Labor Day! Fun For The Long Weekend At HMNS

Monday is Labor Day – and you know what that means, right?

LONG WEEKEND.

In case you’re wondering how to fill the long hours between Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning, here’s a list of the top ten weekend experiences you can have with the family at HMNS all weekend long.

That’s right – we’re open MONDAY! Because we’re here for you. 

10. Come And Take It!

A look at the stunning variety of fascinating artifacts from Texas’ rich history, that is.

Come And Take It
The Come And Take It Cannon!
See a full set of photos from the exhibit on Flickr

Texas! The Exhibition closes at 5 pm on Monday, Sept 5 – so don’t miss your last chance to see Santa Anna’s spurs, Davy Crockett’s violin, the Davis Guards Medal and many other objects from a huge swath of Texas history – from prehistoric cultures to the Spindletop oil gusher.

Preview the exhibit with our blog series on Texas History! (And see how you can win free tickets to see the exhibit closing weekend!)

9. Ramble through Borneo with Orangutans

And while you’re at it, explore Tsavo with young elephants.

Born To Be Wild
The cuteness! See it this weekend in Born To Be Wild 3D at HMNS!

Born To Be Wild 3D is a fascinating, entertaining and heart-warming film chronicling the efforts of two pioneering women to save orphaned animals.

Time Out New York says “The kids will squeal with delight.” We think you probably will, too.

8. Discover The True Meaning of Mayan Prophecies 

2012: Mayan Prophecies
2012: Mayan Prophecies in the HMNS Planetarium

Worried about 2012? Explore the Mayan culture in this new planetarium film. Learn why Dec. 21, 2012 will be just another day, but the Mayan culture’s true contributions to civilization are unique and fascinating.

7. Solve A Crime!

If watching CSI makes you think you think “I could do that!” – this exhibit is for you! Study fingerprints, chromatographs, DNA, insect lifecycles, tire marks, hair analysis, thread comparison, and handwriting analysis to catch the culprit!

Crime Lab Detective opens at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land on Saturday, Sept. 3!

6. Watch A Butterfly Enter The World!

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Our butterflies flit through a three-story, glass enclosed rain forest habitat – and it’s a showstopper of the large-scale variety. But you shouldn’t miss the Hall of Entomology on the upper level – where you can watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalides daily. It’s a quiet moment of tranformation, rebirth and wonder that everyone should experience.

5. Discover a Modern-Day Dragon

Think all dragons breathe fire? Some just flash it – including The Dragon, one of the world’s most famous mineral specimens.

The Dragon | HMNS Mineral Hall

It just so happens to be part of our collection – on permanent display in the Hall of Gems and Minerals, along with literally hundreds of the world’s finest gems and minerals. Hundreds. 

4. Develop An Intense Desire To Wear This.

Ancient Ukraine Exhibit at HMNS
Preview the entire exhibition in this set of photos on Flickr.

If you’ve followed our advice on #4, you’ve likely whetted your appetite for gold. And our Ancient Ukraine exhibition (closing Sept. 5!) could be called: Gold! Oh, And Some More Gold. (Except that it also features fascinating artifacts made from many other materials, from the entire 6,000 year history of Ukraine.)

Get an idea of what you’re in for in our curator’s blog series on Ancient Ukraine.

3. Spend Saturday With The Stars!

George Observatory

Long weekends are the perfect time to make the long drive out to our George Observatory. It’s an hour outside Houston, but that means light pollution is at a minimum – and stars are at a maximum.

If you’ve never been, you will marvel  at the number of stars you can see with the naked eye – and the astronomical detail you can view through our Gueymard telescope, one of the largest in the country that’s available for public viewing.

The Observatory is open every Saturday night from 3 – 10 pm. Get Directions and information on Admission.

2. Explore Two Continents

Hall of the Americas

Our Hall of the Americas features cultures from the Inuit in Alaska to the Inca of Peru – go on an expedition through hundred of years of American history and over 2 continents this weekend!

