Museums adjust to post-pandemic visits

(My story about museums welcoming back visitors first appeared on NBC)

Ready to leave your house and spend some time in a museum?

With all 50 states in some stage of post-pandemic reopening, many museums are back welcoming visitors to art- and history-filled halls.

Doing so signals a return to “normal” in many communities — but it may also help plug the economic hole created when almost every museum in the country closed its doors in response to COVID-19 concerns.

“All museum revenue related to admission, gift shop and café sales evaporated, along with event rentals,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, which pegs the loss at $33 million a day. “As many as one-third of the nation’s national cultural treasures may never reopen.”

Museums that are opening are doing so with extreme caution and close attention to social distancing, health and safety. Here is a sampling of what visitors will encounter.

Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

It’s sexy when Elvis Presley croons about feeling his temperature rising in the classic “Burning Love.” But now that the gates at Graceland are reopened, anyone with a fever 100.4 degrees or higher is not allowed to enter the shrine to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

In addition to mandatory temperature checks, the attraction is limiting entry to just 25 percent of normal capacity and encouraging guests to wear masks. It is using commercial-grade cleaners, including UV light sanitizer wands and disinfectant foggers, to sanitize the campus.

The Mob Museum

The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement is open in downtown Las Vegas with reduced entry capacity, a mask requirement for all guests and pre-entry temperature checks.

The museum has its own speakeasy and, while supplies last, will be giving each guest a complimentary bottle of ethanol hand sanitizer made in the on-site distillery.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland

John Lennon's Guitar

If it stayed closed through the end of the year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be facing a $12 million loss in revenue. So the museum is eager to reopen to the public by June 15.

“We have been blowing the doors off with virtual offerings on our website and reaching people where they are at this time,” said museum CEO Greg Harris, “We think that will increase the number of people that now desire to visit the museum in person.”

When the doors do open, there will be timed entry, limited capacity and newly hired nurses at the entrance to take everyone’s temperatures. The museum will reserve certain hours for at-risk groups such as seniors. Rock ‘n’ roll-themed masks will be provided to visitors who arrive without their own.

Many touch screens will be turned off until the museum installs antimicrobial covers, and “The Garage,” an exhibit that encourages visitors to play instruments and jam with others, will be closed.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not! – Branson

Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum (home of the world’s largest roll of toilet paper) opened over Memorial Day weekend with reduced capacity and new social distancing and sanitizing systems. The odditorium is evaluating how the protocols are working out before opening for the summer season.

Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri

The sprawling Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, adjacent to Bass Pro Shops’ national headquarters, reopened over Memorial Day weekend after a nine-week closure.

To accommodate social distancing, timed entries, enhanced cleaning procedures and limits on daily attendance, the attraction is extending its opening hours. Confined spaces like the swinging bridge are temporarily closed; interactive experiences, such as the penguin encounter, are being modified; and the museum is adopting the COVID-19 response plan developed by the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and the Infectious Disease Prevention team at Tampa General Hospital.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

New York City’s iconic Met said it plans to reopen in mid-August or whenever the city meets the phased-in reopening requirements.

The museum’s three locations — The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Cloisters and The Met Breuer — have been closed since mid-March.

“The Met has endured much in its 150 years, and today continues as a beacon of hope for the future,” President Daniel Weiss said in a statement last week. The institution will belatedly celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, he said.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming

The 40-acre Buffalo Bill Center of the West reopened May 7 with added staff members during peak hours to keep surfaces in the center’s five museums clean. Now that the south and east entrances to Yellowstone National Park are open, the museum is fine-tuning its new protocols and preparing to welcome more visitors.

Kentucky Derby Museum and Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Kentucky

Museums, aquariums, zoos and distilleries in Kentucky cannot reopen before June 8. But in Louisville, key attractions including the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory are already ringing up sales in their gift shops.

On the auction block: Elvis Presley’s planes

Lisa Marie plane owned by Elvis Presley

If you’ve been to Graceland you’ve probably seen them. Now you can own them.

Two of Elvis Presley’s private planes, the Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II, both of which have been on display at Graceland for more than thirty years, are headed for the auction block.

One plane is a Convair 880 Jet that Elvis purchased from Delta Air Lines on April 17, 1975 for $250,000, refurbished, and rechristened the “Lisa Marie” in honor of his daughter.

Bedroom on the Lisa Marie plane

Inside the airplane cabin there’s lounge and club seating area, a conference/dining table, a club room and a master bedroom with a custom-made queen size bed, an executive bathroom with gold faucets and gold washbasin, a videotape system linked to four televisions and a stereo system with fifty speakers.

The Hound Dog II is a Lockheed JetStar that Elvis also purchased in 1975 for about $900,000 while waiting for Lisa Marie make-over to be completed.

Hound Dog II

The planes cannot be flown and are being sold as one lot, with an option to buy a piece of land next to Graceland (but unaffiliated with the Presley Museum) to display them.

Here a video from Julien’s Auctions, which is taking sealed bids for the plane through February 2, 2015 at 5 p.m. PST.

Museum Monday: Elvis’s airplanes at Graceland

There are more than 700 aviation and space museums around the country. Each Monday we profile one of them. Eventually we’ll hit them all.

Today, to mark the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death on August 16th, 1977, we’ll make a stop at Graceland, where two of Elvis’s jets are on display.

This Lockheed JetStar was dubbed Hound Dog II:

Elvis Presley Lockheed JetStar

Hound Dog II, Elvis Presley's Lockheed JetStar

(Photo courtesy jbcurio, via Flickr).

According to this article, Elvis purchased this  Lockheed JetStar in September, 1975 for $899,702, while waiting for his other plane, the Lisa Marie (below), a Convair 880 Jet previously owned by Delta Airlines, to arrive.

At Graceland, visitors sit in a mock 1970’s-era airline terminal to see a short film about Elvis and his airplanes and are then allowed to tour the JetStar and the Lisa Marie, which was also known as Hound Dog I or Flying Graceland.

Elvis Presley's airplane, Lisa Marie, on display at Graceland

Elvis Presley's airplane - the Lisa Marie - at Graceland

Gold sink on Elvis's plane: the Lisa Marie

(Photo courtesy rgblasson via Flickr

Sadly, I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Graceland. Yet. But when I do, I’ll make a beeline for the airplanes. First stop, the Lisa Marie. According to this article, the airplane has a seating area, conference room, library and plush bedroom with an executive bathroom equipped with gold washbasin and faucets.

Have you seen Elvis’s airplanes at Graceland? Share details of your visit below.

And please let us know if you have a nomination for an aviation or space museum you’d like to see featured on a future edition of Museum Monday here at

Elvis and Nixon

A favorite: Elvis and Nixon