Pleasures of Small Museums

What is it about small museums that makes them so special?

Now that the official season is over here, Michael and I ventured into Jamestown, New York yesterday with friends to do a little sightseeing before we head back to Florida.

Jamestown is a lovely little city, once a furniture manufacturing capital and now, like many northern cities, hanging on for dear life after the economic downturn. What Jamestown still has are two wonderful small museums. Quite possibly I could title this blog From the Sublime to the Ridiculous. You’ll see why.

Robert Jackson Center PerpetratorsOur first stop was The Robert H. Jackson Center. Among other important positions including both solicitor and attorney generals, Jackson served as a United States Supreme Court Justice from 1941 until 1954.  His final vote before his death in 1954 was the famous Brown Vs. the Board of Education, which ended school segregation. During the period from 1945-46, Justice Jackson was the architect of the international trial process and then the chief prosecutor of the surviving Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, Germany. What an eventful career and life.

The center is housed in a mansion built in the 1860s which was later purchased by the Masons as a Scottish Rite temple, and finally by the center. While Jackson never lived there, he was a Mason and knew the building well. The house itself is both magnificent and pristine, but what interested me most were two exhibits, both about the Nazi prosecutions in Nuremberg. The Perpetrators is a series of lithographs created by the artist Sidney Chafetz, who wanted to portray the men who made Hitler possible.  The second was of the International Tribunal at Nuremberg, a large collection of photographs by Ray D’Addario. We lingered reading all the captions and thinking about what had led these people to commit such horrific deeds. It was both moving and perplexing. Something to ponder for a long time.

vitameatavegaminAs an antidote, our next stop was the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez Museum and Center for Comedy. Jamestown is Lucy’s hometown, and the city honors her and Desi in numerous ways.  In the museum’s own words: “We’re fortunate to have the privilege of preserving their memory and the impact they’ve both had on the world through all of the fun costumes and memorabilia on display awards they were both given, photographs of both their personal and TV lives, and much more!”

And it was fun and lots of it. The museum has set replicas, costumes, videos, and trivia. Again we read every word. Lucy and Ricky were such a delightful part of my childhood. And, of course, getting to film the famous Vitameatavegamin commercial myself was just too silly for words. Had I only known, I would have worn polka dots.

We ended our trip with a visit to a local pizza parlor and finally for one final stop at Barney’s Boxcar in Mayville for Hershey’s ice cream before they close for the winter. A perfect day away. (And a return to my 5-2 diet this morning.)

The small museums I’ve visited in other places have stayed with me through the years. The shipwreck museum on New Zealand’s North island. The Gestapo museum in Cologne, Germany. So many others. Focusing on one subject and studying it in detail rather than whisking past ancient treasures–Egypt here, Babylonians in the next room–appeals to my need to know everything. While that’s a worthy and impossible goal, small museums are still a good place to pursue it.

What small museums are near you? Isn’t it true that sometimes the best treasures are right in our back yards?


Leave a Comment