From SPAM to Jello-O, museums hold something for everyone | Opinion

By Dorothy Dworkin

Special to the Sun Sentinel

Jul 22, 2021 5:09 PM

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Dorothy Dworkin

Dorothy Dworkin (Dorothy Dworkin / Courtesy)

From the time we were old enough to take the subway into Manhattan from our homes in Brooklyn, my friends and I visited museums in New York City. Our favorite was the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West. We loved the life-like dioramas of animals and native peoples from other parts of the world and were fascinated by the massive African elephant. The most awe-inspiring creature was the taxidermist’s blue whale, the world’s largest creature. We were glad it was hanging securely fastened to the ceiling of the museum.

My childhood love of museums extended into adulthood and in a lifetime of travels around the world, one of my first stops is almost always a museum in the cities I visit. Some of the museums were famous (think Louvre or Rijksmuseum) while some of them were lesser-known but exciting and memorable discoveries.

No surprise, therefore, that one of my first fully vaccinated, post-height of the pandemic outings was to the local art museum. Photographs by Ansel Adams were the featured attraction. Masking, pre-ticketing and social distancing in place, my friend and I browsed the galleries and enjoyed stepping carefully back into normal life, museum life.

Many museums are restricting or delaying opening. As a result, I, and fellow Zoomers, have spent the last year visiting museums around the world. It’s not the same as being there in person, but it is better than nothing. While browsing the internet for go-to museum activities, I came across some odd choices.

In 2019, a tiny, one-of-a-kind museum opened in Forest Grove, Oregon. It displays some 2,000 artifacts documenting the history of contact lenses and is located in a storefront strip mall. The 50th anniversary of the invention may not mean a lot to some people, but for many cataract surgery patients, it’s the difference between a blurry world and a clear one. Until 1940, contact lenses were made of glass. in the 1950s I spent weeks adjusting to rigid plastic lenses as tears rolled down my cheeks. In 1970, soft lenses became more comfortable and today there are disposable and/or extended-wear ones available.

While unique, this is not the most unusual small museum. Years ago, I wrote about the Jell-O Museum in Le Roy, New York. I was interested because my mother was known in our family as a Jell-O queen for her inspired creations with the dessert.

In Mecca, California, there is an International Banana Museum, which could be of interest to my husband who carefully selects the fruit to add to his cereal. If you are a fan of Waffle House cuisine, you might enjoy a visit to the eponymously named museum in Decatur, Georgia. The SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota should bring back memories for some people of that wartime source of sustenance while the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho may explain America’s love for the spud. There is a Museum of Bad Art in Somerville, Maine and a National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin.

You name it and there is probably a small museum somewhere in someplace that is dedicated to something of interest to you. Personally, the Museum of Sex in New York City sounds interesting to me. Get out, fully vaccinated, and enjoy!

Dorothy Dworkin is a freelance writer and writing teacher in Boynton Beach.

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