Monday, May 8, 2017

The Camp-In at the Museum of Science and Industry

This past weekend we slept under a Tesla Coil, and next to some Van der Graaf generators.  They weren't on, and although I haven't run my family through a Geiger counter recently, I'm pretty sure that there were no radiation burns.

We spent the night at one of the best museums in the country, the Museum of Science and Industry.  This was our first time doing so, and I don't think it will be our last.

But first, a little backstory.  This is one of our favorite museums and had been even before we moved to Chicago.  Once a year, we'd been making pilgrimages from New York to Chicago to the MSI, to see the humongous train set of Chicago, the giant doll house, walk inside the coal mine, and take the tour of the giant submarine.

The inscription reads "Science discerns the Laws of Nature."
Even at some of the admittedly great museums we've been to, including the Queens Science Center, the Philadelphia Children's Museum, the Franklin Institute, etc., MSI Chicago is the standard by which all others are judged.  We've been members for that long as well, although we've had some lapses (it turns out that if you plan on visiting the museum more than twice in a year, and you drive there, you will do better to be a member than not.  I did the math.)

The Storm Gallery.  this is the room we slept in.

Once a year, the Museum stages a camp-in where 600 lucky people get the opportunity to spend the evening at the exhibits.  It's a privilege reserved for members, they do it once a year, and we'd never done it before, so my wife marked the calendar, and made it happen.  Members get to select sleeping spots next to many of their favorite exhibits, there are smores, and more importantly, the museum is open until 11 pm, so you get to do all of the exhibits you want, relatively uncrowded, and at your leisure.  (It turns out that a lot of the Chicago museums do something similar.  That same night, the Planetarium was having an event as well, and I know the Aquarium, the Zoo, the Field Museum, and the Chicago Cultural Center all have similar programs)

(And it turns out that the Museum has a similar event coming up called the Snoozeum.    I don't think you have to be a member for this one, and it seems like it is much more crowded.  Next one is December 15.   Find out more here.)

The Tesla Coil
After we made plans for the camp-in, my son's class planned a field trip to the museum for the day before.  We were already planning on surprising him, so we kept it up.  He would never suspect.  When I brought him and his 4 classmates around, we couldn't see everything he wanted to see.  "Next time we go, " I kept telling him.  He didn't realize the next time would be the next day.  Later that day, reviewing the field trip, I jokingly told him that the museum was so big that we could sleep there and still not see everything!  He laughed, not knowing that less than 24 hours later he'd be doing just that!

My wife and I taking a rare moment enjoying museum together.
We checked in around 6 pm, brought our stuff over to a potential sleeping area, and started exploring the museum.  In addition to my son, we brought his older cousin B.  Dinner was in the surprisingly good cafeteria, where we saw our favorite Rube Goldbergesque Swiss Jollyball machine.

 Many of the exhibits you still needed to have timed tickets for, although they were all included in the price of admission.  In the one night that we were there, we saw The Mirror Maze, the U-505 submarine, the chicks, the bike exhibit, the extreme ice exhibit, the circus exhibit, the body exhibit, the kid's imagination center, and ended our evening with a late night tour of the Coal Mine.   And of course Jolly ball. We didn't go over to the space center, see the trains, the smart house, the fairy house, or see the brick by brick lego exhibit. (we saw that the day before)  The Robot exhibit had not yet opened, sadly.

This is not my video, but a pretty good look at the jollyball apparatus.  We watch this every time we go to the museum!

What was great about all of these is that because the museum was so uncrowded we could still see all of those things and take our time about it.  We normally only see about half of that in a museum exhibit.

Some things to know if you go next year.

  1. You have to be a member to attend.
  2. They don't shut off lots of light for safety reasons.  Many people brought tents so that they wouldn't be sleeping in the light.  We had picked one place, but the boys thought it was too light, so we moved to a place that was equally light.  Next time, don't trust the boys!
  3. Many people (clearly veterans) brought blow-up beds.  We slept on the ground in sleeping bags, which was not nearly as comfortable as we would have hoped.  Next time, a blow-up bed.
  4. We brought everything in to the museum using a wagon.  The museum is almost entirely handicapped accessible, so that wasn't too much of a problem.  I definitely recommend it, as the museum is large, and your stuff is probably heavy.

Overall, it was a great experience, and we would do it again!

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