Monday, July 30, 2012

Dave's Guest Post: Nightmare Museum and Londontown

Note: When it comes to writing, brevity is not my style. I apologize in advance for the length of this entry.  -Dave

On this, one of the last weekends of our Washington, D.C. odyssey, I awoke, like most mornings, to the faint clicking of knitting needles. Heather was up early, which is to say, up at her usual early morning hour, compared to my later morning rising. For some reason, the children were also rising and conversing at their usual (not quiet) volume. After saying, “Good morning,” Heather’s first comment of the day was something like, “So, where are you taking our little creatures so I can have some time to myself?” At least, that’s what I heard. What she actually said was more like, “You should take the kids to the medical museum today.” At any rate, the message was received, and after breakfast was consumed, I prepared lunch and snacks, and the kiddos and I set out to the visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

The NMHM has been on our to-visit list for a while, particularly because of the legendary human hairball reposing in its collection. It’s located in Silver Spring, Maryland, about a mile north of the D.C. border, and it involved slightly more busing and walking from the Metro line terminus than I was comfortable with in an unknown area, so we drove the truck for this trip. Upon our arrival, we observed it was significantly smaller than other D.C. area museums. Initially, I thought we were in the wrong area until I spied a small sign saying, “Museum,” inviting us into a small parking lot. Inside, we were greeted by the staff and set about exploring the small, mostly unoccupied building.

In hindsight, I should have done a little research before taking the kids to this one; admittedly, I really wanted to see that gigantic hairball and didn’t consider what other displays might be waiting to evoke nightmares for weeks to come. Oops.

The first hall we entered, purely by chance, was fairly benign compared to the others - the exhibit contained some considerably grotesque life masks of civil war casualties and injuries, before and after reconstructive surgery. Eamon was immediately spooked, although it took me a minute or two to figure out why he was behaving so nervously. Aine was more curious about what the heck they were. Benton apparently couldn’t care less. There were old surgical and veterinary kits containing very dangerous- and medieval-looking devices. After leaving that hall (we’ll call it the “War Injuries” hall) we entered the second, randomly selected room (we’ll call this the “Human Organs in Various Degrees of Disease” hall. Oh, and baby skeletons. Lots of baby skeletons.) Once inside this hall, I noticed the oldest was no longer in tow. I poked my head back out into the hallway to see Eamon sitting on the floor with his back against the wall.

Me: “Eamon, what are you doing? Come look at this neat stuff.” 

Eamon: “I don’t feel well. I don’t want to see any more. Can we leave?” 

After some discussion, we agreed he would sit in the hallway and guard the stroller while the rest of us quickly perused the rest of the exhibits.

Long story short, by the time we got to the “Bizarre and Nightmarish Maladies of Human Anatomical History” hall, all three of the kids were wide-eyed and reluctant to step into another room for fear of what garish, pickled specimens might await. I took a quick peek at the enormous, stomach-shaped hairball (how the .... did that happen?), but not without having to glance past the immense fermaldehyde jars containing siamese twins, troll babies and numerous other deformed infants who were all clearly ante partum and who looked like something one might see on the cover of the Weekly World News. All in all, the museum visit was a bust. Unless you have a trust fund set up to pay for years of therapy, don’t take your children to the NMHM.

Still reeling from the sideshow, we chowed down in the truck while we considered our next destination. I was reluctant to go back home so soon, cutting short any free time Heather might have been enjoying. So, while the kiddos nibbled on their PB&Js, I turned to Nüvi to save the day. We’ve had a nüvi for a long time, but since we replaced our aging model with a new one, our confidence has been shaken. The new model just seems... confused sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. Nonetheless, I placed my confidence in the little GPS and sought out new adventures in southern Maryland.

