While there’s plenty to see and do at the museum, there’s a lot that people don’t know and never see. Whether it’s a program you didn’t know existed or a fun piece of OMSI history, there are many stories to tell!
I’d like to thank our resident curator, Lori Erickson, for her help in digging through the OMSI archives and collections room to uncover these hidden gems.
OMSI is well known today for our rotating featured exhibits. But when the museum first opened and for several years after, any exhibits that came to the building were there to stay. The first traveling featured exhibit was The Art of The Muppets, which visited OMSI summer of 1985. AOTM featured puppets and props from Jim Henson productions like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Land of Gorch, The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock. Visitors could take an audio tour narrated by Kermit the Frog, feel a touch wall of muppet fabric and see how puppeteers became their characters.
What is OMSI’s oldest exhibit? That honor belongs to the Transparent Woman. She was built in Cologne, Germany in the 1950s and was the star attraction at our Washington Park building when it first opened. In a theater room in the lower level of the museum, the Transparent Woman would light up and rotate as she narrated a show about the human body. Today she remains on view in our Life Science Hall, and while she is silent, visitors can press a button for lung or liver and see the corresponding organ in her body light up.
Have you seen our bird egg collection? Every few years it makes an appearance on display and is always a visitor favorite. Among the collection are an Ostrich egg, Emu egg, Swallow eggs, Blackbird and Blue Jay eggs, and the artistic shells of the Pacific Black-bellied Plover egg. See the size comparison above for how varied these eggs are. Top left is the Ostrich, while the bottom features eggs of the tiny Cliff Swallow. Oology, or the study or bird eggs and nests became a popular pastime in the 1800s and was a respected science along with ornithology. Today it is illegal in many places to collect unbroken bird eggs.
OMSI is not just a museum but hosts and sponsors programs and events across Oregon, and in many other states as well. Visitors interested in the planetarium, astronomy and constellations should mark their calendars to attend an OMSI Star Party. These events take place throughout the spring and summer. Planetarium staff team up with Rose City and Vancouver sidewalk Astronomers to provide free stargazing and information nights at Rooster Rock State Park and L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. We provide the telescopes and binoculars, and you provide the wonder and enthusiasm!
In 1938 archeologist Luther Cressman excavated Fort Rock Cave, near a volcanic crater in central Oregon. In an old lakebed under a bed of volcanic ash, Cressman and his team came upon a worn, old sandal. And then they found another. And another. All in all there were 75 sandals hidden under the ash. The unique twine and sagebrush sandals were radiocarbon dated between 9,500 and 10,500 years old, making them the oldest form of footwear known to man! The volcanic ash the sandals were found in was later determined to be from the eruption of ancient Oregon volcano, Mt. Mazama (now home to Crater Lake). Some of the Fort Rock Sandals can be seen at The Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. We have one here at OMSI that unfortunately can’t be on public display – constant exposure to artificial light would bleach and damage the ancient fibers.