Posts in the category "Museums":

Vintage Volkswagens displayed at LeMay – ACM

1963 Beetle Herbie_Courtesy_LeMay-America's Car Museum

“Herbie the Love Bug” – made from a 1963 VW Beetle. Courtesy LeMay-America’s Car Museum

At one of the world’s largest and newest car museums, the Corvettes have been cleared out to make way for vintage Volkswagens.

“The irony was not lost on us of that some great cars with big engines were going out so that we could bring in the little Bugs,” said Renee Crist, collection manager at LeMay—America’s Car Museum, in Tacoma, Wash.

The museum, which opened in 2012, can display up to 350 cars at a time. It draws its rotating exhibits from private owners, corporations and the LeMay Collection, which in the mid-’90s had amassed a Guinness record of more than 3,500 vehicles.

The museum’s newest exhibit, “VeeDub—Bohemian Beauties,” includes 25 unique Volkswagens, including rare early Beetles, a 1966 Westphalia Full Camper and a Thing.

The show, which includes Volkswagen buses, dune buggies, kit cars, and Formula Vee racers, will likely bring back fond memories for several generations of Americans. It also celebrates “a car brand that has defined a culture of customization and entrepreneurship,” said museum President and CEO David Madeira.

The exhibit does not gloss over the fact that the original concept for what became the Volkswagen Beetle can be traced to Nazi Germany.

“But we also talk about what the vision of that car was—economical transportation for the masses,” said museum chief curator Scot Keller. “That’s also a theme we tell elsewhere at the museum that dates back to Henry Ford’s vision for the Model T. Germany intended to do the same thing with the car that became the Beetle, although the Beetle we know today is obviously post-World War II,” he said.

KdF Wagen_Sean Maynard_Volkswagen of America

Kdf Wagen – courtesy Sean Maynard/Volkswagen of America

Volkswagen of America contributed several cars to the exhibit, including a fully restored KdF-Wagen from 1943 that is the eighth-oldest Beetle known to exist in the world. The company also contributed an ornate Wedding Car model inspired by a converted wrought iron-bodied Beetle created in Mexico in the 1960s. The company also loaned a Panel Delivery Type 2.

Wedding Car Beetle_6_credit_   Sean Maynard_ Volkswagen of America, Inc.

Wedding Car – courtesy Sean Maynard_ Volkswagen of America, Inc.

The three vehicles loaned by VW of America for the show are worth a worth a combined $400,000.

Other cars on loan for the exhibition are unique in their own ways and come with a personal story that underscores what the museum describes as “America’s love affair with the automobile.”

Dave Barrett’s family bought a 1963 VW beetle six years ago when their son, Joey, a “Herbie the Love Bug” film fan, was 6 years old. “We decided it would be great fun to have our own Herbie, and we had a good time as father and son fixing some things here and truly making him our own,” said Barrett. The pair take their recreated Herbie to car shows. Barrett said just driving around town is an adventure “as drivers’ eyes light up when they recognize the little car.”

1978 VW Superbeetle - Courtesy Brenda Patnode

Courtesy Brenda Patnode


The red 1978 Karmann Super Beetle convertible that Brenda Patnode and her husband loaned for the exhibition is the one they bought shortly before they got married in 1983. The military couple went to extreme lengths to take the car with them to duty stations in Puerto Rico, San Diego and Washington, D.C. After settling in Lacy, Wash., they had “Miss VW” completely restored in 2002.

“She was a daily driver until 2010, and then we decided to drive her only on nice days, and keep her warm and dry in our garage,” said Patnode. “I didn’t think it was possible to have such a deep love for a car, but then again, she is not just a car; she is a piece of us.”

VeeDub –Bohemian Beauties” will be at LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma through April 5. After the vintage Volkswagens are returned to their owners, the museum will make way for an exhibit of Mustangs.

(My story about the exhibit of Vintage Volkswagens first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

New worries over fate of the Spruce Goose

Spruce Goose from outside

Spruce Goose as seen from outside the museum – Courtesy Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum


In McMinnville, Ore., the financial troubles of a private aviation services company are causing big headaches for the museum that is home to Howard Hughes’ H-4 Hercules, the flying boat better known as the Spruce Goose.

On Dec. 31, Evergreen International Airlines, a subsidiary of troubled Evergreen International Aviation, filed a petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The possible demise of the cargo carrier has tourists, aviation buffs and many in the museum world concerned about the fate of the affiliated Evergreen Air & Space Museum.

In Oregon’s wine country, about 40 miles southwest of Portland, the museum welcomes about 150,000 visitors a year. The collection includes everything from a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird to a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

But the centerpiece of the collection is undoubtedly the original Spruce Goose.

Built primarily of lightweight birch because of World War II restrictions on metals, the airplane has the world’s largest wingspan (320 feet) and made its only flight—of less than a mile—on Nov. 2, 1947, with Hughes himself at the controls. It then was put in storage.

During the 1980s, the craft was displayed under a dome in Long Beach, Calif., next to the Queen Mary cruise ship. Disney briefly managed that money-losing complex. In the early 1990s, however, the Spruce Goose was shipped to Oregon in pieces and reassembled inside a new building at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Although an Oregon Department of Justice investigation is underway into possible inappropriate commingling of company and museum funds, officials at the museum have issued statements reassuring the public that the artifacts, especially the Spruce Goose, are safe; that the museum is an independent, financially stable nonprofit; and that, with its adjacent aviation-themed water park, it remains open for business.

