by columnist Madeline Karp
Sometimes I find it hard to muster up the enthusiasm to go to natural history museums. Donâ€™t get me wrong â€“ I love natural history museums, and couldnâ€™t wait for the annual school field trip to the NY Museum of Natural History as a kid â€“ but sometimes, they just feel a little old hat.
Yes, I like dinosaur bones as much as the next girl, but the idea of seeing them again can be slightly less than thrilling. Which is why I had put off going to the Penn Museum in Philadelphia for upwards of 6 months.
Back in December, my family tore an article out of the newspaper for me, detailing how the Penn Museum was celebrating its 150th anniversary, and would be hosting curator-led flashlight tours of the mummies exhibit to celebrate.
Mummies? In the dark?? SIGN ME UP.
I recruited my friend Kristen to hold my hand, in case the mummies got extra creepy at night.
We took the tour, sharing a flashlight and giggling nervously at the idea of seeing dried out dead people in a dark room. Despite the fact that the tour was crowded, and it was sometimes hard to hear the guide, we both came out having had a good experience.
- New Perspective
Like I said, sometimes I have a hard time getting enthusiastic about natural history. But having the same content presented a new way was beyond thrilling. With sight limited, my other four senses heightened, forcing me to experience the exhibit in a completely different way.
Bonus: Kristen had actually been to the exhibit in the dark before; as a freshman at Penn, she attended a social mixer in the museumâ€™s mummy hall, complete with DJ, dance floor and anachronistic toga costumes. Suffice it to say, I was more than a little jealous.
- In His Shoes
Iâ€™m all about stepping into history. I find first person, immersive experiences to be extremely informative. So when we were left alone to explore, I rounded a corner and my light beam brushed a sarcophagus. I felt my heart flutter with excitement. â€śThis is totally how Howard Carter felt when he found King Tut, you guys!!â€ť I sang. (No, really. I sang it.) Iâ€™ve read his diaries. Now I feel like Iâ€™ve lived them, if only for a moment.
- Great Date
More than one couple there was on a date. Itâ€™s a totally controlled environment, but something about mummies in the dark is still a little scary. If youâ€™re looking for a date that combines the class of a museum with the fun of a haunted house, look no further.
- Curator Approved
Since the museum curators led the tour, we got the real insiderâ€™s perspective. Curators have favorite objects, they know quirky historical details, and sometimes even have adventurous stories about how they procured the objects themselves.
Iâ€™m actually really excited to return to the Penn Museum to see the mummies again in the daytime. Iâ€™m hoping it will be less crowded and am curious to see how the exhibit may feel different in the light. Will I pick up new details, or will the exhibit revert from magical to mundane? Regardless, the Penn has accomplished something big: Iâ€™m totally pumped to go back to the natural history museum!
Have you ever taken a flashlight tour of a museum? What did you think of it? What other kinds of oddball tours could museums offer to freshen up permanent exhibits? Share your stories with me in the comments!