I was enchanted from the moment I hit the start button on the “Ben Franklin discovers electricity” display. A nerd at heart, I love history and gadgets and complicated objects that look like they could be steam punk sculptures but actually, changed the course of history, of modern life. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Enrico Marconi and that cultish nerd of all nerds, Nikola Tesla, all have a place at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham, Washington.
I’ve made the pilgrimage to this oddball temple of electricity two, or three times. Something crazy always happens. A docent played Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on the theremin. (Sorry, we asked, that guy doesn’t work there anymore. You’ll have to settle for this YouTube video.) A tall skinny guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of the dangers of current sparked off the Tesla coil. A gray-haired veteran wound up the gramophones and played the songs of another era, dragging us backwards through time. I swooned over the Bakelite radios, the brass and oak telephones and a TV with a round display. I took off my hat and my hair stood up, full of static from playing with the hands-on experiments that are targeted at kids – but who’s not a kid when there’s the blue snap of sparks and the chance to stick a balloon on the side of your mate’s head?
The museum has been around in various incarnations since 1985. They moved in to their expansive space in downtown Bellingham in 2001. If you’re even the tiniest bit geeky, you’ll need more time than you’d expect to knock around the old brick warehouse. If a docent offers to show you how something works, say yes, you won’t regret it.
And a tip, hardly a secret one, but worth knowing all the same: when your blood sugar drops from all that dorking it up over Leyden jars and radio tubes, head across the street to Rocket Donuts. They’ve got bacon maple bars, vintage sci-fi on the TV in the seating area, and a life-size replica of Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Nerd heaven.
[Photo: Vacuum Tube Displays, American Museum of Radio & Electricity by Lumachrome via Flickr (Creative Commons)]