Thursday, February 2, 2017

Frontier Texas Museum, Abilene

In the previous post I was at Fort Phantom Hill, a very laid back, understated place suited to personal introspection. In this post I'm at Frontier Texas, a museum that is pretty much the complete opposite, but definitely in a good way.

Located right in the heart of Abilene, (Population about 120,000) but still easy to find and get to, the museum is a big deal around here

and I was concerned that showing up on a Tuesday morning during school season was a bad idea.

That I might end up trapped in hordes of grade-school field trippers that would grind me up and spit out the tattered remains. But my fears were completely unfounded.

I should have known better after checking out the museum on Google Earth the night before (To make sure I wasn't going to get into a parking-garage situation there in downtown Abilene, a bad thing to do since The Van is nearly 10' high.) and saw that the number of parking lot slots was in the low 10's and not the hundreds I was half expecting. (Because there is limited room it might be best to leave the motorhome behind and arrive in the toad instead.)

At any rate I was greatly relived after following the signs in off of Business 20 and First Street to find the parking lot pretty much empty with not a single one of those dreaded yellow school buses in sight!

In reality, from the Google Earth image the museum looked decidedly small, and perhaps it is in physical size, but believe me, inside it's anything but small in exhibits!! So give yourself plenty of time.

Once you get through the short introductory film, well done and, I suspect, one that will keep the attention of even kids, and leave the Blood and Treasure theater (No, really! That's what it's called.) to enter the museum proper there are plenty of the usual static exhibits

scattered along the way

including this enlarged reproduction of a painting depicting Fort Phantom Hill where I was just yesterday.

But somehow the curators have made even these static exhibits come to life

and deliver with a punch.

Slightly less static are these cylinders mounted throughout the museum alongside relevant static exhibits.

They spin to reveal three times the information a simple plaque

mounted in the same space could, but only if you can keep the kids, of all ages, from spinning the things faster than you can read!

But wait! Things get a whole lot more interactive with the many touch-screens scattered about

that let you drill down through multiple layers of almost overwhelming information.

By touching the Apache tab two photos ago I get here, then can find out even more about them by touching the three tabs in the bottom left. Or I can tap any one of the 'Pluses' there on the screen

and get 'pop-ups' with more intimate details about daily life.

What an ingenious way to maximize exhibits in a relatively small space; at the same time fully engaging the electronic-age kids while seeding their little brains with knowledge.

But the ultimate in engaging flighty minds (Studies show the average attention span of Millennials is about 8 seconds, shorter than that of a goldfish! Literally!!) are these exhibits of actual historical figures. I didn't count how many of these there were scattered about, but there were a lot.

Touching one of these tabs doesn't just bring up another screen of information,

instead, in the mini-theater like space behind the touchscreen a full size hologram of the figure appears and delivers the information in spoken word, as if you are having a conversation,

and not in the flat, 'just the facts' manner of Jack Web on Dragnet, but with full human emotion.

Nope, not an actor (Well technically I suppose it is. . .) but another of the holographic characters describing their lives and times. In this case a man that built a successful freighting operation from pretty much nothing but hard work and a desire to provide for his family.

I didn't get any photos of her, and I can't remember her name now, but watching the woman who was working in her kitchen talk about her life since moving west, including the daughter and string of husbands she lost over the years, was compelling, mesmerizing and heartbreaking all at the same time.

For me it's things like this that breath life into the dry, almost irrelevant textbook facts of a typical school history class. (At least the typical history class of my day.)

If you find real history, personal history, the daily lives of the extraordinarily-ordinary as fascinating and compelling as I do, this is the place for you!

There's one more major exhibit in the museum that I didn't even try to photograph. It's called the Frontier Experience Theater. A theater in the round where you sit right in the middle of the action on stools you can spin in-order to track everything that is going on around you. Things like a stampede, a prairie thunderstorm and a shootout in the Beehive Saloon. But you have to try out the immersive visual and audio experience of that one for yourself to get the full impact.

If you do decide to go to Frontier Texas be sure and stop by a tourist kiosk somewhere first and pick up the pamphlet of coupons for Abilene attractions and business's. (I got mine from the campground.) The $1 coupon from the brochure (The ticket taker at the museum even carefully cut it out for me so I could still use any of the other coupons if I wanted to.) is good in combination with the senior discount so my entry fee was a whole $6.

But in my opinion even the full admission price of $10 is a bargain.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. We didn't have time to go but wish we would have.