10 Things I Learned at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

May 2, 2014


I have something of a love-hate relationship with museums.

Well, maybe not exactly love-hate.


You see, I love visiting museums because I love learning random tidbits about history or science or celery or Jello.

But I can really only take about an hour of museum-going before I’m tired and cranky and hungry and distracted by something sparkly.

What can I say? I’m basically a three-year-old in a thirty-eight-year-old body.

When going to museums, I try to stick to really small museums or free museums. That way I can either get through the whole lot pretty quickly or I can leave after an hour without feeling like I wasted my money.

So it was kind of by accident that I visited the Grand Rapids Public Museum this past Tuesday.

My plan was to go to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which is free on Tuesdays. Then I was going to bum around town for a while before heading to Founder’s Brewery to drink beer. But almost all of the exhibits at the art museum were closed due to construction, so it took me all of twenty minutes to get through. When I was finished, it was too rainy to bum around town and too early to just go drink beer.

So I ended up at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is neither free nor particularly small. In fact, the museum is three floors high and, according to my rough count, has something like fifty kajillion exhibits.

Upon purchasing my ticket, I asked for some advice on how to go about tackling the monstrous museum. The attendant behind the counter suggested I start at the third floor and work my way down through all the exhibits because apparently I look like some kind of super-human person.

I really didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but I did a much better job than I expected.

I spent over two hours in the museum.

I visited almost all of the exhibits.

I didn’t hurt anyone in the process.

And I learned a lot.

Okay, maybe learned is not the right word.

Let’s just say, I looked at a lot of things and took a lot of pictures. But I can’t really say I read a lot of signs because THREE FLOORS OF EXHIBITS, YOU GUYS.

Luckily, I have a pretty good imagination, so when I got tired of reading signs, I just tried to imagine what all the exhibits were about. Which is almost like learning things. Except maybe not.

10 Things I Learned at the Grand Rapids Public Museum (And by “learned” I mean “totally made up.” I’ll just go ahead and apologize now.)

1. Michigan really likes fossils. Also, wolverines are jerks.
The first exhibit I stopped by was all about Michigan.

Seeing as it was my very first exhibit and I wasn’t tired and cranky and hungry yet, I read almost all the signs and learned quite a bit about my new home state.



Like, I learned that Michigan not only has a state fossil, it also has a state stone that is actually a fossil. Which is kind of like two state fossils for the price of one. Cool, huh?


Hint: it’s a Petoskey stone. I know because I actually read the sign this time.

Also, despite being called “the wolverine state,” Michigan has very few wolverines these days. Which is probably a good thing as according to the signs I read, wolverines are pretty much jerkholes.


A wolverine. Being a typical wolverine jerkhole.

2. I am really super duper old.
Here’s something that you don’t necessarily want to see in a museum case: the toys that you used to play with as a kid.

Behold! Artifacts of my youth!

If Michigan is looking for another state fossil, maybe I could volunteer? Because, apparently, I’m as old as dirt.

Or as old as Post-it Notes and ATM machines. Which is pretty darn old.


3. If you stand in front of a stuffed moose and hold your camera at the right angle, you can make it look as if you have antlers coming out of your head.


And, you’re welcome.
4. When not underwater, clams like to hang out in fireplaces.


This one came as a definite surprise to me.

I always pictured clams to be more the furnace-loving type.

5. I suck at Legos.
I used to think I was fairly decent at Legos. I mean, I’ve made a few Lego houses in my day. And I always do the thing where you stagger the Legos so the walls don’t fall down.

And then I came across this exhibit of famous buildings made out of Legos:


These are made from Legos. LEGOS!

And, yeah, I suck.

6. But that’s okay because I rock at guessing Civil War camp smells.
My sadness over my grossly inadequate Lego skills was soon lessened when I learned that I am surprisingly good at guessing Civil War camp smells.

You see, there was this Civil War exhibit, and one of the things on display was this barrel.


Along the perimeter of the barrel were these holes that you could smell and then you could guess which hole corresponded with which Civil War camp smell. I managed to guess all the smells correctly! Despite having no idea what salt pork is!

I know, right? This skill is going to come in handy SO MUCH! I mean, how many times have you been hanging out at a Civil War camp, thinking, “What is that I smell? Whiskey? Coffee? Gun powder? Cigars? If only there was someone around here who knew!”

I expect to be pretty much the most popular girl at Civil War camp this summer.

7. Armadillo purses exist. And I need one.


See? Isn’t it adorable? Although, I wonder if it comes in purple?

Also, that button coat is pretty groovy.

8. Just say no. To Starbucks.
In one of the displays, there was this great collection of vintage cautionary books for kids about drug use. There were books on the dangers of opiates, marijuana and crack.


And caffeine.

Because basically the same thing, right?


I especially love the judgy, disappointed expressions on the cartoon kids’ faces. Like, “Oh, God, Mr. Smith is at it again with his nasty coffee habit. Gah! It smells like a Civil War camp up in here.”

