Side trip Tuesday: antique arcade amusements

1_Intro_assorted machines_courtesy Morris Museum

In the early 20th century, all it took was a nickel, or maybe a dime, to bring to life the vending machines, gambling devices and other coin-operated mechanical amusements in “For Amusement Only,” an exhibition on view through October 10 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.

My slide-show about the exhibit first appeared on, but here’s a preview of some fun arcade items from the show:

The Seaside Musicians played several melodies and had wooden cams to provide animation that allowed the musicians’ heads to turn from side to side and their arms to play the musical instruments. A coin would buy about a minute-long performance.

7_Seaside Musicians Automaton

Some machines offered a few minutes of music or entertainment in exchange for a coin, others delivered products such as postage stamps, tobacco, cigarettes and sweets.

The Automatic Chicken clucked and dispensed (from its rear end) either an actual hardboiled egg or an egg-shaped tin with candy or treats.

4_Automatic chicken - late 1890s(Have caption)

Fortune telling machines based on early models such as this one, called “Grandmother Predictions” (circa 1932), can still be found in some modern-day arcades

8_Fortune Teller-

See the full For Amusement Only slide-show here.

(All photos courtesy of the Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey)

Around the world in paper models

Builidng Museum 1

As souvenirs go, paper models are easy to transport, but can sometimes be challenging to put together when you get home.

Anyone who has tried that will appreciate the exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., which features selections from a 4,500-piece collection of architectural paper models representing buildings, cultures, and countries from Austria to Wales.

The collection includes examples of hand-drawn castles, intricate cathedrals with water-colored gardens, and micro-models smaller than a postcard and will be on display through April, 2017.

Some are shown flat; others are copied and constructed in 3-D and after touring the exhibit, visitors will get the chance to build their own models.

All paper models in this exhibition are from the Kemnitzer Paper Model Collection housed at the National Building Museum and represent all 50 states and multiple countries, as well as many imaginary buildings such as farms, forts, villages, skyscrapers, and castles.

Here are some samples:

Buidling museum 3

Building museum stadium

Want to make your own model? Here are links to some downloadable samples, including the National Building Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a suspension bridge.

Museum Monday: Corkscrew collection at the CIA

While attending illy’s intensive University of Coffee at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in St. Helena, Calif. for this story about United Airlines’ coffee brand switch, I was pleased to get a chance to see Brother Timothy’s corkscrew collection.

The CIA’s Greystone campus in California was once the home of the Christian Brothers Winery and winemaker Brother Timothy Diener collected more than 1,000 corkscrews over 50 years. Here are a few snaps.


Corckscrew seahorseCorkscrew horse

Museum Monday: SPAM Museum reopening

If you’re a fan of the tinned meat product known as SPAM – or just enjoy a good offbeat museum – then you have a new reason to plan a trip to southeastern Minnesota: the Spam Museum is set to reopen on April 22, 2016.

Hormel's SPAM MUSEUM reopens April 22 in a new spot in downtown Austin, Minnesota.

The museum is located in Austin, Minnesota – home of SPAM manufacturer Hormel Foods Corporation – and has been closed since September 2014 in preparation for a move from just outside of Austin’s downtown to a spot right in downtown.

One of the new exhibits in the SPAM Museum - opening April 22 in Austin, Minn. Courtesy SPAM Museum

Some new galleries have been created, but Hormel made sure to keep the more popular exhibits, including one exploring Spam’s connection to the military and the production line game where guests can simulate making Spam.

SPAMples, the Spam Museum’s version of free samples, will continue as well.

Why did they move the Spam Museum?

To be neighborly.

Since 2001, the Spam Museum welcomed visitors first from a spot in a local mall and later from a building attached to Hormel corporate headquarters, just off Interstate 90.

But stopping at the museum didn’t require a drive through Austin (population: 25,000), which meant most visitors never ventured into the town’s historic shop and restaurant-filled downtown.

So when it came time for a new and bigger spot for the museum, members of Vision 2020 – a community group working to improve the quality of life in Austin by the year 2020 – urged Hormel to move the museum to Austin’s Main Street.

Hormel agreed. And now finishing touches are being put on the Spam Museum, which has scheduled its soft opening for April 22 and a grand opening in July as part of Hormel’s 125th anniversary celebration.

SPAM production line

Museum/attraction passes: deal or no deal?


Paying museum and attraction admission fees in cities you are visiting can add up. That’s why multi-passes offered by city tourist bureaus and travel websites are attractive.

But as I explain in this recent story for, depending on the city and your touring pace, buying a pass may not always be the right choice:

Marketed as a convenient way for tourists to save money on entrance fees, passes often include appealing extras like local transit passes, priority entrance lines and the option to make return visits to the most popular and scenic sites.

