Day four of our trip was dedicated to seeing the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I remember visiting this museum as a kid, and I hoped that time hadn’t over romanticized my memories of the place. I have to say that it was better than I remember and that I could have spent another few hours there without much difficulty.
The two things for which the museum is best known are the U-505 and the coal mine. The U-505 is a German submarine captured in WWII by Capt Gallery, USN, from submarine hunter killer team 23.4 of the 10th Fleet. The story is remarkable. In 2005 they moved the submarine from its old location on the museum grounds to its new home four floors below the museum. The displays leading up to the tour of the submarine itself are quite well done. (Interestingly, they use clips from the television documentary The World at War, but they’ve re-dubbed the narration (word for word it seems) with someone other than Sir Lawrence Olivier.) I think they do a tremendous job of bringing the story to life. The docent for the tour of the sub itself was quite good. Sam really enjoyed the tour, especially the bullet holes on the port side of the conning tower.
We then took the tour or the coal mine. In this exhibit, we went down a mine shaft into a replica of a coal mine. Inside the mine they have working replicas of mining equipment to give you an idea of what working in a mine might have been like. Before going into the mine, there is a really nice oral history of life in a mining town that I think was largely ignored by the other visitors. The docent said that all those working the coal mine exhibit spend some time each year touring real coal mines within Illinois to re-familiarize themselves. I got the impression that the docents really understood mining; they were not just talking from a prepared script. I also found it interesting that only 50% of the nation’s coal goes toward the production of electricity. The other half goes to pharmaceuticals, plastics, and other products. The docent showed a picture of coal deposits throughout Illinois. There’s a lot of coal to be mined if we were serious about energy independence and not giving money to people who hate us.
I probably could have spent another two hours in this wing. There were lots of “school groups” here, which made it difficult to really take advantage of all the displays. Tommy got a little frustrated at kids who would jump in front of him to fiddle with a display without really trying to learn anything about the science being taught. Anyway, there were a number of displays that described movement of soils (the avalanche display was tremendous), winds, lightening, water flows, light, etc. The exhibits were quite excellent. You could hear the Tesla coil across the room.
We didn’t spend much time in the aviation exhibits, but this Stuka caught my eye. There was a tremendous set of exhibits on genetics, but the area was crawling with kids, and we got there toward the end of our allotted time, so we only saw a small subset of them.
There was a large exhibit on the railroads and how steam engines work. The centerpiece of the display was a huge replica of Chicago and the surrounding areas populated by model trains. The kids didn’t want to spend much time there (We’ve seen model trains before, Dad!”), but the displays on how steam locomotives operate were well worth the time.
After an enjoyable time at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, we had to fight our way out of Chicago during rush hour. Bad timing! We reached our hotel in the Wisconsin Dells 90 minutes later than we had planned, but we still had time to take a swim in the hotel pool before bed.