National Museum of the Marine Corps

Site/Museum: National Museum of the Marine Corps

 

Pros: Possibly the finest convergence of material culture, interpretation and legitimately awe-inspiring exhibit design to date. This place has it all: a superb collection that tells the story of the Marine Corps from beginning to present, a well thought out design, and exhibits that may leave you with a tear in your eye.

 

Cons Hard to come up with much to legitimately criticize. The discerning historian was impressed.

In Depth: Walking into this museum evokes both the sense of walking into a spacious aircraft hangar and cathedral at the same time. It is both utilitarian and awe-inspiring design and fits the intended use of the structure.

Architecturally speaking, the building which is situated along I-95, is designed to represent the iconic flag raising at Iwo Jima – and this is one of the rare examples of symbolic architecture that doesn’t fail!

The galleries are equally as impressive. Somehow the designers of this museum just blow other museums like it out of the water. They seamlessly blend loads of material culture (i.e. the “stuff” of museums) with great interpretation. The Iwo Jima exhibit may be the finest example of that.

Visitors load onto a virtual land boat with video screens describing the experience and showing a first-person view – and when the doors open to “land” you are presented with an exhibit on the landing, you are greeted by an actual Iwo veteran, and you see one of the flags from the iconic flag raising image. Its the type of exhibit people dream their whole lives about designing – and this museum has several just like it.

I think Ronald Reagan said it best,

Some people spend their whole lives wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.

Both in battle – and yes – the retelling of those stories the Marines certainly don’t have that problem.

Breakdown:

Based on a scale of 5 Lincoln’s

Quality of Resource: 5/5 Lincoln’s

Quality of Interpretation: 5/5 Lincoln’s

Friendliness of Staff: 5/5 Lincoln’s

Value: 5/5 Lincoln’s (Did I mention its FREE?)

OVERALL RATING: 5/5 Lincoln’s.

Final Thought: This may be the best museum in America right now. If you could only visit one museum next year, I think this must be on your short list.

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REVIEW: Middleton Place, Charleston, SC

Site/Museum: Middleton Place, Charleston, S.C.

Pros: Beautiful grounds. If you love gardens, you’ll enjoy visiting. Beautiful architecture. What they have is splendid – no argument there.

Cons: Expensive! General Admission + House Tour = Adult $35, plus additional fees for carriage rides, etc. All in all, you’re looking at nearly $100 per couple.

Another con we can’t overlook was sub-standard customer service. After getting caught in a driving rain we were literally mocked by museum staff, which could be construed as a “one time” incident, but it didn’t sit well with us. It came as especially hard to swallow considering we paid for a carriage ride that was now worthless because of the rain . . . and you guessed it . . . no refunds.

Finally, the interpretation of the site was sporadic and outdated at best.

In Depth: Sugarcoating history at a museum is a shame, but when wrapped up with poor customer service it becomes something much, much worse.

Unfortunately that was the only way to describe the experience of visiting Middleton Place near Charleston, South Carolina this past spring. Despite the good work being done by a few (namely a wonderful wagoner) to tell all of the various stories of plantation life (i.e. you know . . . like, slavery?) we ran into a pervasive “sugarcoating” of the past, as I’ve come to recognize it.

The “Oh, how lovely life was” interpretive model was in full-effect. You know the one . . . “This was the owner’s house. His life was lovely. He was rich. This was his stuff. He was rich . . . oh, and there were slaves.”

Most historic sites have found ways of overcoming this lame one-dimensional interpretation but apparently Middleton didn’t get the memo.

At nearly $100 for a couple to visit with little to offer as far as creative or interesting interpretive programming I’d suggest you spend your time and money elsewhere. This place is a relic of a different era in museums and desperately needs new leadership.

Breakdown:

Based on a scale of 5 Lincoln’s

Quality of Resource: 4/5 Lincoln’s

Quality of Interpretation: 1/5 Lincoln’s

Friendliness of Staff: 2/5 Lincoln’s

Value: 0/5 Lincoln’s

OVERALL RATING: 2/5 Lincoln’s which earns it a place on the do not visit list.

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A Discerning Historian?

I’m an historian at heart, a preservationist by trade and if nothing else, discerning when it comes to my history.

In this blog you’ll read a mix of book reviews, historic site and museum reviews and a running critique of the good, bad and ugly of historic preservation.

This is history as I see it.

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