First I saw there was a mormon temple within a mile of our location, and I figured since we were in the D.C. area, it would likely be an architectural spectacle. Indeed, it didn’t disappoint; but, the kids weren’t particularly impressed (wise children, ours), and I again turned to nüvi to show us the way. I found something called Historic Londontown and Gardens in Maryland, which appeared to be close to Annapolis and along the Chesapeake Bay. “Hmm...this sounds interesting,” said I. Having never heard of Londontown, and hoping for a hidden gem, we set out for a 35 mile trip along US-50.

I didn’t share our destination with the kids, lest I had to deal with a tsunami of groans and moans of having to endure another “museum.” They evidently thought we were headed home and were dismayed when we pulled into the gravel lot at the end of a dead end street on the bay. What we found, after cajoling them out of the truck and toward the oldish, plank-board structures, was an amazing little village and park to which they took an immediate liking. The place was nearly uninhabited - we didn’t see many vehicles in the lot, and we didn’t see another soul for the first 45 minutes we were there.

The kids were immediately drawn to what appeared to be a 17th or 18th century home. It was open and the interior was very accessible, and the kids became enthralled at all that the house and surrounding property had to offer: an enormous hearth with drying herbs and flowers hung above it; a sharpening wheel and woodworking tools; period homemade furniture and mattresses; an arbor under which rested a rope-making machine, a hand-made ladder and other evidence of wood carving; a small garden; and a large barrel, presumably for capturing and storing water.

From there, our eyes and curiosity were drawn to a large brick building and its companion well standing near the water’s edge. Eamon and Aine were convinced we could walk inside and take a look around, but the doors were all locked. We strolled down to a rickety pier and enjoyed a view of the waterway and its shores, including a different perspective of Londontown. The clouds in the east were pinkish and the sea air swirled around us as waves from passing fishing boats lapped at the pier’s piles. The kids and I agreed it would be nice if Momma could be there with us (even if she was enjoying some much-needed alone time).

We strolled back up toward some more modern buildings and the sound of music. By then, the parking lot was full, and many young families, not unlike our own, were ambling toward a shaded, grassy area where many blankets were laid out and live music was being enjoyed. Another stroke of luck, but we didn’t stay long. We took a stroll along a path through the gardens where we happened upon some beehives, an aging gazebo and a pleasant sitting area near the shore. Eamon and Aine pulled a couple of long, waxy leaves from a low-hanging tree, which immediately became phones, prompting telephonic conversation along the way.

The insects were getting a little too friendly for Aine’s liking, so we walked back to the truck, eager to return home and share our serendipitous adventure with Heather.


  1. thank you dave! that was really very interesting, not long at all. you sound like a lovely dad, i'm sure the children will have great memories (even of the health museum) and heather too of her alone time. :)

  2. Enjoyed the post!!! Sorry about the medical museum.....I sort of cringed when I read you were going to one....I was a medical librarian for 15 years and there were a couple of BOOKS I couldn't open without steeling myself!

  3. OMG Dave. This made me laugh so much. I think you should post more... I seem to recall a blog that you once had. You're such a talented writer. Anyway, glad you guys had a great time and I'm eager to know if you took pictures of the giant hairball. If you did-- text it to me. :-)

  4. Sorry about encouraging the hairball museum...

  5. Both you and your wife are very talented writers! You should write more often because you make us feel as though we are right there with you. Was the giant hairball in a human or a cat? Ick either way. Sounds as though you had an interesting time. Love you and can't wait to see you and yours!

  6. Dave, thank you so much and not long at all :) What an exciting adventure!

  7. Anonymous3:58 PM

    I started telling Dan about this post and he immediately knew what museum you'd gone to when I said "hairball." He went at 13 and said it was the most disturbing place he'd been to - calling it "horrible." He talked about what a nightmare that place was for a while (while we walked around Sag Harbor after visiting the Whaling Museum - without kids, thankfully). Hopefully Eamon was able to recover.

  8. Hmm.. this museum sounds like it is my cup of tea. I may have to drag someone with me to see it (but perhaps not Chase).

    What a great post -- thank you for sharing your adventures with your children!