Why you should care
Because you get to step into the shoes of some pretty brave souls.
In this original series, Extreme Museums, join OZY for a look at some of the world’s weirdest and wildest exhibitions. Read more.
Museums, at their heart, are established to educate about important subjects that have had an impact on our world (or sometimes less so). And what greater impact can people have than saving lives — whether medically, as a support system or keeping others from harm, often at risk to themselves? Here are some noteworthy institutions around the world dedicated to reminding us just how dangerous our day jobs are not.
Firefighters run into fire. That deserves a museum. According to director Gary Urbanowicz, the New York City Fire Museum aims to take people behind a pretty walled-off fraternity. (Incidentally, it also subtly shows firefighting’s progression toward being a more multicultural, less-gendered fellowship.) The museum traces the evolution of all things fire-related, from the Hindenburg’s insurance policy and anachronistic steam-powered fire engines with classic car charm — until you realize people fought fires in these things — to modern fire suits you can try on. You can even rent out space on the third level for old-timey (or hipster) parties and weddings. Across the pond, check out the Estonian Firefighting Museum. It’s much smaller, but its antique collection is no less beautiful or whimsical.
The Army Medical Department Museum, in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, is one of the only institutions dedicated to memorializing and educating about the work of combat medics, and it boasts relics from 1775 onward. Visitors can see how the job has evolved over time, focusing mainly on World War I, World War II, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Despite the usual uniformed mannequins and slightly-too-sanitized feel of most military museums, it manages to communicate a fresh facet of war: the struggle of trying to save lives on a battlefield. Most people know that once upon a time, a well-placed shot to someone’s arm would likely have been treated with a hacksaw. But seeing primitive medical equipment evolve from saws to hospital trains, that gives you a clear feeling of progress.
Humanitarian Aid Workers
Every day aid workers put themselves in the way of violence, natural disasters and sickness to help others –- in dangerous missions with a 150-year history. The Red Cross/Crescent (IFRC) Museum, established in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1988, celebrates that history. After passing a giant, ghostly white foot sitting on a projected film of human-rights incidents (symbolizing the trampling of those rights), you’ll see thousands of relics — influential literature, World War I POW files and interactive films breaking down the mission of the IFRC. One exhibit, an interactive globe projected onto a sphere, maps out current IFRC initiatives. Nearby tablets present the organization’s chronological history, showing historical human-rights violations and concurrent global advancements (like the polio vaccine). The exhibits are arranged thematically: defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks.
Since 1987, the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre has been devoted to commemorating the lifestyle and history of bush pilots — those who fly in prop planes, potentially in deadly weather, and with spotty radio signals, to resupply towns, hunting parties, trappers, oil workers and anglers in remote areas. Erected in an old hangar in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, this museum boasts over 30 planes, parked and hung among wilderness-themed art. It also has two theaters and flight simulators. And children will love being able to climb into the planes and play interactive aviation games. What’s more, here you can talk to truly fascinating people: bush pilots who dedicated their lives to being the mooring for people in a sea of wilderness.
More Museums Dedicated to Dangerous Jobs
- Sailors: The Great Lakes’ Shipwreck Museum archives the history of sailing disasters in the aptly named Paradise, Michigan, with remnants, relics and reliefs of actual shipwrecks such as the Edmund Fitzgerald.
- Bullfighters: Madrid’s Bullfighting Museum celebrates the bloody history of one of the world’s most literature-inspiring cultural traditions … and getting gored by bulls.
- Astronauts: The Columbia Space Shuttle Museum, with artifacts from the Columbia disaster and commentary of civilians who helped with the cleanup, is a sobering reminder of how quickly mankind’s most boundary-pushing adventures can fall apart.
- Trappers: The Museum of the Fur Trade shows visitors what the dangerous life of American trappers was like through their antique weapons, finely crafted trade tools, clothing, provisions, vices and stories.