Museum Musings

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In 1967, Elaine Lobl Konigsburg published her classic children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and introduced readers to Claudia and Jamie Kinkaid, siblings who decide to run away from home, travel to New York City, and take refuge in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book is famously said to have been inspired by a piece of popcorn Ms. Konigsburg spied atop a chair in one of the period rooms at the Met. The author later detailed her inspiration for the book in an issue of the Met’s Museum Kids Magazine, writing, “ How had that lonely piece of popcorn arrived on the seat of that blue silk chair? Had someone sneaked in one night—it could not have happened during the day—slipped behind the barrier, sat in that chair, and snacked on popcorn? For a long time after leaving the Museum that day, I thought about that piece of popcorn on the blue silk chair and how it got there.”

50 years later, museums are still magical places, for young and old visitors alike. Here in Pittsburgh we have all manner of museums, from the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, with their impressive collections of paintings, sculptures, and specimens, to The Mattress Factory, home to immersive, interactive installations. There’s the Children’s Museum, a colorful must-see for both kids and adults, the Bayernhof Museum, a treasure trove of totally wacky musical instruments housed in a legit mansion in Sharpsburg, and Bicycle Heaven, a warehouse of, you guessed it, bicycles, in every color and style you can imagine. Truth be told, I’d be more than happy to stow away in any of these cultural institutions for a few nights.

I’ll be rereading E. L. Konigsburg’s classic soon, and once I’m done, I’ll be checking out some other museum-inspired books as well:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
By E.L. Konigsburg
DB 22914

Claudia, feeling misunderstood at home, takes her younger brother and runs away to New York City where she sets up housekeeping in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Newbery Award 1968. For grades 4-6.

Museum People: Collectors and Keepers at the Smithsonian
By Peggy Thomson
DB 19918

A look at the Washington D.C. complex of art galleries, museums,and a zoo that make up the Smithsonian Institution. Features some of the men and women whose talents in history, art, and science make things happen out front. Filled with interesting facts, personal responses, and anecdotes. This behind the scenes look describes the mind-boggling aspects of collecting, conserving, restoring, displaying and cataloging everything from freeze-dried Komodo dragons to the Spirit of St. Louis. 1977

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
By Cristin O. Aptowicz
DB 81630

Biography of Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter (1811-1859), renowned in his lifetime for reconstructive surgery on patients with severe deformities and for the introduction of anesthesia in American surgical practice. Discusses his legacy in the work of his students and the Philadelphia medical museum named for him. Unrated. Commercial audiobook. 2014.