Friday, March 6, 2009

New York Environment

Two of my favorite halls in the American Museum of Natural History are the Hall of North American Forests and its neighbor, the New York State Environment.

The New York State exhibit hall opened in 1951 and I am pretty sure that not a thing has changed since then. With its shades of green and maple, its mid-century typefaces and faux-bois paneling, it's like stepping into a vintage Boy Scout Handbook.

Its dusty dioramas, filled with miniature farmers and horses, often go ignored. Away from the crowds, it's a haven. Few people come here to learn about the Rotation of Farm Crops.

They're not so interested to discover what kinds of life squirm beneath the soil.

And faced with the life-cycle of the Calcareous Bog, they turn away in utter boredom, running off in search of the next touch-sensitive video screen, the next dino-rama, the gift shop, the cafe.

And while this makes the New York State exhibit hall a peaceful place to contemplate the sleep patterns of the common chipmunk and the decomposition cycle of a dead owl, it also means that these halls could be endangered.

Every time I visit, I expect them to be gone. To find a sign saying "Closed for Renovation." To return again only to discover with horror that the sleeping chipmunk has been yanked from its burrow and the Catskills have been utterly upheaved, replaced by computer screens and "interactive" video images.

Museum of Natural History, if you're listening, please leave this hall alone. Leave the wormy apples and the mini windmills right where they are. Don't touch those typefaces. And for God's sake, let that chipmunk go on sleeping, curled in his earthy den, for another half century.


Anonymous said...

Nice to know... I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never been to either of these halls.... I shall remedy this soon enough.

Someone Said said...

I went about ten years ago and it was the same, perfect place it was when I was seven. Still excited about seeing the giant whale.

Anonymous said...

Amen. I say leave it alone. The dusty existence of that hall is an exhibit unto itself. If anything, it is mute testament to the simplicity of days long ago.

I'm sure someone with mighty influence on the museum board has an affection for the hall. Probably why it hasn't changed in all these years.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

Don't think I've been to the NY state hall since I was in third grade; thanks for reminding us all of its wonders. Will take a trip up there soon.

Anonymous said...

They redid the whale room a while back but I'm happy to hear about a corner of the museum that has not changed at all. I was always fond of the big tree stump slice.

Jeremiah Moss said...

a few years ago i asked about it and was told they were planning a renovation. but nothing yet. i live with the fear we will eventually lose it, though perhaps not in this economy.

Unknown said...

Haven't been there for a few years, but yeah, it is one of my favorite halls in the building.

Anonymous said...

I took my Day Camp the museum a couple of years ago. I made the kids stop and look at all the features of this exhibit. I wrote down as many native plants and trees so I could try to plant them in my backyard.