The Golden Age of Radio. This particular gallery shows off the radio sets which were so much part of an average household – the kind that even I (pipsqueak that I am) begin to remember clearly. The large sets with woven yellow rattan kind of frontages, the large black bakelite knobs you turned to tune the thing (and the whine and crackle of static as you rolled across the airwaves seeking the frequency you wanted). The very special sound that makes you pinpoint the age of a broadcast, even if they WEREN’T playing Glenn Miller and “In The Mood”. They crowd the shelves of the museum, these radios, some of them large enough to be free-standing pieces of furniture on their own. And already they were becoming obsolete, because a new thing was coming… TELEVISION. Poor old radio could not compete. Oh, it’s still around – but it isn’t the same thing that it was all those years ago. Looking at these magnificent specimens, we’re straddling Then and Now, one foot firmly in the twenty first century as our cellphones slumber in our pockets and one ankle-deep in nostalgia, washing around our toes like the ocean on our first sight of the sea – just as memorable, just as intoxicating, a part of our shared past and our shared curiosity as a species, our history disappearing into the static as the knobs are turned and each new shining discovery is superseded by the next incredible and amazing thing that we have managed to put together, to comprehend, to find uses for. We really can be something special when we set our minds to it. Sometimes, in a place like this, there seems to be absolutely no limit to human ingenuity and determination and imagination. There is NOTHING we cannot, eventually, do.
We’ve just proved it. We’ve walked our way through history and an accumulation of knowledge and understanding, we started out with ancient Greeks and Ben Franklin collecting lightning and we ended up at the age of television. All under this one roof. All in the space of maybe an hour or two or three (depending on how much time you spend at the exhibits, how much and how long and how often your sense of wonder is engaged.
You’ve spanned several ages of human endeavour. And you step out again, into the real world, feeling just a little intoxicated with it all. It’s AMAZING. And it’s all right here, in little old Bellingham by the sea, unexpected and invigorating and wonderful.
But let me leave you with a story about another aspect of the museum – its sense of playfulness.
You see, it boasts… a theremin. And the last time we were there, the theremin had been discovered by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee. We know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it! Come back here! George!” But somehow, despite the assault on the ears, it seemed oddly appropriate, after all. The kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. And you could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. Look at me, it said, that smile – I am a child of miracles, and I will play with all the joy and wonder I know how to muster.
And perhaps that was a good envoi for us all. The world is a place where we trip over impossible dreams with every step that we take.
Sometimes it takes a museum to make you remember that.