austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Run Nessie run, they're all after you

The Grand Rapids Public Museum has an antique carousel that we've figured to get to for years. Also all winter it's had an exhibit on Mythic Creatures: dragons and mermaids. We kept figuring to get there before it closed. So guess how close to closing day we finally made the trip, to a city we normally visit at least twice each month anyway, to see any of this. You're wrong: we were there the Wednesday before closing day. We wouldn't have enough time to see the whole museum, filled with Grand Rapids-relevant stuff, but we could see at least some. And ride the carousel. And go to the special exhibit on mythic beings.

I figured to ride the carousel after we went to the special exhibit. This was probably a strategic error. I'd thought it would be nice to have the carousel as the last thing done during the day, and sure it would. But how long to allow for the carousel ride? How do we know the carousel doesn't close before the main museum does? If we'd done that first we could have spent the whole rest of the museum's day with the Mythic Creatures. Tip for next time, I suppose, but see if I learn anything from it.

Mythic Creatures had at the front a pleasantly large western dragon, nearly two inches behind a 'Please Do Not Touch' sign, that yes we respected but come on. The exhibit had a healthy number of figures, including dragons, a kraken, a gryphon, a unicorn, a barong ket (an Indonesian monster), a roc and more, and most of them were well within arm's reach. It felt like good illicit fun just getting to be there even if we weren't doing anything naughty.

Near the unicorn statue bunny_hugger discovered an egg-shaped rock. It had a unicorn painted on it, and a sign explaining it was part of the Crystal Clear Rock Club. It asked us to find them on Facebook, and to post a picture of the egg and re-hide it. Elsewhere in the museum? At some other attraction? We couldn't guess, and as we were away from any Internet devices we couldn't look up their preferred directions.

Among the curiosities: a wooden pegasus carved as a carousel horse. Except ... not, because the wings were raised directly up, so that nobody could possibly ride it. It's well-crafted and looks authentic, apart from being useless as a carousel mount. Created for a pegasus enthusiast who wanted the look of a carousel animal and didn't care if it wouldn't work? Created for a carousel enthusiast who wanted a pegasus and accepted that something had to give, and since it would never be on a real carousel they could give up sitting? The plaque gave no hints, no suggestions.

There were some wonders there, like this Chinese dragon figure easily 80 feet long and twisting its way along the exhibition space that, in hindsight, we probably walked around the wrong direction. There were things to wonder about: dragons being explained by a video loop of special effects artists from the Eragon movie you dimly remember half-watching on a flight to Nashville in 2007. Extremely quick summaries of various legends of creatures. A couple posters of people explaining their emotional connections to various mythic creatures; one of them was describing his favorite Pokemons, not shown in figure form. (This choice became non-baffling when we found an exhibit we hadn't noticed before, that pointed out how some minor figures had been reevaluated and reinterpreted in modern times to sometimes outright cute forms, including at least one of the guy's Pokemon choices.)

The most fun creature discovered in the day? The barong ket, absolutely. It's this Chinese-lion-like creature, leader of the spirits of good, protetor of villages and such. And they had a barong ket dance figure, this huge creature that looked like a giant friendly creature from a Jim Henson production. Maybe it's just how it was posed, but between the face and the pose and the upturned tail it looked ready to leap at you and lick your face until everything was all right.

The most cliche-bursting moment? A ``Beyond Bigfoot'' diorama, with creatures from around the world, and a figure showing what an 800-pound gorilla-like creature might look like. Which, yes, is mighty big but not the dominating thought of the room. Had the bad fortune to be competing with, like, those extinct Madagascar birds that're the size of parking garages.

And the most possibly historical? The Feejee Mermaid, one of P T Barnum's career-making humbugs. Maybe. The plaque admits they don't know if it's Barnum's. His was thought lost in a fire. But this was found a couple decades ago in a New England museum, so ... who knows? It's got the head and torso of a monkey, and the back of a fish, and it looks gruesome enough. But Barnum's mermaid? Who can say? We saw it; that's what we do know, and in a respectable museum.

Trivia: In 1998 China had about 75,000 mines employing an average of thirteen miners each. Source: Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese.

PS: We wandered over to the arcade, of course. An arcade, anyway.


One of Rye Playland's arcades has this photo booth, charming enough by itself but the typeface choice and graphic design and the wood veneer just send it over the top. ... No, we didn't get pictures.


And then this compelling little mechanical amusement turned out to be in the arcade: Bat-A-Ball. It's a baseball simulator. Press the button and a small steel ball rolls down that ramp; you swing and try to hit for runs.


Different angle on Bat-A-Ball that makes the play mechanism more clear. The ball rolls down the red ramp; it gets hit by the small, steel bat that swings when you pull the trigger. The ball might go up high enough to fall into the single, double, triple, or home run rows of bleachers. Your score, from 0 to 15, lights up in that backglass display.

Tags: rye playland

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