Saturday, January 02, 2010
Night at the Museum
In "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," Ben Stiller returns as a security guard to the thrills and chills of nightlife at a museum where all manner of things happen while the patrons of the day are asleep.
During my recent volunteer work at Jefferson, Georgia's Crawford W. Long Museum, I have yet to see the displays tracing Doctor Long’s heritage, medical practice, family life and his 1842 discovery of the use of ether for painless surgery come alive in the way they do at the Smithsonian in the movie. Nor have I met the ghost whom some report appears at night: I've been too busy to think much about him even though a conversation would be interesting.
This is the second weekend in a row in which volunteers have assembled to put the finishing touches on a two-year structural restoration and exhibits update project prior to the January 9th re-opening. Last weekend, we worked in the totally re-done Crawford Long gallery in the 1880s brick building as well as on the exhibits in the 1858 general store.
This weekend finds some of us upstairs in the brick building--a former doctor's office and pharmacy--setting up the new history of anesthesia exhibit while others work on the doctor's office exhibit in a late 1800s addition to the store. Last night, rather than sitting around for the real or imagined ghost, we took our dinner break while watching an old Star Trek episode--quote a contrast to see the medicine of the future after erecting signs for anesthesia machines used between 1913 and 1970.
We have more work to do later today and tomorrow. My wife, Lesa, is the project manager and acting museum director, and it's wonderful seeing the details of a two-year puzzle falling neatly into place. I'm there as a garden variety laborer. Having worked as a museum collections manager before, I can appreciate the behind the scenes effort that goes into the research and design of an exhibit that is not only accurate but represents--within budget constraints--current museum and artifact best practices. Few people understand the multiple hours of invisible effort that serve as the foundation for each hour of hands-on work inside the building.
So, I wish I could report that folks from the Jefferson of the 1840s return and have after hours ether frolics while the city sleeps or that I know the name of the ghost who may be looking for something within the old buildings he finds both familiar and oddly changed. When it comes down to it, today's dynamic ghosts are the volunteers, staff, contractors, artisans, craftsmen, researchers, and floor-moppers who, when the ribbon is cut and the doors are re-opened next weekend, will disappear into the background as visitors experience for a moment or an hour the "Birth Place of Anesthesia."
The image above shows the Crosby cachet, one of many used for first day covers when the two-cent famous Americans stamp was issued in April, 1840, honoring Crawford W. Long.