austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear

Before bunny_hugger needed physical therapy we had thoughts of going to Cedar Point on this visit. She wasn't sure she'd be up to that and we cast about for alternatives. The one most appealing to me was Greenfield Village or the Henry Ford Museum. I'd been to the Museum once before, decades ago (ouch), but it's the sort of eclectic collection of ``what was Henry Ford thinking?'' that wouldn't wear off its appeal to me too easily.

bunny_hugger worried we wouldn't have time to see both in one day. I wasn't worried; I was confident we couldn't possibly have enough time. I'd lay odds we couldn't exhaust it in a week, reflecting the Museum and Village's size and our happily compatible lingering and reflecting attitudes towards museums. So we set out with plans to just take the village in. And I didn't spill any soda on me this time.

What did trip us, in our final approach to the Village, was that the Detroit area has apparently decided highways just aren't working out and has torn them all out, to be replaced by highway-construction equipment strewn across the bare pebble base of a roadbed. Fortunately she had her satellite navigator. Unfortunately the access roads we tried weren't far enough from the memories of disappeared highways for it to be quite convinced we weren't on the highways, or that we shouldn't get on them right away. Some spirited debate with the navigator followed, but we found our way to Greenfield Village after all.

Right up front was the delight of a plastic injection-mold vending machine to make your very own commemorative souvenir $2.00 plastic Ford Mustang. The machine itself was in a lovely circa 1960 decorative style and the name was even ``Mold-A-Rama''. You don't get A-Ramas enough anymore. The vending machine advertising copy claimed you could operate a real injection-mold machine like actual workers might. If true, this indicates that injection-mold operators mostly spend their days inserting two dollars into vending machines and then waiting while the machines do stuff. However, I did get the Mustang toy, as well as (later on) a Model T, and bunny_hugger got a carousel horse.

I knew the village buildings were a hodgepodge of stuff Henry Ford had found to be of historic import, like his birthplace or his old factories, and stuff of sentimental value, like everything Thomas Edison had ever touched, transported and resettled with the sort of personal yet odd touch that makes Ford one of the greatest characters of the American Mythology. Seriously, digging up East Orange, New Jersey, clay so the Edison labs would stay on Jersey soil?

What I did not appreciate was how many of them were lies. Some of them are open lies, admitting the building was constructed in 1972 but at least follows plans from some 19th-century construct. The railroad roundhouse was like this, something surprisingly recent even if it was of a classic style. The roundhouse also teased us with the chance to walk underneath a railroad engine held up by confidence that they wouldn't let us walk underneath a railroad engine if the pillars holding it up weren't sound, right? (I took the chance; bunny_hugger declined.) The docent beside it was happy to explain how the wheel radius indicated the engine was designed for passenger traffic, and I took his bait in asking how it did that. (Different wheel radiuses indicate the machinery being designed for speed or smoothness of ride or pulling power.)

Others are subtler lies: the ``original Ford factory'' turns out to be a quarter-scale replica of such, if you read the explanatory panel. That it's a two-storey building then demands the question: was the original eight floors tall or is it actually quarter-scale in two dimensions? They did have a boiler asserted to be from the actual original Ford factory although by this point the whole idea of ``actual'' was under heavy attack.

And then. Thomas Edison's buildings. You could make a good argument about the philosophical concept of identity by talking about Edison's buildings, a modern Ship of Theseus if ever there were. The Legend, of course, is that the Menlo Park ``invention factory'' buildings were just picked up and taken over to Michigan, to the lingering resentment of New Jersey, which is happy to engage in such petty bickering over slights to its dignity (qv: the Ellis and Liberty Island property-wrangling). The explanatory panels are more obscurantist and speak of the buildings as replicas. And the docents are very insistent that they are the real actual buildings but concede that elements were replaced where required for structural integrity. (For what it's worth, the ultimate source of dad, My Dad, says Ford just took the abandoned wrecks of the buildings left over and constructed new buildings from the plans.)