Still, travelers need to do their homework to determine if the deals really offer good value, basing the decision on how long they’ll be in town and what they plan to do while there,” said Arabella Bowen, editor-in-chief of Fodor’s Travel. Otherwise, “you could wind up spending more than you need to.”

For visitors to Italy, for example, Bowen recommends the 48 hour Roma Pass. That option includes unlimited use of buses, trams, metro, free admission to two museums or archaeological sites of your choice, plus discounted entrance to others, all for 28 euros, or about $31.

Separately, admission to the Colosseum/Palatino/Roman Forum and the Capitolini Museum adds up to 27,50 euros, “so visiting two attractions alone pays for the pass,” said Bowen, “At that price, you might as well buy it for the additional benefits of public transit and other discounts — they’re essentially free.”

Lonely Planet’s Alex Howard, destination editor for Western USA and Canada, likes Vancouver’s 160-page City Passport. It sells for 25 Canadian dollars (about $18) and offers over $1,000 in potential savings so pays for itself after only a handful of coupons.

Howard, however, said Las Vegas travelers who use the city’s travel pass should beware.

“Several of the advertised attractions are off the Strip, requiring visitors to hop in a car,” he said, which means more out of pocket costs. “Plus, the High Roller, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum, three of my personal favorite Vegas attractions, are conspicuously absent.”

Don’t ignore those ‘hidden gems’

Museums and attraction passes come in a wide variety of flavors. That means users have to work a bit harder to search for the ones with the most value — and might want to pay closer attention to those ubiquitous coupon books in hotels and airports they frequently ignore.

“Some coupon books are put together by chambers of commerce and are passed out to visitors and inserted into glove boxes in car rentals,” said Scott McMurren, who curates the Alaska Toursaver guide filled with 2-for-1 offers.

Many tourism bureaus craft and sell their own attractions passes, while others work with one or more outside company that specializes in creating bundled passes. In some cases, the coordination between tourist agencies and businesses helps subsidize the cost of the passes for travelers.

For example, Choose Chicago has teamed up with organizations like CityPASS and Go Chicago Card to promote their offerings rather than compete against them, said Melissa Cherry, senior vice president of marketing and cultural tourism for Choose Chicago.

Salt Lake City, on the other hand, has been promoting and selling its own Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass for about 15 years. In Salt Lake, each attraction pays a nominal annual fee to help with operational costs of the program, and receives a reimbursement of approximately 70-80 percent of the ticket window rate on each redemption.

“We looked at Salt Lake and the surrounding area’s most popular attractions, making sure the ones we selected met certain parameters, such as being open year-round and at least six days per week and receiving minimum of 100,000 visitors per year,” said Shawn Stinson, a spokesman for Visit Salt Lake.

“Any profit goes toward operational costs, and from there any remaining funds goes back into the promotion of the pass,” said Stinson.

The Leisure Pass Group, which offers city passes for London, Paris, Berlin and Dublin, includes a good mix of ‘big hitters’ and ‘hidden gems,’ said Amanda Truman, the company’s product marketing director.

In addition to exposure they might not get on their own, attractions automatically get a payment each time a visitor uses a pass for entry. “And the fact that our customers have not physically spent cash to gain entry also often leads to an increased ‘secondary spend’ in the gift shop or cafe,” said Truman.

Launched in 1997, CityPASS offers bundled passes for 12 destinations, including Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City. Attractions don’t pay be to part of the program but do make money on the sale of the CityPASS ticket booklets, and only a limited number of high-draw attractions are included in the pass for each city.

“If you put too many attractions on a pass, visitors feel pressured to race from place to place to maximize the value,” said CityPASS spokeswoman Deborah Wakefield. “Our owners feel that if you limit the number of attractions, visitors can enjoy the attractions at a leisurely pace and still have time to do other things in the city, such as explore neighborhoods, go shopping, take in a Broadway show, et cetera.”

Wakefield said while not everyone uses all the tickets in their CityPASS, most realize “a healthy discount on the admissions.” She urges travelers to study all available passes to make sure they pick a pass that includes the attractions they most want to see.

Go City Cards, currently offered by Smart Destinations in 11 cities, are available in several multi-attraction configurations, including a build-your-own product that lets visitors purchase discounted admissions to only those attractions they’re sure they want to visit.

Those choosing all-inclusive pass options, which tend to be more expensive, should “make sure to make the most of it,” said John Walsh, chief marketing officer for Smart Destinations. “So get up early and carefully plan out your day.”