I visited my first museum at the ripe old age of three. My grandfather took me to the Museum of Natural History in my home town of Santa Barbara, where we also regularly visited the Old Mission, the Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the pony rides and the train station (my grandfather worked on a steam locomotive when he young, so we always watched the trains and visited with their crews).
Looking back as an adult, I recognize my grandfather was providing me with a variety of learning experiences, which I credit with helping me develop into an honor student from grammar school through law school. However, at the time, I thought we were just having fun.
My most lasting memory of the Museum of Natural History is of the rattlesnake case. Most of the exhibits were separated into large rooms by category (birds, mammals, fish, geology, etc.), but the rattlesnake stood alone in a glass exhibit case in one of the connecting hallways. He was mostly curled up with his head extended, looking straight at the viewer, with his rattle poised at the end of his long body. On the case was a push-button to make the rattle shake.
The idea was to familiarize visitors with the sound of the rattle for education and safety purposes, since rattlesnakes are native to the area. To a three-year-old, it was the greatest interactive display on the planet (remember, this was the era of black and white televisions sporting rabbit ears).
Every visit, I always made a beeline for the rattlesnake and pushed the button. After that, it was on to the other displays.
These special trips with my grandfather created a lasting bond between us; all the while my child’s brain was absorbing and learning. Probably one of the reasons I am so involved with Museum of the Albemarle — my early childhood conditioning. More importantly, I have vivid memories of our adventures together, memories which are still strong after fifty plus years (yes, I’m showing my age).
My grandfather passed away in 1983, but he will never really be gone, so long as the memories last.
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to visit the Museum of Natural History again. I wandered the halls until I found the rattlesnake — he’s still there and he still shakes his rattle when I push the button. The best part, there was a family standing nearby and the children came running to see the exhibit when they heard the rattle. Even with the existence of video games, the rattlesnake is still “cool!”
We are lucky to have our own museum so close, Museum of the Albemarle, with pirate cannons, a horse-drawn fire engine and the (rumored to be haunted) Jackson House, among its many displays. So, take your kids or your grandkids to MOA and give them a learning head start in this world and make some memories that will last their lifetimes.
Kim Bambaugh is president of the Friends of the Museum at Museum of the Albemarle.