We'd usually start in the dinosaur area. There were articulated skeletons and a few life-size models with skins, surrounded by panel after panel of detailed information. Dioramas would show the environments the dinosaurs lived in. It was great; my imagination always ran wild. Eventually this would lead into an area with reptiles. There were snakes and exotic lizards and frogs and turtles, but the stars were several alligators in a swamp-like enclosure. I didn't think they were real, because they never moved, but I always liked to see them.
There was an anthropology section, too, with "native" people from all over the world standing in front of models of their homes. I remember shirtless mannequins in front of stick huts from Africa, and an old Navajo woman weaving in a corner. There were kachina dolls and other Native American crafts in glass displays, and I could swear there were Egyptian and Persian pieces too.
The geology section had an earthquake simulator that I *loved*. There was always a line of kids waiting to ride it; you'd get on this platform and then it would shake with the intensity you would have felt from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It was so cool. There was also a hall of gems and minerals that was pretty neat, too. In one area, you would turn a blacklight off and on to see the hidden colors of certain minerals.
Continuing on there was the space wing, which had a giant pendulum suspended from the ceiling. It swung back and forth all day, knocking over little pins. There was also a planetarium. I remember it being my first exposure to many of the constellations, which would be projected on the ceiling. I really liked that they would first show you the twinkling stars, and then superimpose an image of what you were supposed to see, so you'd get a better idea of what the Greeks and Romans had in mind when they claimed Orion looked like a man with a dagger in his belt, and what not.
Of course, one of the most impressive areas was the aquarium. It might have been considered a separate enterprise, now that I think about it; it was called the Steinhart. When I was a kid, it seemed like every kind of fish in the world was there. There was a round room where fish swam around you in circles, and I remember seeing a shark amongst the "normal" fish. I was thrilled. I waited and waited for the shark to attack the fish in a frenzy of teeth and blood, but it never did. It just kept swimming patiently. There were sea lions, too, and penguins. I've heard that there were even dolphins at one point, but I don't remember them. The Steinhart Aquarium was the first place I ever held a starfish or touched a sea slug (eeew) so I remember it fondly.
I think that my favorite areas were the African and North American Halls. Each hall was a long line of dioramas with taxidermy animals. As a child, it was magical to see all the animals. Thinking about it now, the animals were always dusty and a little faded, because the skins were decades old. But I really liked it.
The African Hall had all sorts of deer and gazelles, a wart hog, zebras, cheetahs and birds, but culminated in a huge scene that had all sorts of wildlife ala Circle of Life lined up. The lighting was timed in such a way to mimic the sun and the moon rising, so if you stood in front of the diorama for several moments you could see what the "savannah" would look like at different points throughout the day. Eventually a rainbow sunset would fill the background with color, and stars would appear. The entire cycle didn't take too long...maybe five minutes? Maybe not even that.
The North American Hall wasn't as exciting, because it didn't have the big "animated" final scene, but the animals were more familiar. I could see bears, bobcats, mountain lions, and other creatures from the USA. I think the dinosaur exhibit must have led directly into this hall, because there were a couple of 'bridge' animals, like a giant extinct bird that once roamed North America. I thought that was one of the best things, because it was an animal I would never see in real life but there it was, really covered in feathers! Now, twenty years later, I can't even remember what it was called.
Was there other stuff there? That seems like it ought to be plenty to fill a museum!
Anyway, why am I gushing on and on about some stuffy old museum?
The Academy of Sciences closed in the early 2000s for remodeling. I remember because they had a *huge* clearance sale of old fixtures, souvenirs, etc. that they didn't want to put into storage. We went (waited in a long line for over an hour!) and rummaged through the chaotic sale bins, but didn't get much. I remember, though, that those giant prehistoric bird models (with real feathers!) were for sale. My inner child was a little traumatized that they were getting rid of them.
So the Academy was closed for several years. It re-opened in late 2008, but at $25 a ticket it's an expensive entertainment.
BUT HANG THE EXPENSE! TOMORROW SEANIE AND I ARE GOING TO CHECK IT OUT!!!
I'm so excited to see the new museum!
I can't wait to ride the earthquake simulator again! They say the new museum has an indoor rainforest - I want to walk through it! I want to see penguins! Alligators! Turtles! Stuffed lions!