1. Take The Science Fun Home!

The HMNS Museum Store has a metric ton of science ideas and activities to take home – and your purchases always support our science educational programs! Grab the Pocket Starfinder for your Big Bend camping excursion, take the Encyclopedia of Texas Shells on a seashore expedition, or identify what’s fluttering around your own backyard with the Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas Guide.

From a Galileo Thermometer to track the summer heat to a Dinosaur Hunter Field Canteen, we’ve got everything you need to close out the summer right!

Here’s to a great long weekend – hope to see you here at HMNS!

Iconic Phrases and the Texas Revolution

Today’s post was written by our volunteer Pat Hazlett

“Come and Take It!” “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!” What Texan is not familiar with these phrases?  Phrases to stir the soul, inspire courage, and incite rebellion. Each phrase is associated with a pivotal point on Texas’ road from revolution to independence.

 “Come and Take it Cannon”
On display in Texas!

On October 2, 1835 the Mexican commander at San Antonio ordered the people of Gonzales to surrender their small brass cannon. Local officials refused and sent runners into the surrounding areas to gather armed men. The Mexican colonel ordered about 100 soldiers to take the cannon by force.  Buried until reinforcements arrived, the cannon was then mounted on a wagon and decorated with a white flag proclaiming, “Come and Take It.” The Mexican soldiers arrived to confront 160 armed Texans and a brief battle ensued. One Mexican soldier was killed, but no Texans. The Mexicans withdrew to San Antonio.  News of the “battle” spread and ignited fervor among Texans.

By early 1836 the Texans in San Antonio occupied the abandoned mission, San Antonio de Valero. The old mission had once housed a Spanish company from Alamo de Parras in Mexico. So, most people referred to it as the Alamo. Colonel James Bowie and his men joined Colonel James C. Neill, commander, in January 1836. In February, William B. Travis and his men joined them. Bowie was chosen commander of the volunteers, Travis of the regular army.  However, Bowie became ill and passed the entire command to Travis. Although the Alamo was a fairly good defensive position, Travis knew they had too few men (less than 200). There were also gaps in the Alamo walls, closed only with sticks and dirt. Regardless, Travis was determined to hold the Alamo, which had come to symbolize much for its defenders. This would also tie up Santa Anna’s army and give Sam Houston more time to raise a Texas army. Despite written appeals for help, help did not arrive in time. As Mexican troops encircled the Alamo, Travis explained that remaining would mean certain death. According to legend, he drew a line in the sand with his saber, asking those who wished to stay to cross over the line.  All but one stepped across.  At about 5:00 a.m. on March 6, 1836, the battle began. Mexican buglers played the notes of “El Deguello,” an ancient chant indicating that no mercy would be shown. The Texans put up a stubborn fight, but the third assault by the Mexican troops successfully breached the walls. By 8:00 a.m. the battle for the Alamo was over. Bowie, Travis, and volunteer Davy Crockett were all killed. “Remember the Alamo!” became a battle cry for Sam Houston’s army.

May24#63
Creative Commons License photo credit: travelswiss

Also by 1836, the Spanish presidio, La Bahia, near the town of Goliad was under Texas control, commanded by Colonel James W. Fannin. General Sam Houston had ordered Fannin to retreat to Victoria, but Fannin delayed and found himself surrounded by Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto. He and his men surrendered and were imprisoned inside the presidio at Goliad. Many Texans believed they were prisoners of war and would be treated fairly by their Mexican captors. Though the surrender document, in Mexican archives, shows no such promise, eyewitnesses testified that Mexican general Urrea assured Fannin that he and his men would be treated fairly. General Urrea even wrote to Santa Anna, requesting that the lives of the prisoners be spared. Santa Anna replied with immediate execution orders. On March 27, 1836, Palm Sunday, Fannin, his men and other Texan captives were divided into columns and marched out onto the prairie. They believed they were going on work detail; some even assumed they were going home. Upon a signal, Mexican soldiers opened fire on them, killing them all. Colonel Fannin was the last to be shot, forced to watch the execution of his own men. “Remember Goliad” joined “Remember the Alamo” as the battle cry of Sam Houston’s army, soon to be victorious at San Jacinto. 

