By Michelle Perras-Charron
Boasting four separate museums, the oldest working planetarium in the United States, and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, the Springfield Museums truly offer something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Whether you've already visited or have never set foot in the Quadrangle Park of museums, you'll want to mark your summer calendar for a road trip to 21 Edwards St., Springfield, because next month a fifth museum will be added to its lineup with the grand opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.
"The science museum is a great destination for families," says Kay Simpson, Springfield Museums executive director. "We always try to have really kid-friendly exhibits on display."
With an exploration center on the lower level that offers hands-on learning stations and live animal demonstration stations, it's easy to see why the science museum is a hit. Add to that life-size dinosaur replicas in Dinosaur Hall, a 290-pound meteorite in Mineral Hall, and fish that walk on land in the Solutia Live Animal Center, and parents have the beginnings of a great day trip. And be sure to catch a show in the Seymour Planetarium while at the science museum.
At the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, parents can bond with their kiddos over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), who have resurfaced for a new generation of children to enjoy. Families can explore a unique exhibit on view until Sept. 3 that compares original TMNT graphic novel art with the art museum's own extensive collection of Japanese arms, armor, and artwork. The exhibit, "Turtle Power! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Samurai Heroes," compares the modern-day samurai turtle heroes to the original samurai of Japan, showcasing ancient samurai artifacts as well as 80 original TMNT illustrations. Fun fact: TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird lived just 20 miles away in Northampton when they issued their first TMNT comic book in 1984.
At the D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts, "Jeweled Objects of Desire" will dazzle parents and children alike. The special exhibit, which runs through the remainder of the year, features the work of jewelry designer Sidney Mobell, who is internationally known for transforming common objects into jeweled pieces of artwork.
"He's taken utilitarian objects and turned them into something fantastically beautiful and interesting," Simpson notes of the special exhibition.
Examples of items on display include a jeweled penny gumball machine, a Monopoly game board, and a golden mailbox with 76.70 carats of precious and semi-precious stones, among many others.
At the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, families can explore some of the amazing products born out of Springfield, including the Automobile Gallery, which features a replica of a Duryea (the first gas-powered car in the United States); the Granville Brothers Aircraft; the Esta Manthos Indian Motorcycle Collection; the Smith & Wesson Gallery of Firearms History; and Hasbro GameLand.
Described as "fun and interactive" by Simpson, GameLand has several interactive stations for children to enjoy. While there, families can also learn about Milton Bradley, who moved to Springfield in 1856 as a failing lithographer. Inside The New Seuss Museum And, finally, there is the grand opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum the first weekend in June (click here for a schedule of events). The official ribbon cutting will take place June 2, says Simpson, with June 3-4 playing host to numerous kid-friendly events, including a parade that will begin on the real Mulberry Street in Springfield and make its way to Quadrangle Park. Released in 1937, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was Dr. Seuss's first children's book -- based on a real street in downtown Springfield -- near where he grew up in the early 1900s.
"We are replicating what we did when we opened the sculpture garden in 2002," Simpson notes of the 30 bronze statues that celebrate the author/illustrator and his characters. "It really will be a very grand celebration."
Parade highlights include the 50-foot-tall The Cat in the Hat balloon, traditionally seen in Springfield's Parade of the Big Balloons the day after Thanksgiving; costumed characters such as Thing 1 and Thing 2; the Springfield High School of Science & Technology Band, the Springfield Thunderbirds; an open top double-decker bus; and "Seussed"-up antique cars, to name a few. It will be a very Seussical day of fun, Simpson says, including hands-on activities for children.
As for the new museum, it promises to be an interesting and interactive look at the early life of Dr. Seuss, with three-dimensional recreations of places seen and frequented by Dr. Seuss as a young boy in Springfield.
Described by Simpson as an "immersive, wrap-around environment," the many murals, 3-D replicas, digital technology, special lighting and even colors on the museum's first floor help to engage museum-goers with a world as seen through the eyes of a young Theodor Geisel.
"The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum explores Ted's childhood in Springfield and what inspired him as a child," she adds.
For example, Geisel's childhood home in Forest Park is recreated, replete with a large, interactive, touch-screen drawing wall for children, Simpson notes, because Geisel was fond of drawing his imaginary creatures on his bedroom walls. Inspiration for these imaginary creatures often came from the Forest Park Zoo, where Geisel's father was the superintendent.
"He would go all the time with his sketchbook and draw his imaginary creatures," Simpson says.
Naturally, one can only imagine Dr. Seuss's, If I Ran the Zoo was eventually born from these outings to Forest Park Zoo.
The Howard Street Armory is also represented at the museum, as this was located across from the Seuss Bakery, which was owned by his mother's family, she adds. While at the museum, families may note the armory's signature turrets and winding staircases, both of which can often be found in Dr. Seuss children's books.
"It's like storybook Springfield: places he knew, but with glimpses of things to come," Simpson adds.
In Readingville, interactive stations allow families to explore the many books written by Dr. Seuss to encourage reading. Here, favorite characters such as the Lorax, Horton, and The Cat in the Hat are represented three dimensionally -- there is even a Seven Hump Wump of Mr. Gump for the kiddos to climb on!
On the second level, parents and older children will enjoy viewing a recreation of Dr. Seuss's studio, which includes original drawings, artwork, his drawing desk, chair, and other furniture from his family home. Unpublished family photographs are also on display.
There is also an educational display detailing the creation of the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. The bronze sculptures were made by Dr. Seuss's step-daughter, Lark, Simpson says. Coupled with the fun and zaniness of the lower level, the new museum holds a space for all ages to enjoy.
"Dr. Seuss is multi-generational," she adds. "Kids just identify with the characters from the books that they love. And the parents are reading the books that they loved to read as a kid."
For more information about the Springfield Museums, including opening weekend of the new Dr. Seuss museum, visit springfieldmuseums.org.