Still, “there has been some confusion,” said Judiaann Woo, director of global communication at Travel Oregon.

“People just hear a bit of the story and think, ‘Oh, that’s closed. Let’s go somewhere else,’ ” she said. “But this is a major attraction that people from all over the world come to see, so we want to make sure the public knows it’s still there.”

Others in the aviation and museum world feel the same way.

Spruce Goose and others inside the museum

Spruce Goose inside the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum.


“This is the museum that stepped up to save the Spruce Goose at a time when one of the possibilities was for it to be cut up and pieces of it sent all over the world,” said James Kidrick, president and CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

He considers a visit to the Spruce Goose to be “one of those boxes you’d want to check off if you have an interest in science, space, aviation and things that made this nation great,” he said. He hopes the museum does not suffer too much negative fallout from the financial woes of Evergreen International Aviation.

If it does, it won’t be the first—or the last—museum to stumble.

“We do hear of museums having difficulty, and many small museums have closed throughout the years,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums. “But rarely is it one with a major collection like the one in McMinnville.”

But it does happen. In December, financial problems forced the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., to close after 83 years of operation. It housed one of the world’s important collections of arms and armor.

Most of its treasures are being transferred to the Worcester Art Museum and will remain accessible to the public, but “the concern we have when a museum is in financial trouble is for the collection,” Bell said. “We don’t want collections to disappear and become inaccessible to the public.”

And most communities don’t want a local museum to close its doors.

“Museums are tremendously important economic engines for their communities,” Bell said. “So in the case of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in Oregon, I would encourage people to go visit it now and hope that they figure out a way to make sure it remains viable.”

(My story about the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Museum Monday: aluminum Christmas Trees


Heading to Wisconsin this holiday season?

If you are, be sure to stop by the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison to see the largest exhibit of silver, pink, gold and green Evergleam aluminum Christmas trees.

Created by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, WI, in partnership with a company that had patented some of the design elements such as paper tube for storing branches, more than a million Evergleam trees were sold during the 1960s.

According to the museum:

Aluminum trees quickly found their place in contemporary popular culture and soon attracted the attention of critics who proclaimed them symbols of the commercialism of Christmas. In the television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), Lucy wanted “the biggest aluminum tree [Charlie Brown] could find, maybe even painted pink.” Charlie ultimately selected a real, but skimpy tree because it better reflected his view of the true spirit of Christmas.

And here’s an interesting tidbit:  the museum notes that branches on Evergleam aluminum Christmas trees have a connection to a military item from World War II:

“American airplanes dropped tiny strips of metal, called chaff, to block enemy radar. Evergleams utilized similar finely cut foil, which could be easily twisted into various forms.”

pink aluminum


’tis the Season – an exhibit of aluminum Christmas trees will be on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison through January 11, 2014.

Not TSA-approved. Ever

Multi-bladed folding knife 3

The TSA’s plan to allow passengers to once again carry small knives on board airplanes got nixed a while back.

But even if it had gone forward the knife pictured above would never had made the, uh, cut.

Made around 1880 as an advertising item for a store window in New York City, the knife’s 100 “blades” include a cigar cutter, a button hook, a tuning fork and pencils.

Look closely and you’ll even spot a .22 pinfire revolver.

That tiny revolver is why the knife is on display at the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

The knife is on loan to the museum until 2015 along with 63 other historically significant firearms from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which began collecting firearms in 1876.

Along with the many-bladed knife, the items on loan include a rifle made for Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia with a velvet cheek piece so that her royal face would not rest directly on the stock.

Catherine the Great rifle 2

(All images courtesy the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, via Buffalo Bill Center of the West)

The surprising home of Amelia Earhart’s flight jacket

Buffalo Bill

Courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West

I recently had the great pleasure of spending a day touring the five first-rate museums that make up the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Formerly the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the recently expanded center is home to the Cody Firearms Museum, The Plains Indian Museum, The Draper Natural History Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum and, my favorite, the Buffalo Bill Museum, which tells the story of the American West through both the private life of William F. Cody and his public life as the showman who created the pageant known as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Buffalo bill poster

One of the great treats during my day at the museum with a few other journalists was going on a private tour with the curator of each museum and having a chance to see the back rooms.

And – lo and behold – when we went behind the scenes at the Buffalo Bill Museum with John Rumm, senior curator of American History and the curator of the museum, he showed us a box that contained Amelia Earhart’s leather flight jacket. This is the jacket Earhart is  seen wearing in a lot of photographs from the 1920s and 30s and which she likely wore on her historic flight across the Atlantic.


Light brown leather jacket owned and worn by Amelia Earhart on several of her historic flights. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA.

What’s that jacket doing in the collection of the Buffalo Bill Museum?

According to Rumm, Earhart and her husband, George Palmer Putnam, had bought property in Wyoming around 1934 from a friend of theirs, Carl Dunrud, and asked him to begin building a cabin on the site.

Then, in 1937, before heading out for that ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the world, Earhart began sending Dunrud some of her personal possessions for safekeeping. Included among those items was the flight jacket and a buffalo coat from the 1870s (below) given to her by the Western movie star William S. Hart.


Rumm says for many years the buffalo coat was displayed and identified as having belonged to Buffalo Bill. But when Rumm took a close look at the records, he cleared up that mistake.


Amelia Earhart and Carl Dunrud at the Double D Ranch in northwest Wyoming, ca. 1935. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA.


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