Don’t miss your chance to see Texas! The Exhibition, on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through September 7.

Bibliography:      

Anderson, Adrian N., et al. Texas and Texans. Columbus, Ohio: Glencoe/McGraw Hill. 2003.

Barkley, Roy R. and Mark F. Odintz. The Portable Handbook of Texas.  Austin: Texas State Historical Association. 2000.

Flickr Photo of the Month: Fiddle! [June 2011]

Texas! The Exhibition by photine on Flickr

There are some amazing photographers that wander the halls of HMNS – as well as the areas surrounding the Museum in Hermann Park. When we’re lucky, they share what they capture in our HMNS Flickr pool. Each month, we highlight one of these photos here on the blog.

This month, we’re featuring a photo from Laurie Ballesteros, known as photine on Flickr, who is a regular attendee of the Museum’s Flickr meetups. This photo is from the meetup we held in our current Texas! The Exhibition which features hundreds of fascinating artifacts from Texas’ long and rich history – from the first people who set foot in the state through the Spindletop era.

I loved this photo because it features an artifact that highlights an aspect of a very famous Texan’s character that we tend to forget. But I’ll let Laurie tell it:

My favorite part of Texas history is the Texas Revolution. The characters, stories and battles are bigger than life and I have traveled to several of the battle sites around the states to walk in their footsteps.

I was especially interested in this part of the Texas! exhibit and took my time looking at all the artifacts. As a musician I could not pass up Davy Crockett’s fiddle. It is obviously well used and I love to imagine the tunes floating up from this instrument in the hands of a Texas legend.

You can see more of Laurie’s lovely photos of the Texas exhibition on her blog. Many thanks to Laurie for allowing us to share her image here!

Inspired? Most of the Museum’s permanent galleries are open for photography, and we’d love for you to share your shots with us on Flickr, Facebook or Twitter. Check out the HMNS photo policy for guidelines.

Texas! The Exhibition is a temporary exhibit, and photography is restricted outside of special Flickr meetup opportunities. Follow our posts in the HMNS Flickr pool for announcements about upcoming events.

Building a Texas-Sized Exhibition

“…a wise and prudent administration in the commencement of her national existence will be universally expected; improving upon the difficult and delicate task of settling in complete and successful operation a political body based upon principles so hazardously asserted and so gloriously maintained.”

Sam Houston’s signature

The above quote could easily be attributed to any number of government entities that have arisen since 1776.  In fact, I wager that it’s applicable to many political upheavals we’re following in 2011.  At least, that what struck me as I recently read this historical document.  The phrase that was deliberately omitted from the quote is this, “For Texas.”  It comes from a letter President Sam Houston wrote to Edward Hall on November 3, 1836 from the town of Columbia.  You can see this letter yourself in our recently opened Texas! exhibit.

If there is any thread to my occasional posts as a HMNS registrar, it is that the connection between an object and a viewer influences the viewer in some way.  As someone whose professional life consists largely of dealing with objects, I am not unfamiliar with the concept.  My collections and exhibits colleagues and I are always keenly aware of the care and respect employed when handling museum objects.  So sometimes we can temporarily lose sight of an object’s scientific/ historical/ aesthetic/ educational value when we’re trying to ensure that its mount is supportive, the lighting levels aren’t harmful, the proper temp and humidity of a gallery/case environment is steadily maintained; in short that nothing goes wrong.  However, being Texas born and bred, I found it difficult not to get caught up in the emotional wow! factor of the items in this exhibit.

Audrey Jones Beck’s Mardi Gras Dress

I’ll readily admit that I inwardly groaned when I saw all the documents that needed condition reports at the start of the exhibit installation. Paper documents are delicate and fragile so we mostly viewed them through mylar sleeves, but even that method still needs an abundance of caution. It wasn’t a job we could zip through. And once again I marveled at the miracles a conservator can perform to mitigate the damages of time.