Anyway, the docent there explained how the building was taken with permission and actual New Jersey topsoil was brought so the building would ever stand on New Jersey soil and Thomas Edison himself said they'd brought a slice of New Jersey to the Village. Then she asked where I was from. They probably get my answer a lot. (She did ask if I was moving to Michigan. I certainly intend moving to Lansing.)

I did my very best not to be the irritating know-it-all in any museum group who has to overshadow the guides even if I think they're getting it wrong. But they did try teasing us into pondering which of Edison's inventions was His Favorite, which I'm fairly sure I knew back when I was a fetus. I did at their encouragement identify Edison's automated voting machine, legendary for being the only gadget he couldn't sell and which taught him not to invent things there weren't markets for. (This was for legislative voting, not popular voting. The guides said legislators didn't want their names recorded. My understanding had been that the device failed because it was too instantaneous, with the long period of open voting, and the chance to change ballots, being a core part of How Congress Works. I didn't challenge them.) Also I successfully guessed something which looked like a flat chafing dish was part of the ``electric pen'' duplicating machine. bunny_hugger tolerated me in all this.

We could have wandered all day and pretty near did, with the exception of lunch (where we got the injection-mold Model T and carousel horse, and found they were short on forks). But the other big center-piece was the carousel.

It's a circa 1913 carousel from the Herschell-Spillman Company, and the Henry Ford Museum acquired it in the early 70s. Besides its value as an historic artifact, it's personally important. This was the first carousel with which bunny_hugger fell in love, and she credits her carousel hobby to this one. It's difficult to imagine her without that love of carousels and amusement parks; to visit it, and to ride the carousel, was to step into one of the tenderest parts of her person, and I was honored and delighted to be so invited in.

bunny_hugger's father hoped we might get a specific old-time candy at the gift shop which we not only couldn't find but couldn't find anything vaguely like. But I did find a little book, a turn-of-the-century manual on Etiquette for Driving from back in the days when you only had a car if you were an Upperclass Twit of the Year candidate, which would do nicely for a birthday present for my father. And we picked up rock candies on a stick.

We ate those while driving back, as we did have a specific plan: to meet bunny_hugger's best-grad-school-friend, his girlfriend and their child at a Lansing bar. The bar's something of a personal landmark, for being a regular hangout from grad school and for other associations. Although we've driven past it dozens of times somehow we'd never found cause to go in, so this would be a fine chance.

It wouldn't be. For only the third time in a decade, possibly the third time in history, the bar was closed for a private event. A wedding party, I'm given to understand, which was as baffling to bunny_hugger as to her friend. We briefly reassembled back at her house --- where the child seemed awestruck by the size of bunny_hugger's rabbit, and the rabbit seemed to concede that the child existed --- before setting off for an alternate bar which we'd forgotten was on a road torn up for repair. I should mention there were dozens of roads in Michigan which I found not torn up for repair.

Anyway, this was our dinner: it might have sounded like a lot of shop talk about grad school and the life of professional philosophers, but the cultural differences between that and grad school/mathematics life aren't that big. (Mathematics gets more respect than Philosophy, from students and from the Board of Trustees, but the core issues are the same.) We heard about his anticipated thesis defense, barely a month ahead, and shook our heads about what students were like. bunny_hugger and her friend were the core of the dinner, of course, and I was glad to take a secondary role, while the girlfriend and child were busy taking care of one another.

It was fun, though, and I was finally proven to actually exist to bunny_hugger's best-grad-school-friend. I'd be glad seeing him again, but who knows when that might be possible.

Back home was one of those inevitable sadnesses: the e-mail from United about how I could now check in for my flight home.

Trivia: The curved-dash Oldsmobile of 1903 sold for $650. The Ford Model C sold for $950. Source: Wondrous Contrivances: Technology At The Threshold, Merritt Ierley.

Currently Reading: Baseball In The Garden Of Eden: The Secret History Of The Early Game, John Thorn. Hey, ratmmjess, you get a little mention in the endnotes for the Nick Carter page, about the body-swapping gender-bending arch-villain Dazaar.

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