The New American Museum – Historic Auto Attractions

Before his circus days, PT Barnum created the American Museum in 1842.  Showcasing the marvels of nature and art, the museum burned down twice, encouraging its founder to find another outlet for his showmanship.  While visiting the Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, IL, I felt an immediate link between the two museums.  

Located in an industrial park, the museum is actually easy to miss.  The red sign helps; you definitely need to keep your eyes peeled.

Historic Auto Attractions Sign

Historic Auto Attractions Sign

Historic Auto Museum

Historic Auto Museum

Since I wasn’t sure about the photography policy, I don’t have any indoor shots.  I’ll share some brochure pictures below.  

The actual collection is much vaster than the name implies.  You will find automobiles, movie star memorabilia, White House furniture, television show sets and props, fashion, including original Oleg Cassini gowns, and country music memorabilia.  You can trace 19th and 20th century social and cultural history in this one space.  

The museum is organized as a spiral, which maximizes the display areas and removes the warehouse feel.  You begin with gangster cars.  Ten feet from one another are John Dillinger’s luxury bank robbing car and Bonnie & Clyde’s sad, small death car.  While books describe the gulf between the two sets of Depression-era criminals, seeing their cars resonates more deeply.

For fashionistas or decorative arts aficionados, the displays allow you to closely view the artifacts and to appreciate the craftsmanship involved.  I wish the museum would rename itself because the collection is so much broader than the name implies.

Auto Attractions Brochure

Auto Attractions Brochure

Auto Attractions Brochure II

Auto Attractions Brochure II

Dismissing the museum as a pop culture collection is a mistake.  Yes, there are some misspellings on labels, and some of the wax figures are a bit scary.  HOWEVER, the collection is impeccably maintained.  The space is spotless.  I have never been in such a clean, well-maintained museum space.  Authentication and donor letters are also displayed along side some of the objects – giving you a behind the scenes peek at how museums acquire objects.  Some letters included thank you notes for acquiring and sharing the objects.  

Historic Auto Attractions is a fun museum that will appeal to everyone in a family.  Fashion and decorative arts historians will also find treasures for their research.  Tin sign collectors will enjoy the gift shop.  Museum professionals will also find a space that challenges their truisms and believes in sharing its collection with the public.

Strings Attached at the Columbus Art Museum

Back in spring 2013, I spoke at the Business History Conference in Columbus, OH.  Of course, I investigated the local museums and was thrilled to find out about an exhibition of Czech puppets at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Puppet theatre was a way for Czechs to express their culture and traditions while under the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.  Puppeteers could travel from town to town, sharing folk tales and traditions.  In the 20th century, puppetry evolved into animation, inspiring filmmakers like Tim Burton.

The Arts and Theatre Institute in Prague created an exhibition incorporating different types of 19th and 20th century puppets:  Strings Attached – The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets.  Columbus was the only US stop, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the exhibition.  

Classic Puppets

Classic Puppets

The puppets were used to enact classic tales from Shakespeare, the Bible, or universal folk tales like Pinocchio.

Grotesque Puppets

Grotesque Puppets

Surreal or grotesque puppets explored the fantastic aspects of Czech culture, also seen in Kafka’s writings and other art forms.

Devil Puppet

Devil Puppet

A number of devil puppets were also on display.  Remember these are devils with the small “d”, not the Biblical Devil with a capital “D”.  The pictures can’t show the detailed craftsmanship and vibrant colors in the original puppets.  The faces were incredibly evocative.  In the hands of a master puppeteer, the movements must be equally compelling.    

As to the Museum itself, I am a fan of local art museums.  The Columbus Museum of Art was surprisingly small, given Columbus’ size.  The collection is a mini-version of a large city art museum:  some Europeans, some Americans, a few Old Masters, and some photography.  The special exhibitions are the real value of the Museum, ranging from artist retrospectives to provocative themes like “In _____ We Trust, Art & Money.”  

If you are in Columbus and have one or two hours for culture, check the exhibition schedule.  The museum is located in the heart of downtown but can be tricky to find.  My cab driver had some difficulties, which is why I always travel with a map and directions.  You will have to walk a couple of blocks back to a main street to grab a cab back to your hotel. 

Summer of Museums and Wright

Yes, I know.  It’s been forever.  I was busy with school and taking care of the Big Guy in his final days.  His determined spirit is an inspiration for us all.  

Preston Working for Treats

Now we press forward with some traveling and museum/historic site visits.  Over the next few months, you can look forward to trips to Columbus, OH, Tombstone, AZ, Racine, WI, Cedar Rapids, IA, St. Paul, MN, Rockford, IL, and Roscoe, IL.  Milwaukee, WI and Springfield, IL may also pop up.  Depends on the crazy level at work and the awesomeness level of the Chicago Bears.  

In the meantime, you can enjoy a sneak preview at my Pinterest board.