When Did The Henry Ford Get to Be So Awesome?

August 1, 2012

I’m taking a mini-vacation. I’ve taken Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off this week. Tomorrow and Friday, I’ll be packing, sorting, and cleaning. (Yes, I’m counting down the days until I move. I turned in my 30-days’ notice with my rent check this morning. Pretty sure that will come as a surprise. The letter, of course, not the rent check.)

Today, however, my parents and I took a road trip to The Henry Ford Museum to see the touring Titanic artifacts exhibit. On the drive over, we were all trying to remember the last time we’d been. I know the last time I went to The Henry Ford was when I was in the fifth grade. (And, yes, The Henry Ford isn’t a typo. Just check their website. <eyeroll>) I’m not sure if Parchment still does this, but they used to send all of the fifth grade classes to Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum for an overnight trip at the end of the school year. It was a way for the elementary schools to start to mix before being thrown together in middle school. The last time my dad went to The Henry Ford was when he chaperoned my brother’s field trip. My mom is pretty sure she was still living with her parents, so maybe when she was in high school. (Grandpa worked for Ford. Yes, the museum has been around that long. Not that my mom is old.) We discussed the things we wanted to see before our tour through the Titanic exhibit. We all remembered the place the same way. Dark. With row after row of, well, stuff.

I wanted to see the Lincoln chair again. And we all wanted to see the Douglas Drive-In sign because it used to be down the street from where I grew up and my parents still live. We all also wanted to see the Wright flyer. But the reason we were going was to see the Titanic exhibit.

But you know what? The Henry Ford has changed since I was ten. It’s not this big dark room with row after row of stuff. You can get eye level with the Wright flyer these days. You can make paper airplanes and test their aerodynamics in a wind tunnel. Everything is well lit. And there were things I didn’t remember, or perhaps didn’t care about, from when I was ten. Honestly, one of the coolest things about it was going through the agricultural equipment with my dad. He was pointing out the types of machines they had on the farm when he was growing up, including these hand tools that they used for husking corn when clearing the fields at the change of seasons. These primitive, dangerous looking things, and my dad and my grandpa were still using them in the late ’50s!

And they’ve acknowledged the existence of foreign cars. They even point out that in the ’80s, Japanese makes got better mileage and started to take over the market from American models. Now that’s something that would never have happened when Ford was still around! They acknowledge Ford’s flops, too. I got a picture of my mom posing in front of the Edsel. (My grandma drove one of those.)

I remember the Lincoln chair being in a rather dark corner, but now it’s part of this massive exhibit on the expansion of civil rights starting from the beginning of American history (or at least English-American history). I was in heaven. An original copy of “Common Sense”! An original copy of the 14th Amendment! And Lincoln’s chair, lit well enough that you can see the blood stains. It is an amazing exhibit. It is heart-wrenching. It is uplifting. It is worth every penny of admission. In the section on women’s rights, there were cards that women proudly carried to show that they were not for women’s suffrage. In the section on the Civil Rights Movement, there’s a KKK outfit looming at you.

As for the Titanic exhibit? I’m not sure I can find the words to properly describe it. I do know that I did not expect to cry as much as I did while walking through it. There are quotes on the walls from passengers and crew. “For the love of God, go now!” It makes me cry just remembering it. It’s so easy to think of the Titanic on a, well titanic scale. To think of it simply in terms of numbers. This exhibit breaks that wall. It puts names to every single one of those people. At the end, it lists everyone who survived and everyone who died. In between, it tells their stories. Many of them are stories of very ordinary people who simply wanted to come to America and start a new life. One of the most chilling was one who was supposed to travel on a later vessel, but due to a coal strike, he wound up on the Titanic. This meant he missed seeing a friend from out of the country by a week. In a letter he wrote that he would be happier of the Titanic were lying on the sand at the bottom of the sea. He was one of those who did not survive.

If you see this exhibit is coming to a museum anywhere near you (we went 150 miles to see it), do yourself a favor. Go. And if you’ve already seen it? You know what I’m talking about.

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