I like walking around, but I hate freezing to death.  Fortunately we live in the land of 10,000 shopping malls, and you can find me strutting around in one of them pretty often this time of year.  Now, don’t get me wrong — I couldn’t do without my friends at Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, and Claire’s, but sometimes I like my indoor walks with a little more culture.  That’s when one of the more than 50 museums in the Twin Cities come to the rescue. Here are two very good ones.The Bakken Museum

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Medtronic founder Earl Bakken has always loved medical contraptions, and not just the ones he created.  Now, suspend your disbelief when I tell you Mr. Bakken has made quite a lot of money, and that with it he has managed to amass an astounding collection of antiquated therapeutic machines.  Mr. Bakken’s collection grew so great that he bought a beautifully landscaped Gothic Tudor mansion by Lake Calhoun just to hold it all, and that is The Bakken Museum.

Many of the devices date back to when people thought electricity was some potent healing force, best encapsulated by the “Electricity is Life” machine from 1905.  This functional coin operated (now gratuitous) cure-all has one metal handle to hold and another to crank. Do it correctly and will receive a healing jolt through your palms and lose the desire to try it again.  Other relics like the spatial vector electrocardiograph and the set of lobotomist’s tools will make you appreciate how far medical science has come, largely thanks to the efforts of people like Mr. Bakken himself.

Even if you don’t want to electrocute your kids, bring them to The Bakken Museum anyway.  There are several interactive educational displays, including one that teaches how a mammal’s heart rate is relative to its body size.  There’s no better way to teach a kid what a wolf’s heart sounds like other than dropping them off in the woods with a stethoscope and a raw steak.

The crown jewel of The Bakken Museum is their Frankenstein exhibit.  There you may sit in a recreation of the doctor’s workshop for a synopsis of the story as told through excerpts read from Shelley’s great novel.  The gory operating table moves, silhouettes of the monster materialize in the background, and the attraction crescendos with a great surprise. This is worth the trip alone.

Mill City Museum

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mill City Museum is built into the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, once the largest mill in the world.  It was leveled in 1874 by a deadly flour dust explosion that destroyed half of the riverfront business area, shut down in 1965 thanks to the decline in home baking, and nearly destroyed by a fire in 1991, but the Minnesota Historical Society wouldn’t let such a beautiful behemoth fade away with time.  In 2003 the old mill was reborn as a fine museum that all Minnesotans ought to visit at least once.

Ask and you’ll be taken to the ninth floor where you can see the ventilation system which prevented a repeat of the devastating 19th century explosion.  They say that the millers used to throw the flour sucked out of the air into the Mississippi until people down river started catching massive, dough-fattened carp.  After that they sold it as fish bait. The observation deck up there gives the best view of the city, all waterfalls and old mills and buildings.

The Flour Tower multimedia show is a must-see.  You sit in a grain elevator, and each floor you stop on tells a piece of the mill’s history.  Recordings of the voices of people who had worked there play, machines chug along like they used to, and the whole thing comes together like a little time machine.

Even though they’re for kids, I liked the interactive displays teaching how water works.  Just as any other great journalist will put himself in grave danger in the pursuit of truth, I beared it while I got my shirt cuffs wet playing with the model river display.  My wrists were cold until I got to the electric dryer.


By David Scheller