The Best Museums About Defying Gravity
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because humans have always been fascinated with flying … and falling.
By Ian Graber-Stiehl
In this original series, Extreme Museums, join OZY for a look at some of the world’s weirdest and wildest exhibitions. Read more.
Cliché as it may be to say, people have always yearned to fly. Humankind’s takeoff has been one of our most extreme collective experiences. So, in celebration of all the flights, floats and falls that have marked one of our most incredible journeys, here’s your guide to a few of the oddball museums that revel in humanity’s long fight with gravity.
This Seattle museum aims to rekindle our fascination with the machines we take for granted, says museum spokesperson Ted Huetter. By enabling visitors to stand beside the massive landing gear of the first Boeing 747 ever flown and placing them within arm’s reach of a weathered, unrestored, century-old wood-and-fabric Caproni plane, the Museum of Flight communicates a daring story. It’s one that offers insight into the essence of various eras — from the backyard engineering spirit that made flight possible to the cheap, fast method of travel that shrank the world overnight. Aviation has always been on the cutting edge of materials engineering. Strolling through exhibits is to walk through a microcosm of a hundred years of the advancement of science itself, offering a new context for milestones like spaceflight. Well, at least until you get to the plethora of flight simulators. They’re just fun.
Fee: $22–$24. Hours: Open daily from 1 p.m.
The mission of this Albuquerque, New Mexico, museum is to remind visitors of the sheer wonder that balloons have evoked throughout history. The exhibits aren’t just eye candy featuring opulent, anachronistic balloons galore but also demonstrations of how balloons progressed to become major instruments of science, from antiquated hot-air balloons outfitted with nascent cameras and scientific instruments to the hydrogen variety (like that seen in the museum’s exhibit on Swedish explorer S.A. Andrée’s disastrous balloon expedition to the North Pole). These gave way to high-tech zeppelins and high-altitude balloons used for research on everything from the weather to preparative data-collection for the Apollo missions. Studious, plaque-reading visitors will find a wealth of science surrounding mankind’s first sky-bound ships.
Fee: $4. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 9 a.m–5 p.m.
No, this is not a museum dedicated to the guys from the 2014 Godzilla movie who went skydiving toward Godzilla armed with smoke grenades. Tucked away in the shadow of the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest, which spans Northern California and southern Oregon, this museum archives the dangerous lives of smoke jumpers: those who parachute into forest fires to extinguish them. The museum is small, but it offers more smoke-jumping edifices and artifacts than just about anywhere else. The site was Oregon’s first fighter base, and the only one of America’s first four smoke-jumper bases to still be standing in its original spot. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of restored buildings and the airstrip, and enjoy a hands-on handling of weathered parachutes and jump equipment that’s saved millions of hectares of forest from incineration for nearly 75 years. The museum hopes to add a jump vehicle to its collection sometime soon.
Fee: Free. Open March 15–November 15, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Self-guided tours around airfield building welcomed year-round.
- Ian Graber-Stiehl, OZY Author Contact Ian Graber-Stiehl