austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I'm your travel agent man, I'll take you to another land

One thing you can't ignore at the Museum of American History is the Presidents. Right by the escalators, for example, is a statue of George Washington which ranks as one of the most wondrous examples of surely they can't have meant it to be this funny.

The 1832 statue, by Horatio Greenough, depicts a toga-clad Washington with bare chest, a sheathed sword thrust out at the viewer and his right hand pointing at the sky and ... well, it's hard to look at and not start giggling. Even the display label seems to admit this: it explains how the reviews by Greenough's friends commended his effort, in the classic ``oh good heavens he wants us to say something about it'' maneuver. While I was trying to get over the idea of a half-naked George Washington --- I'm fairly sure that the ever-dignified Washington didn't even let the wetnurse who delivered him see his nipples --- I foolishly wandered around back, to the miniature figures of The Indian and Christopher Columbus and called out, ``Come back here, where it's really pompous!''

bunny_hugger believes the pose to be inspired by a Revolutionary-era French painting of the death of Socrates, and she may have something. It's far funnier than the picture, though.

This wasn't the end of our pointing and laughing at Presidents, thanks in part to the museum's wall exploring the Presidency and the people who've held the office and the ways the role has changed in time. Just the series of portraits of the presidents allowed for great fun as we figured out who each President looked like. Some came out pretty unscathed --- James Polk, for example, could be the leading man for a 1950s film, while Franklin Pierce looks like the guy playing Edgar Allen Poe, and I still say Martin Van Buren looks like the First Doctor even if I can never get William Hartnell's name right --- but pretty near everyone looks ridiculous given the chance. Presidents are lot like people that way. Still, I think they did have a higher-than-average roster of funny pictures.

There's also a fine exhibit about Abraham Lincoln with an extensive collection of memorabilia; we might be fascinated by things like the inkwell at the War Department telegraph office, but we couldn't help noticing that a giant reproduction of a newspaper column announcing the assasination lead off with ``IMPORTANT NEWS''. Since the stuff about Lincoln being attacked by one of the leading actors of the nation, and Seward clinging to life, and all that might not be understood to be big news otherwise.

Another fascinating side exhibit about ``Communicating The Presidency'' shows off various ways that Presidents, real and imaginary, have been shown, often in films. A side panel points out that Abraham Lincoln is the most-portrayed President in film, and Andrew Jackson the third-most portrayed (played by Charleton Heston twice), but leaves unanswered which was second. Kennedy, I guess, although you'd think either Roosevelt ought to be on the leader board. The web site version of the exhibit mentions that Saturday Night Live (I didn't notice if this panel is identical in the physical museum) ``has lampooned the presidency for more than two decades'', which while literally true also brings to mind Mister T celebrating Conan O'Brien's ten-year anniversary with a bright, shiny 7 medal.

Really neat were now-obscure films of the 60s showing, for example, The Man starring James Earl Jones as the First Black President Of The Whole United States (technically 1972, but written by Rod Serling, so it's a 60s film). He doesn't win election, of course, but rather succeeds by the sort of unlikely and unprecedented succession-chain quirk that always sets off First $_ President stories.

Or there's 1964's Kisses For My President, about the First Woman President Of The Whole Entire United States, starring Fred MacMurray as the FIRST MALE ``FIRST LADY'' according to the poster and, stunningly, not produced by Disney. I mean, mid-60s comedy about the First Woman President, of course Fred MacMurray is going to be the First Spouse for it. Just bunny_hugger and I both assumed MacMurray was owned by Disney back then. That it was a Warner Brothers film we'd never have guessed. A video clip shows the important plot point, of course, that she simply has to resign when she gets pregnant because it's silly enough to think a President can have a vagina but to be a whole real mommy too? (Coming up on Turner Classic Movies, the 22nd of November and let's pretend that my eyebrow is not quirked at that date at 5 pm Eastern time.)

After thoroughly amusing ourselves but not actually finding anything we went to the information booth to ask about the carousel animals (remember the carousel animals?). And here the guide knew just the sort of thing we were talking about; it's just that she didn't think they were on exhibit right now. THere was a surge in interest in carousel art a decade ago and the display at the Castle was probably reflecting that. Today, it's the slow season. Too bad.

We did start walking through the rest of the museum, but were shooed out when to our surprise it turned out the museum closes at 5:30. I'd have thought we had until 6:00 at least.

Trivia: A 1958 study by the United States National Planning Association found that United Fruit accounted for about 12 percent of all the foreign money flowing into Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador. Source: Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome To The 21st Century, The Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat, Sarah Murray.

Currently Reading: The Study Of American Folklore: An Introduction, Jan Harold Brunvand.

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