Thursday, August 13, 2009

Creation 'Museum' first Impression

I know I am remiss in posting more about the trip to the Creation 'Museum', but time seems to be one of the things lacking recently. I did want to write up my initial impression. More will follow.

The grounds were nice; in fact the Nature Walk behind the 'museum' was the nicest part of the facility. The building itself is nice, modern, a semi-circular shape around an open area. Off to one side was the covering the Secular Students Alliance (SSA) was using for check in. One of the things I immediately noticed was the volume of security guards. I counted 7 in the open area alone, and one had a dog sniffing for whatever. What I found interesting was how many times (4) I got interrupted as I wandered over toward the SSA tent. Two guards and two other people stopped and offered me assistance as I got nearer and nearer. One specifically asked if we were with a group and when I said no, she got between us and the SSA covering and tried to push me toward the main entrance.

Ticket price was high, over $20, for what amounted to a walk. That I think was one surprise and disappointment. Once we got tickets we entered the line. OK, no biggie, I expected once we gained entrance into the 'museum' proper, I would be in a museum. Not so. This is unlike any museum I have ever been in, and I have been in museums across the country. This reminded me more of a trip made years ago to the Bayard Cutting Arboretum.

The Bayard Cutting (named for William Bayard Cutting) is basically an estate with very extensive landscape collection of trees and other plants. It's surprisingly small and you walk on a very well defined path and could not stray from it -- which makes sense in order to protect the grounds and plants. I don't know what the Bayard is like today; my visit was a long time ago. But I remember the clever use of the paths to both protect the plants and maximize your enjoyment of what you were seeing. Like many such places each plant/tree was appropriately labeled so you can actually learn something about the item, it's habitat and the care and feeding of it. It reminded me of a zoo for plants more than anything.

Now museums are set up very different. First of all most of them consist of space, space to stand there, space to contemplate the exhibits. Frequently there are benches of other places where you can just sit and take in the surroundings. I recall sitting in front of a painting at the Dayton Art Institute for an hour just to take it all in. (Mattia Preti's "The Roman Empress Faustina Visiting St. Catherine of Alexandria in Prison") If you expect something like that, you will be disappointed in the Creation Museum. Once you pass the ticket checker, you remain in line until you are dumped out into the gift shop. The museum is one long path, and pretty narrow. It's not designed to do anything except tell the story of Genesis according to Kennie Ham. It's not designed to educate only elucidate his very narrow viewpoint. So rather than having the time to sit back and actually examine exhibits, you constantly feel to push from the people behind you who wish to occupy the space you are in as the space in front of you opens up. It was disconcerting and not a pleasant way to see much of anything. So from this point of view, it's less a museum and more of a zoo. Which is why I took lots of pics of the text, so I could read more of it at my leisure -- especially the part about where Cain got his wife.

The other thing I have come to expect of museums is real exhibits, not just mock-ups and phony fronts. For example there is a Mastodon, the Burning Tree Mastodon, in the front area, where you first join the line. It's a replica. Later is a mock up of an 'archeologist' digging up a fossil, mock-up. In fact I don't recall a single actual piece of evidence of any historical or scientific nature. It was all mock-ups, all plaster and wood, all painted. Museums are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artifacts and specimens -- not a place where your engineers build everything! Yes, I know many museums build an appropriate set to show off many exhibit items, but at the Creation 'Museum' all you get is set, no substance, only the facade. In contrast the nearby Cincinnati Natural History Museum has many actual fossils and even a wonderful exhibit on Charles Darwin that contains many of his personal and scientific artifacts. You can see some of his original notebooks and even some of his collection. These are not show pieces but a part of history. You feel a level of awe that is completely missing as you shuffle from one set to the next in kennie's folly.

The last surprise was one I mentioned at all already, the overwhelming level of security. I haven't seen this much security since 9-11. They were everywhere. It does make me wonder if the extra security was because of the Secular Students Alliance was visiting or what. I found the SSA to be a reserved group who engaged in some quiet conversation in the exhibits. I thought their behavior was exemplary and the show of force was completely unnecessary. Normally security in museums is relatively unobtrusive and designed to protect the exhibits themselves. Here the security was intrusive and focused on the guests rather than the exhibits. But I guess when all your exhibits are a mock-up, there isn't much there that cannot be replaced.

OK, more later. Just want to keep posting. It was interesting, not very educational. A bumper sticker in the schlocky gift shop said "Come see and Believe!". Well I saw and I still do not believe the Creation 'Museum' has any right to call itself a Museum.


  1. Everyone who went seems to comment heavily on how it seems more like a haunted-house/amusement ride than a museum. However, I do have to wonder if this impression wasn't caused at least in part by the large number of people coming through, much larger than the museum normally holds.

    Given the description by both you and by PZ I think not (as PZ makes clear there's a general narrative story that goes in a specific order) but I wonder if on less crowded days one has the time to just look at one part or another for a while.

    At some point I'll have to go with a bunch of friends myself and see what it is like (This should also help answer the question of whether they keep the guard dogs all the time or only had them around for this one day).

  2. It is possible. In the gift shop my wife made a comment to one of the guards about how busy it was. His reply was that weekends were usually like this.

    I plan on commenting on the continuous narrative story they are selling in other posts. My time these past couple of months has been at a premium, and fun things like this blog tend to suffer. I think the 'narrative' suffers from some continuity issues, but I'll address them at other times.

    If you do visit it, I would be interested in your opinions, on more than just the security presence. I agree though, I would be curious if they were there mainly because of the SSA visit.

  3. Can the people behind you in line walk around you if you want to linger at one exhibit longer, or do you need to keep moving along as though on a conveyor belt?

  4. There were very few areas where people could comfortable pass you while you stand and read the text accompanying and exhibit. The majority of it was a narrow passage where pausing too long would cause a traffic jam. Since it was telling a specific story, the progression from exhibit to exhibit was part of the story, so going through at your own pace and in your own sequence would spoil the message. Definitely felt more like a carnival ride than a museum.