold, to a family who lived in it for 20 years, and extended it conventionally. Instead, more conventional projects, like Levittown, went through. The Henry Ford people bought the Dymaxion House from that family and reconstructed it here, although the closets are locked shut.

"Your Place in Time" is a timeline for anyone born in the 20th century, from the progressive generation (my mom and dad's) to Y2K, with a radio broadcasting "War of the Worlds," a classroom where the teacher is instructing the kids in a late 1950s civil defense drill, an exhibit of music from 1950s radio to eight-track tapes, a tribute to Hollywood and movie magazines, cases of memorabilia from each era, and an exhibit of the future as envisioned by SF magazines and books, including an evidently humorous book called Mr. Adam, about the only man left in the world who can father children.

Between this last exhibit and the factory exhibit was a small exhibit of firearms going back to wheel-lock pistols and rifles, including the original Pennsylvania rifles used by Daniel Boone and his compatriots. I looked for a Melchior Fordney like Levi Zendt in Centennial had, but they didn't have one of those. :-)

A very large exhibit was "Made in America." The first half is "power," and is almost more generators and working engines than you ever wanted to see. :-) The oldest engine had pumped water out of a mine in England from the early 1800s through the early 1900s! There were examples of water wheels and turbines, Edison generators, steam powered and gasoline powered equipment, and even a big Corliss engine, made in Providence, RI, like the one which powered all the machinery at the Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. (There were several pieces of machinery made in Providence, the Corliss pieces and also equipment made by Brown & Sharpe.) As each engine grew more powerful, this power was illustrated by how many 40-watt lightbulbs could be lit by the engine.

There is a small exhibit of different types of furniture over the years, from Jacobean chairs and chests that came over with the Pilgrims to plastic bucket chairs. In between was a classic wooden high chair like we remember from childhood, a plush Victorian chair once owned by Mary Todd Lincoln and one of the old, ornate desks and benches from the House of Representatives, decorated Pennsylvania Dutch cupboards and dressers, a Chippendale chair, tables, bureaus, seating, storage, fine furniture and rude benches, stained items and painted ones.

We saw one more exhibit before heading to the Michigan Cafe for Lunch: "With Liberty and Justice for All." This was a combination of four themes: the American Revolution (with a very rare copy of the Declaration of Independence from the 1820s, and a special exhibit on George Washington, including Washington memorabilia), the Civil War with special emphasis on Abraham Lincoln (the museum has on display the rocker in which President Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated; you could still see bloodstains...it was quite chilling), the Women's Suffrage movement, and finally the Civil Rights movement. This latter exhibit has the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to move to the rear; you can walk right on it and sit in the seat she was sitting on that day.

We then walked over to the Michigan cafè for lunch. The menu was about the same as at the cafeteria in Greenfield Village. James had a beef pasty which he found less than thrilling, and since he had the last one, I had chicken breast. Also less than thrilling. Real mashed potatoes, though; Clay would have loved them. The dessert, a chocolate "wave cake," was delicious.

We then went back to the aviation exhibit, which was what James was waiting to see. I must admit this was probably the best of the exhibits. The centerpiece is a reproduction of the Wright Flyer, and other pieces surround it: a DC3 that, at the time it was installed in the museum, was the plane that had the most miles on it (another DC3 has since taken the honor); a "flivver," a small airplane Ford conceived so that people could own airplanes the way they owned automobiles; a Lockheed Vega like the one Amelia Earhart flew; a Stinson-Detroiter that almost flew around the world, a reproduction of The Spirit of St. Louis used for the movie with Jimmy Stewart (Stewart bought it after the film wrapped and then donated it to the museum) along with Lindbergh memorabilia like sheet music, souvenir pillows, games, toys, etc.; two airplanes used for barnstorming (a "Jenny" and another older plane, a Laird biplane, flown by "the flying schoolgirl," Katherine Stinson, who took chances many men would not) in a super setup depicting an air show at a county fair; a racing plane ahead of its time (single wing with contouring and landing gear in the 1920s); and, best of all—oh, my ears and whiskers!—the Ford Trimotor used by Admiral Byrd to fly over the South Pole, and the Fokker with Wright "Whirlwind" engines that Byrd used on one of his expeditions! I was sorely tempted to reach over and just touch the tip of the tail of the Trimotor, but I didn't. They also had memorabilia from Byrd's Antarctic camp "Little America" and film from the era.

