Friday, August 21, 2009

Museum of Mobile

Do you know who Ben May, Augusta Evans Wilson, John Leflore and Jeremiah Denton are? If you don't then you need to head down to the Museum of Mobile next door to the Exploreum on Royal Street. This museum is a must see for anyone who lives in Mobile and Baldwin counties. It's a first rate, beautiful museum that is on a par with the museums I've toured in much bigger cities. It's also your best source for learning the history of the Mobile area.

The museum is located in what was once the Southern Market/Old City Hall which was built in 1857 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The lobby is gorgeous and has some wonderful murals painted on the walls. The museum covers two floors of exhibits, but also has some courtyards, classrooms, and an auditorium that can be rented for use after hours. We had just missed the Pirates exhibit and we were too early for the next featured exhibit which is to be called Pillars of the Community: Mobile's Greek Revival Movement. I understand from the website that the exhibit after that will be on George Washington Carver.

The main exhibit covers 300 years of Mobile history which includes settlement by the Mauvilla Indians, slavery and the Civil War, both World Wars, the Depression, the struggle for Civil Rights, and ship building. There is even an area that addresses some of the problems that Mobile is facing today. The nature of the exhibits vary. Many are just display cases with placards explaining the objects. While I found them fascinating, many very young children would probably lose interest quickly. I don't recommend this outing for children under 7. There are, however, several interactive displays sprinkled in throughout both floors. We even got to watch a great old news reel made about Mobile during World War II by the War Department of Information. Did you know that during WWII 150,000 people were brought into Mobile to help with the war effort? When you visit the museum, do not miss out on this film!

There are also some beautiful side exhibits featuring such subjects as the history of wrought iron work in Mobile. It is tragic that so much of Mobile's beautiful cast iron work was lost when old buildings were razed in the name of progress or the iron work was melted down to support the war effort. Besides the cast iron there are also some lovely displays of silver work and antique home furnishing as well as paintings scattered throughout the two floors.

The Rutherford Carriage Collection houses seven carriages that date from the 1850's to the 1900's and have all been beautifully restored. If you've ever read an historic novel and wondered what an omnibus or a brougham carriage looked like, here's your chance to find out. The carriages were collected and restored by Dr. Charles Rutherford in the 1950's and 1960's and later donated to the museum.

There was a fun display of very detailed model homes in another area. My sons referred to them as dollhouses but I can't imagine anyone allowing a child to go near them with dolls or anything else. The intricacy of the work on the outside of the homes was something to marvel at. There are plants on balconies, mailboxes, birdbaths, patio furniture. But it's the inside of these miniature homes that will really leave you dumbfounded. No detail has been overlooked and that includes things like dishes in tiny dishwashers, fully stocked bars, towels hanging neatly on towel racks and photos on the walls. We read that many of they tiny photos in the homes were actual pictures of the creators family members. The exteriors of the homes covered many styles of architecture such as Spanish style, Victorian and Antebellum, while the interiors covered different eras in history.

The museum is open Monday - Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm. Admission is $5 for Adults, $4 for Seniors, $3 for students and free for children under 6. However, you can do what we did and attend on the first Sunday of each month when admission is free. This seems to be a very popular day for families who are trying to stretch their entertainment budgets. Photography is a bit of a challenge because flash photography is not allowed and the lighting for most of the exhibits is low. Camera flashes damage artifacts so set your camera on museum setting if you have one.

Also be sure to finish out your visit in the gift shop which has some truly wonderful items and offers something in every price range. Proceed go towards the operation of the museum. Keeping a place like this costs money, so consider purchasing a membership or making a donation to the museum. If that's not in your budget, there's information on the website about how you can volunteer for these good folks. Mobile needs to preserve its history and this is a great opportunity for you to help.

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