But if you thought lamenting for a Russian Sub Museum that sank and was turned into scrap metal was as odd as it gets when it comes to the marriage of Rhode Island and museums, consider the recent news from Rijksmuseum in Holland. According to an Associated Press report a few weeks ago, the Dutch national museum confirmed that its celebrated moon rock, a popular tourist attraction, is really just a hunk of petrified wood. Naturally, when museum officials traced the rock to its source, it led back to a Rhode Island man.
Apparently, the museum was bequeathed the rock after the death of Prime Minister Willem Drees in the late 1980s. Drees had received it as a private gift on Oct. 9, 1969 from then U.S. ambassador J. William Middendorf during a visit by the three Apollo 11 astronauts as part of their “Giant Leap” goodwill tour after the moon landing.
Middendorf, who lives in Rhode Island, told Dutch NOS news that he had gotten it from the U.S. State Department, but couldn’t recall the exact details.
Talk about lending ammunition to the conspiracy theorists who believe the first moon landing was staged. Moon rocks may be passe now, but three months after the first manned mission, they probably weren’t the kind of things you’d hand out willy-nilly – like, say, engraved dinnerware – to every dignitary on the planet. Did the State Department pawn off petrified wood as moon rocks as a matter of practice? Was it a one-time practical joke? Or perhaps someone in the department pocketed the rock and substituted the wood he’d picked up in a gift shop at Yellowstone earlier that summer. Middendorf says he doesn’t remember, but then, since all diplomats do is give gifts and go to parties, it’s not hard to imagine forgetting the time you handed over a nondescript gray lump to the Dutch PM in exchange for a wheel of Gouda.
Anyway, all this talk about museums reminded me that a few years back on the paper side of things, I called for Rhode Island to be more innovative and experimental in its museum culture. Among the suggestions:
The Bayquarium: An aquarium built on the waterfront focusing on the natural history, biodiversity and sea lore of Narragansett Bay (plus a raw bar).
The Museum of Horror: Emphasizing Rhode Island’s gothic culture, including stories of local vampires, ghosts, witches, phantom ships and associations with horror writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. A separate ghost wing, featuring holograms of commonly sighted Rhody apparitions, could include a new office for Rhode Island’s TV team of Ghost Hunters.
The Museum of Scandal: Telling stories about everything gone tabloid in Rhode Island, from the Claus von Bulow trial to Plunder Dome, lottery abuses to blizzard snafus, through collected news footage, memorabilia and ephemera.
The Museum of Religion: Celebrating Rhode Island’s central role in establishing freedom of religion as a basic tenet of American life, the museum would explore all forms of religious belief and ritual practiced in the state, from its indigenous cultures to present-day storefront churches.
Companion buildings, The Narragansett Museum and The Wampanoag Museum, could detail the contributions of Rhode Island’s most prominent native communities, from their interactions with early settlers to stories of art, commerce and language that continue to influence our culture.
This week’s question: What kind of museum would you like to see in Rhode Island?