But over and over I found myself drawn into the words on the page, especially when they were handwritten and signed. In the letter quoted above, Sam Houston goes on to delineate his cabinet members. As I read the names my decidedly low-brow reaction was: well, geez, that’s half the streets downtown. Somehow I never knew that Rusk was the Secretary of War. While perusing the pages of the minutes of the Convention of Texas Independence, I started making connections with my travels throughout the state. The list of attendees is basically a roll call of the counties in this state. Sometimes the words would just sing and I had to take a moment.

Here’s a brief quote from page 24 of the minutes that I particularly like:

“…that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty or the capacity for self-government.”

Also in the minutes, directly following the declaration of independence, is the appointment of a committee charged with immediately getting the declaration to a printer for wide distribution. Communication is important no matter what era a revolution takes place but the distance between the printer’s broadsides of 1836 and the revolutionary tweets of 2011 is amazing, isn’t it? Not to mention the difference between putting quill to paper and tapping thumbs to glass screens. Which reminds me of something else I noticed through this long (fifty-four plus pages) document, the handwriting was remarkably clear and beautiful to start, towards the end the poor secretary’s hand was beginning to sag. It was a long convention.

Other documents provoked equally strong but completely opposite reactions. As one colleague pointed out, “We’re all creeped out by the slavery stuff.” Documents are made on paper but it’s the actual words that matter. So, yes, it’s pieces of paper from the Harris County tax office but those dry and orderly tax receipts for humans beings considered personal property right here in our now very diverse cosmopolitan city will always retain a repulsive taint. That’s why it’s important to include them in this exhibit.

Davy Crockett’s Violin

But enough already about documents! Let’s go on to random ‘wish we’d snapped a photo’ installation moments.

The faces when folks first saw the turkey dress, a combo of wow! and how the heck are we going to display that thing? Beth and Mike struggling with the San Jacinto Mardi Gras dress, dress waist too tiny, mannequin hips and shoulders too wide, Mike taking a hammer to the nude mannequin in an attempt to narrow said mannequin, suggestions made that our skinniest staff member just stand in the exhibit wearing the dress, sanity returns, new mannequin ordered. (Audrey Jones Beck truly was ‘a mere slip of a girl’ when she wore that thing.)

Rodney ‘age-ing’ the canvas of the Santa Anna tent prop in his backyard. Looking inside the proper right sound hole on Davy Crockett’s violin and seeing penciled “FRANKLIN CO./Feb.14, 1819,” then realizing that the date the violin was being examined was February 14, 2011.

Small things can humanize historical figures. Santa Anna was definitely a cruel harsh man but his fawn paperweight is unexpectedly goofy and charming. The small wood heart whittled by Sam Houston is a tender link to the monumental figure across the street from the museum’s doors.

Beth happened across a list of clothing in Anna Chase’s journal who may have been a spy but according to that wardrobe inventory was also something of a clothes horse. Trying not to hum “Old Man River” (Lift that bale!). The cotton bale is the traditional five hundred pounds, no mount needed. Most disappointing moment for yours truly during the exhibit installation was learning that due to curatorial decision the way cool children’s cap guns from the 1940s and 50s were cut from the exhibit. Man, they had Texas Rangers emblems on ‘em and really worked and everything! Dang.

So that’s a few behind the scenes moments from the Texas exhibit.  Many people worked tirelessly on this exhibit and the gracious lenders were very generous with their treasures.  It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

But one last thing… On that letter from Sam Houston to Edward Hall which started off this post, in the viewer’s upper left corner an unknown hand exuberantly wrote “Save this!”  Whoever scribbled that was absolutely right and I like to think it was an early forebear of a museum collections worker.

Letter from Sam Houston to Edward Hall with the phrase “Save This.”

Don’t miss these famous objects and more that make up our Texas! exhibition, now on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.