9. A Dilophosaurus  once guarded the streets of old Grand Rapids.

True story.

Now, them were the good old days, amirite?
10. Dolls are alive. And they’re hungry. FOR YOUR FACE.


The last exhibit I visited was this one on old dolls.

Honestly, I can’t really think of anything more frightening than an entire exhibit of old dolls. In fact, as soon as I saw the sign, I was terrified.

Wait. What do you mean they "live" here?

Wait. What do you mean they “live” here?

But by then I’d been in the museum for a good two and a half hours and was hungry and tired and  seriously in need of a beer, and I was not making the best judgment calls, so I figured I’d check out one more exhibit because what’s the worst that could happen and OMIGOD THAT DOLL IS TRYING TO HYPNOTIZE ME WITH ITS EYES SO IT CAN EAT MY FACE OFF.


Look away! LOOK AWAY!

And that’s when I knew it was time to leave and go drink beer until the beer erased all images of face-eating dolls from my head.

Sadly, the beer didn’t erase the images of the face-eating dolls from my camera.

Come closer. Your face looks DELICIOUS.

Come closer. Your face looks DELICIOUS.

I think I’m going to need more beer.

A LOT more beer.

What’s your relationship with museums? Do you love them? Hate   them? Love them, but can’t spend more than an hour in them before you get tired and hungry and scared old timey dolls are going to eat your face off? (This is totally a rational response, by the way.)

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On May 2, 2014 at 9:42 am Daina said:

    Fantastic post! I’ll have to try the antler selfie next time I’m there! Living in the DC area, I’ve been spoiled by all the free Smithsonian museums, and I tend to grumble when I encounter a museum that has an entrance fee. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the GR museum. I’ve been there twice now, but my visits are enhanced by my young niece and nephew – being with little kids means riding the carousel is obligatory! 🙂
    Daina recently posted..A Spectacular Spring Day in the DMV with Mom

    • On May 3, 2014 at 10:12 am Sally said:

      I lived in DC for 2 years, and loved being able to pop in and out of museums any old time because, hey, no entrance fees! If you’re back in Michigan, I suggest checking out the Kalamazoo museum — it’s not nearly as big as the Grand Rapids Museum. But it’s free and has tons of great stuff for kids… and a fascinating exhibit on celery (no! really! fascinating!).

  2. On May 2, 2014 at 10:33 am Hata Trbonja said:

    OMG! I love museums! I would love to work in a history or science museum one day. The Field museum of Chicago is at the top of my list. I am getting super geeky excited thinking about this right now.
    And the Chicago History Museum is awesome. They had an exhibit on what the city used to smell like on an average day and what perfumes women used to wear to mask the smell.
    I am so happy to talk about museums!!!!
    I need to sit down. I think I wore myself out.
    Hata Trbonja recently posted..Return To The Market

    • On May 3, 2014 at 10:11 am Sally said:

      That smell exhibit sounds amazing. And now that I learned I’m surprisingly good at old-timey scent-detection, I really want to check it out!

  3. On May 2, 2014 at 11:46 am Anika said:

    Is that Armadillo purse made of a real, (formerly) live Armadillo? Or a really good fake? Please, say it is fake… or I’m going to cry… ):

  4. On May 2, 2014 at 12:11 pm Ailsa Ross said:

    Antler selfies about to start trending on Twitter in 3,2,1… you trendsetter, you!
    Ailsa Ross recently posted..Why Pigeons Make Travel Amazing

    • On May 3, 2014 at 10:09 am Sally said:

      Totally! I suspect there will also be #hornselfie (for when you pose in front of a stuffed bull), #trunkselfie (for when you pose in front of a stuffed elephant) and #wattleselfie (for when you pose in front of stuffed turkey… this could happen).

  5. On May 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm Fanny said:

    Haha those kids books are quite something! I was just having a giant and delicious cappuccino while reading it yummie!

  6. On May 2, 2014 at 2:26 pm Briona said:

    I’m with you on museums! I go because I think I should (or it’s raining and there’s nothing else to do!), and then having walked around for what feels like hours, I check the time and see it’s been 20 mins! So I force myself to wander around a bit more, check the time again and see I have clocked up another ten mins. Once I’ve been there for an hour, I allow myself time off for good behaviour. Oh, and I usually reward myself with tea and cake for having done some cultural!

  7. On May 2, 2014 at 6:00 pm Isabelle said:

    I love museums but I need to go by myself (so I can visit at the speed I want)and go early (so that’s it’s empty!). I hate having to drag someone around or having to stay longer when all I want to do is leave!!! If I go early, I feel like I own the museum and I love it!
    I don’t know why but I usually find the lighting very hard to deal with which is why I often end up with a headache… But yeah, I love museums!

    • On May 3, 2014 at 10:02 am Sally said:

      I’m definitely all about going to the museum on my own. If I go with other people, I’m either much faster than them or get engrossed in some weird display (possibly about celery) and am super far behind. I also really like going to museums on weekdays which are usually much quieter than weekends — although this sometimes means school groups (shudder).

