Are the winter doldrums bringing you down? Do you long for warm summer nights, laying in the grass, gazing into the star-filled sky? That sense of wonder and excitement you feel as you contemplate the moon is indefinable. Or perhaps you miss sunny afternoons on the town, taking in a Reds baseball game, followed by a time-honored dinner at Skyline Chili with Graeter’s ice cream for dessert. Those days may seem far off in the midst of another chilly January, but whether it’s an awe-inspiring look at the moon or a leisurely stroll down the storied streets of Cincinnati that you crave, Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) has exactly what you need.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” ~ Neil Armstrong
The Neil Armstrong Space Exploration Gallery, presented by the Harold C. Schott Foundation, is located in CMC’s Museum of Natural History & Science. The gallery launched in May 2019 and focused primarily on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and Armstrong’s rank as both a national hero and key member of the Cincinnati community (including his time as a trustee at the museum). Upon arrival, guests are invited to view unique artifacts from the Apollo landing, including ‘Bok,’ a rare moon rock; the communications (or ‘Snoopy’) cap and flight jacket that Armstrong wore on the Apollo mission; and a replica of his iconic space suit. The gallery is anchored by the immersive, 360° Galaxy Theater, presented by the Great American Insurance Group. The theater’s featured film combines animation, vintage photography, and sound bites to tell Armstrong’s extraordinary story, from his upbringing in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, to his time as the commander of the Apollo 11 mission.
The gallery also celebrates the 400,000 scientists, engineers and technicians who had a hand in making the Apollo 11 landing a resounding success. Their photographs and biographies are proudly documented throughout the gallery. CMC hopes that their stories will inspire a new generation to consider working in the field of space exploration.
“There is a variety of interesting careers in astronomy,” says Dave Duszynski, president of Mercury Museum Services, a CMC subsidiary. “No matter a person’s background, she or he can have a future in space exploration – whether it’s as an astronaut, an engineer or by doing research. We want people to get excited about the possibility of contributing to the future of space.”
In August 2020, the Armstrong gallery doubled in size when it added three new areas focused on imagination, exploration and protection.
The Imagine area concentrates on the universe as a whole. Gaze into the night sky and learn how to identify the official 88 constellations (or perhaps create your own unique constellations). An overhead screen offers breath-taking images of the sun and other planets in our solar system. Children of all ages are encouraged to walk, run, jump or skip across an interactive gravity floor simulation that adjusts to the mass of any object moving over it. Finally, understand the different phases of the moon through the motions of a lunar replica.
Learn about the future of space travel and discover the scientific and engineering challenges associated with it by visiting the Explore area. Guests can put their coding skills to the test by driving Mars rovers. They can also direct compressed air to create craters (then watch the impact unfold in slow motion) and even design their own missions to the International Space Station, Mars or the Moon.
The Protect area, itself protected by CMC’s beloved polar bear, celebrates the beauty and fragility of the Earth. See how space exploration provides innovative ways to view and track the Earth. The gallery also offers insights on Earth’s life-sustaining conditions, shows how these conditions have changed over the past several decades and explains why it’s so important to take care of our planet.
“We are but a small part in a gigantic universe,” Duszynski explains. “Within that, Earth is a very unique place that needs to be protected and preserved for future generations.”
“The inhabitants of Cincinnati are proud of their city as one of the most interesting in America: and with good reason.” ~ Charles Dickens
“You Are Here” is the newest gallery in CMC’s Cincinnati History Museum. Guests are greeted with an impressive collage of images, from sepia-toned photographs taken decades ago to iPhone selfies snapped within the last year, all representing Cincinnati’s robust diversity.
“Our goal is to highlight all the wonderful things that shaped and defined life in Cincinnati,” Whitney Owens, CMC’s chief learning officer, states. ‘We really want guests to think about what makes a place and the role we all have in making that place special.” The gallery focuses on three key areas: living, working and playing in Cincinnati.
The Living Here sections offers a comprehensive look at life in Cincinnati — both past and present — by examining the unique personalities of the city’s neighborhoods and sharing the traditions and experiences that have shaped the city into what it is today.
“When developing Living Here, we wanted to be as inclusive as possible, which was challenging because history collections from 100 years ago are defined by what the culture at that time thought was worth saving,” Owens explains. “Therefore, a lot of the photographs and objects were predominantly white, male, Christian and straight. There wasn’t a lot of diversity.”
Owens and her team reached out to their strong network of community partners, including the Greater Cincinnati Native American Coalition, the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, the Neighborhood Counsel of the West End, and the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, and asked if they’d be willing to share personal photographs, objects and home movies to help tell Cincinnati’s story. The organizations were eager to participate.
“The section came together in a really beautiful way,” Owens states proudly. “Whether a family has lived here for generations or just moved in last week, the images and objects donated by our amazing partners are not only charming, but a much better representation of all the people who live, and have lived, in Cincinnati.”
Working Here celebrates the job seekers, from entrepreneurs to the working class, who found employment in Cincinnati. The section pays homage to Cincinnati’s unique food industry. Items from several Cincinnati-based restaurants are displayed, including the door to the very first Skyline Chili parlor, which Owens describes as “beautifully evocative.” A time clock interactive lets guests explore various jobs throughout Cincinnati’s history and provides insight on which job a person was allowed to have based on their race, age and gender. Media and telecommunications equipment, including typewriters, fax machines and old cellphones, demonstrate how communication has changed over the decades. An engaging news desk interactive lets guests become ace reporters as they recount prominent news stories from Cincinnati’s history.
Cincinnatians know how to have a good time, and the Playing Here section honors the city’s rich history in sports, the arts and entertainment. The Reds, Bengals, FC Cincinnati, and boxer Ezzard Charles are celebrated with memorabilia, stadium seats and ticket stubs. Guests can let their creativity shine by taking a touchless photograph and adding colors, graphics and icons. The resulting masterpiece will be shared on an interactive mural inspired by ArtWorks Cincinnati. Quizinnati lets guests challenge their friends and family with Cincinnati-based trivia, or they can take a stroll down memory line with a flipbook interactive that shares photos, stories and even smells from Cincinnati’s many parades, festivals and events.
“Everyone has a different experience living in Cincinnati and there is room for all of those experiences,” Owens says. “This is a beautifully diverse region, and there is a richness in the diversity that makes life in Cincinnati worth living.”
Whether you’re looking to learn more about the moon or your own hometown, CMC has made several modifications to ensure guests enjoy a safe and memorable experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks are required at all times, sanitation stations are placed throughout the museum, and interactive portions of the galleries can be downloaded and experienced on your cellphone.
Cincinnati Museum Center is located at 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45203. For more information, call 513.287.7000 or visit cincymuseum.org.