Morris Museum

Free museums this weekend

When I’m not in an airport, I’m checking out museums – especially on the first weekend of each month when the Museums on Us program gives Bank of America cardholders free access to more than 150 museums and cultural institutions around the country.


Ivory telescope from the Alder Plantarium

If I could zip around the country, I’d use my bank card to gain free access this weekend to the Alder Planetarium in Chicago (general admission: $12), to see the telescope collection and the temporary exhibition that explores the post-Pluto question: What is a Planet?.

Alder image

I’d also head to American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore to see the Big Hope Show – which is closing soon – and to Morristown, New Jersey to see the Toothpick World exhibition and the fortune -tellers, gambling machines and other early coin-operated entertainment machines at the Morris Museum.

1_Intro_assorted machines_courtesy Morris Museum

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)

At the SFO Museum: “self-moving mechanical creations”

If you’re very lucky, you’ll end up getting stuck for a while at San Francisco International Airport sometime between now and the end of May 2012.

When you do, rush over to the pre-security departure lobby of the International Terminal Main Hall to see the exhibition of automata and “self-moving” mechanical creations on loan from the Morris Museum in Morristown New Jersey, which houses the incredible Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata.

Here’s a link to a radio piece I produced about the collection for NPR back in the 2005.