  8. On May 2, 2014 at 10:18 pm Priya said:

    I actually brought a Rubik’s Cube with me to OZ. I told myself I was going to figure out how do it on this trip. Haven’t done it yet. Since I was a kid, I can only do one side. It’s sad.
    Priya recently posted..Friends and Unfriends #travel

  9. On May 3, 2014 at 12:11 am mzuri said:

    I stayed in a hotel room with Chucky once. Yes, *that* Chucky. He was face down on top of a television. My friend and I didn’t want to touch him. We left him alone.
    mzuri recently posted..Louisiana: The Dance Bag

  10. On May 3, 2014 at 12:52 am Ross said:

    Now I have to look up what wolverines do. Either that or visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Uh, I think I’ll just look it up.
    Ross recently posted..Sand in Black & White

  11. On May 3, 2014 at 3:19 am The Spain Scoop said:

    Really funny! I’m giggling here with my coffee! And dolls are super frightening !

  12. On May 3, 2014 at 9:26 am Bruce said:

    Okay – so I was born and raised in GR and your article caught my eye. Great take on the museum. And what were you doing in GR anyway?

  13. On May 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm kathi said:

    I laughed at loud several times with this post, but my greatest excitement is learning someone else shares my limited museum tolerance. I finally feel safe in confessing that I went to the Getty Museum (out here in L.A.) for my birthday, and was able to get my (ridiculously expensive, $15) parking fee refunded because I was there for under an hour. I also find dolls terrifying, so if you’re ever in L.A., and want to run through a museum and then go drink beer, I’m your gal!

  14. On May 7, 2014 at 11:48 am Karlene said:

    I have just returned from 15 days in Italy. Some days I felt like… seen one ruin, seen them all. I also realized after hours in the Uffizi Gallery those lovely couches that I thought people used to sit and ponder the true meaning or the inspiration of art is really a resting stop because your feet will not go another step. Your blog made me smile!

    • On May 7, 2014 at 8:43 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha. I felt the same way while viewing temples in Japan. I thought people were sitting there serenely staring at the rock gardens so they could find their inner zen. But then after I spent a day being forced to temple after temple with a group of Japanese teachers, I realized there was a good reason everyone was staring at rocks — they were too tired to do anything else!

  15. On May 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm Pauline said:

    I don’t LOVE museum nor do I hate it… I guess, I just like it. That said, I wouldn’t put museums in my itinerary when I go on trips, unless it has some crazy significant thing, like the Mona Lisa (which was overrated, by the way =\). Anyways, I did go into Chichuly Garden and Glass in Seattle this past weekend and I thought that was amazing!!
    Pauline recently posted..Tips & Tricks on Visiting Chicago

    • On May 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm Sally said:

      I’ve been to some Chichuly exhibits and they’re so much fun. I can imagine the museum is fantastic. Putting it on the list of places I need to go!

  16. On May 7, 2014 at 6:41 pm Lily said:

    I basically grew up at this museum and guess what-I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the majority of the signs and plaque’s there. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is on the smaller side compared to museums in bigger cities, but it is PACKED with interested information and amazing exhibits. Every time I visit I see little kids experiencing animals, artifacts, and culture for the first time. It is truly magical and this museum will always be in my heart as my childhood.

    • On May 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm Sally said:

      Really? I thought the museum was quite large — even compared to a lot of museums in bigger cities I’ve been to. It’s definitely bigger than the science and history museums in Buffalo. In fact, I thought it was on par with the science museum in Toronto. But, it’s been a while since I’ve been there and, as mentioned, I don’t really pay that much attention while at museums!

  17. On May 8, 2014 at 11:24 am Sam Self said:

    Bleedin’ hilarious post! I laughed out loud several times and had to explain what I doing. Er, research?! I said. Honest. I work in museums. It’s research. Kinda! Anyway your post had me in stitches especially and dolls. Urgh! Dolls! I hate them. Creepy face eating critters!!

  18. On May 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm Leah said:

    This post is hysterical!

  19. On May 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm Ceri said:

    I actually don’t mind museums but it does depend on what *kind* of museum it is. I walk around in a confused daze in modern art museums (the ignoramus I am) but most others are fine.

    Can we talk about why you didn’t buy that button coat? OMG.

    And civil war camp smells? Hahahahaaa. Pray tell, what kind of smells to expect should another civil war break out? 😀
    Ceri recently posted..When Teachers Beat Their Students

    • On May 26, 2014 at 9:40 am Sally said:

      Apparently, Civil Wars are all about food, alcohol and smoking. It’s a good thing I’m an expert in the first two categories. I think that’s what helped me identify all the scents correctly.
      And, as for modern art museums, I actually really enjoy them. I suggest not reading the signs and just walking around and making up your own story for the art. It’s much more funner that way. And faster. 🙂


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