#794: Night at the Museum

May 24th, 2017

My ankle started to hurt, an old-man trait inherited from my dad’s side of the family, so I took a seat between the photo of the world’s first Ferris wheel and the old Chicago Times guide to the tribes you could gawk at.

The historian was still talking.

The event was a lightly boozy after-hours tour of the Chicago History Museum, punctuated by “flash tours” of 15 minutes through the museum’s various exhibits. Rather than the Playboy tour or the one run by improv performers (Chicago’s greatest shame), we had opted for the one run by the museum’s chief historian.

So, breath still wheaty from the craft brews and whisky samples we were forced to leave in the café area, we followed the head museum’s head man for a 15-minute talk on the city’s two World’s Fairs, the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and the 1933 Century of Progress.

And the historian was still talking.

He talked Ferris wheels and freakshows. He talked the fake fair Buffalo Bill set up next door to try and steal business. He talked construction and architecture and Louis Sullivan refusing to abide the color scheme and hobos setting up camp once the fair was done and he kept going.

He ran over the time allotted for the “flash tour.” Well over. He knew it was happening, too. He checked his watch a few times, had to see that he’d run over the 15 minutes given to pitch two of the greatest public events the city ever knew.

But he kept talking. With a pained look in his eyes that there was so much more to get through than he was able to accomplish, he kept talking.

It annoyed me last night. It charms me this morning.

He couldn’t bear to give this topic short shrift even when that’s what people had signed up for. He saw us shifting from leg to leg, discreetly checking our phones for the time, then overtly checking our phones for the time and he still could not stop.

There was so much he wanted to share with us that it pained him not to be able to. He was a new parent showing off baby photos to glazed-over colleagues. He was the buddy at the bar who will not shut up about this amazing woman he just met.

But it wasn’t a baby or a new sweetie. It was the fate of the scrap metal from the first Ferris Wheel. It was the social dynamics that led Roosevelt to ask the Century of Progress to run for an extra year. None of this was new to the historian. He’d had his job for years.

And he still had that much excitement and love.

Eventually, a museum official sidled up to the historian, whispering something in his ear. As he had gone past both the planned end time for the first tour and the planned start for the second tour, I guess that’s what it was about. The historian quickly ended the tour and shot out of the room, leaving us surrounded by Chicago history and slightly jealous we would never love it as much as he did.

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