Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Giving the Henry Ford Museum Its Due

It was hard to believe that the price of gas edged down in the days before the Memorial Day weekend. When has that ever happened before? By the time I wanted to buy more than I usually do so that we could drive several hundred miles, which was over Memorial Day weekend, I paid less than $3/gal. here at home and less than $2.60/gal. closer to our destination of Dearborn, Michigan. It was the automotive equivalent of a fair wind at our backs, though I guess that wind would have a faint gasoline odor to it. By the time we returned to northern Illinois, we'd put about 780 miles behind us.

Not an epic journey, but long enough. What did we see for our trouble? Among other things, an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. Note that daughter #1 and #2 are positioned under the weinermobile's upraised stern, though I didn't plan it that way.

That's a 1952 model. It's one of many, many items found at the enormous Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and the adjacent open-air museum, the vast Greenfield Village. The weinermobile may be the museum's most photographed item. As one of the more lighthearted items, it may also be part of the reason the museum doesn't get its due.

It's only my impression from reading about the Henry Ford and talking to our Model T driver at Greenfield Village (more about which later), but for a museum with a collection of such astonishing breadth and depth and quality, it isn't widely appreciated or even known. Maybe some of notion of Henry-Ford-as-eccentric sticks to it: that Ford, he went around collecting cars and machines and stuff, and tucked them away in his own museum. Got some buildings too. He went all the way to New Jersey for Edison's lab, you know. What a rich goof. Why couldn't he build an art museum on the East Coast like a normal ultrawealthy person?

Also, the museum implicitly and sometimes explicitly touts the glories of material progress. Because human beings stubbornly remain human beings despite all our machines, greater theoreticians than me have determined material progress to be an illusion, and a lot of people have quaffed that notion like Kool-Aid on a hot day in South America.

The museum's location is probably another factor. It seems reasonable to me that Ford would build a museum in Dearborn. But for the purposes of guidebooks and such, that makes the place a regional, not national, attraction. If you happen to be near Detroit -- and why would you be? -- check out all the cars and machines and stuff that Henry Ford squirreled away. That is to say, East- (and West-) Coast provincialism is a factor.

I've wanted to visit for years, and was not disappointed. My takeaway from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is that it's a national treasure. Anyone with any interest in this nation of ours should visit sometime.

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At 6:32 AM, Blogger unmitigated me said...

Glad you enjoyed yourself! I work there, and I agree with your assessment. For some reason, people can't imagine the midwest as a place with something so original and such a treasure. Thanks for spreading the word!


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