Sunday, September 12, 2010

Museum on T.V.

by Drew Martin

I have very good memories of plastic. Most of my toys (when I was growing up in the 1970's) were made out of the cool, smooth material. I still remember the back-from-the-dead, zombie-green eyes of the mummy doll I got in an elementary school Halloween grab-bag. We drove down to Virginia later that same day. My mother would hold him in our four-door-sedan's opened glove compartment so he could bask in the light. A minute later, she would hand him to me in the back seat so we could stare at each other to pass the time on that long, black, night ride: his glow-in-the-dark eyes beaming, then fading until the next charge in his makeshift solarium.

My Pulsar toy (pictured left - Mattel's answer to Kenner's Six Million Dollar Man line) had exposed organs under his clear-plastic chest. I would press in his back panel and see his heart and lungs pump with life. Red blood would circulate through clear tubing for arteries. His tan, muscular face was hinged to the top of his head. Inside, there was a place to put different mission disks on his brain (and this was years before cd's).

I loved how family excursions ended with child-appeasing plastic souvenirs, such as the pens that were filled with a liquid on one end and when you tipped them, some scene came to life: perhaps a masted boat would sail into Mystic Seaport. It was all incredibly low-tech but it seemed amazing at that time and young age.

I recently found a gift-shop knick-knack from the Franklin Mineral Museum in Franklin, NJ. The region is home to the world's most famous Zinc mines and is considered "the Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World." The Zinc deposits have produced 357 different mineral species, starting with the discovery of Zincite in 1810 by Dr. Archibald Bruce.

The souvenir from the display museum is a tiny plastic television set, modern for that time it was made (in Hong Kong) in the 1970s. It has an inch and a half wide screen, which serves only as a translucent layer to allow light inside. On the back panel, is a small peep hole. When you look into it and face the screen toward a light source, you see a little transparency. Pressing a button on the bottom, rotates eight black and white images. The first slide is of the exterior of the Franklin Mineral Museum followed by images of Franklinite, a Zinc Miner, the Fluorescent Display, two shots of the Mine Replica, the Gift Shop and one of the many Mineral Displays.

Under the peep hole are gold letters that read, Franklin Mineral Museum on T.V. It is the perfect little memento and it intrigued me so much I returned to the museum today, about 35 years later, to see if it really existed. beyond my adolescent memories.

Despite its small size and an off-the-beaten-path location, the museum has thousands of specimens and the most comprehensive mineral collection on public display in the world. It also includes artifacts of the native Americans, fossils, petrified wood, a mine replica and a three-acre mineral gathering field. The wow feature is a special 33-foot-long fluorescent display room. With the lights on, the rocks behind viewing windows are nothing special but when the light is switched to black lighting, the rocks glow in amazing and mind-boggling colors and abstract patterns. It all seemed bigger and better than in my youth, which is not often the case.

The staff was both amused and impressed by my little plastic T.V. keepsake. What I like most about it is how a couple ounces of plastic can achieve so much. Every medium has its ability. Paper is typically used to store information while wood and metal, more often than not, simulate the form of something. In this object, plastic does many things: it simulates form but is also dense with information stored in the eight unique images, which summarize (ever so economically) the museum experience.