We then visited the smaller portion of "Made in America," which was small hand machines like lathes and borers, braiding machines, spinning units, etc. The highlight of this exhibit was the actual workshop of a cobbler who assembled leather pieces sent to him by a central jobber, which he would then send to shoe stores to be sold.

In walking down to the cafeè, we had passed the Museum's collection of Presidential limosines: one used in the Reagan era, the limo in which Kennedy was riding when he was shot (later retrofitted with bulletproof everything), Eisenhower's limo, and Roosevelt's big touring car, the "Sunshine Special." There was also a brougham used by Theodore Roosevelt. We passed them once again as we walked down to the train exhibit, and also saw tantalizing glimpses of what would have been on display in the automotive section, including an experimental "safety car," the earliest Chevy Suburban, the first Plymouth Voyager, and some older cars and horse-drawn equipment like a buggy.

The railroad exhibit is small but solid: a reproduction of the first U.S. locomotive, the "Dewitt-Clinton"; three stagecoaches that transported people from railroad stations to hotels, a combination car (baggage and passengers), the "Fairlane Special," which looked like Ford's private railroad car (unfortunately, due to the auto exhibit being closed, we couldn't read the placard on it); a steam locomotive that resembled the "Cannonball" from Petticoat Junction; a huge Canadian snowplow locomotive; a 1925 caboose put back in mint order; and "the Allegheny," the last of the huge steam engines that were produced before diesel replaced them. This is the only one left in existence; the others were all scrapped. This locomotive was huge, as long as a house and immensely tall. You had to climb a stairway of at least 15 steps (it may have been more) just to get into the engineer's compartment. And it was coupled to a combination coal and water car that made it nearly twice as long.

Next to the train equipment was a small exhibit of other transportation, mostly automobiles, from a tiny 1940s Crosley to a huge Bugatti that looked a lot like Cruella DeVil's car (I believe her car was based on a similar vintage Bugatti). There was a Cord roadster, a beautiful Thomas Flyer, the very first Mustang off the line, a slick but icky-colored classic Corvette, and a Chevrolet BelAir the same vintage as myself. There was also a horse drawn vehicle called a "chariot." We had seen this name on the toll bridge fare placard in Greenfield Village and wondered what on earth it was. I rounded the corner, saw it, and said, "It looks like a pumpkin coach for Cinderella!" Really, what it was was a half-sized coach for two people, with a driver up front and a platform in the back (for a footman or manservant, I guess), and it did kinda look like the pumpkin coach in Disney's Cinderella (not in orange, though).

We walked out for the day through two exhibits, jewelry (which included mourning jewelry, a Masonic pin from 1880, colonial pieces—two from the early 1700s—and even a piece of costume jewelry by Coro, where my mom used to work!) and clocks that went back to the units that once made Connecticut the clockmaking center of the U.S. Let me tell you, when you owned a "shelf" clock in the days preceding spring-driven clocks, you had better have had a big, strong shelf!

We were tired and missed the short silver and pewter exhibit, but did take a brief nip into the gift shop, where we got a refrigerator magnet, mug, and some recipe cards.

Well, by this time it was almost 4:30 and Detroit rush hour was well into full swing. On our route home (I-94 to I-75 northbound) there were already three accidents. However, on the way in we had passed a shopping center. The outside sign only advertised the stores, but we figured there must be some restaurants in the milieu as well, and we were right. We had supper at Panera Bread, chicken soup with a baguette and a grilled cheese sandwich for me, wild rice soup with an Alpine steak sandwich for James, until the traffic had let up a little. We still got stuck in stop-and-go, especially on I-94, but there were no accidents. Before we came upstairs, we bought gas for tomorrow. This is not a good stretch of road for gasoline; we had to go several miles before we found a gas station!

Homeward bound tomorrow...

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