Monday, February 27, 2017

Under the Whale, Under the Whale . . . .

I slept under the great blue whale on Saturday night!  The blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History, that is.  With my family and a few hundred others.  It was the museum’s famous sleepover, our own Night at the Museum.  And it was wonderful!  I don’t have an official bucket list, just an idea of things I’d like to do, including speak another language and play piano (check! check!), and this had been on it for a long time.  In fact, generally speaking, I’d wanted to sleep in some kind of museum ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler.

We arrived with sleeping bags and stuff in tow, around 4 p.m., earlier than needed.  We were hungry and so headed to CPW where there were food carts.  We started with lovely Waffles&Dinges, including a waffle with ice cream, one with caramel apples, and one with speculoos cookie supreme.   We also got Nathan’s hot dogs and crinkle fries.

We didn’t know yet where exactly we would be sleeping.  In addition to the whale, guests also slept with North American mammals and the hall of minerals.  I wanted the whale and was thrilled that we got it (I think our crowd was below the 465 people maximum and so everyone slept under the whale!)  I was so excited.  We waited awhile as the guards quickly cleared the museum and then were escorted to the Hall of Biodiversity and Oceana, where we chose a spot on the edge, under the tail, near the polar bear.  Cots were provided and made a good sleeping spot.  But that was not for six hours!

In the meantime, we had almost free range of the museum.  We wandered the semi-dark and almost completely empty hallways.  A volunteer took our photo in the magnificint entry hall with the dinosaurs—with no one else around!  We were alone with the Moai—“dum dum, me want gum gum” if you know the Night at the Museum movie.  We saw the birds, the Plains Indians, the Asian peoples, mostly by ourselves.  It reminded me of my years working at museums, where I greatly enjoyed being alone when they were closed to the public.  This is as close as I’ll be able to share that with the kids. 

We saw an animal demonstration, with Barn Owl, Golden Eagle, alligator, opossum, black-throated monitor, and python.  We wandered the dinosaur halls during a flashlight fossil find, shining our lights on the stegosaurus, triceratops, titannicasaurus, and pterodactyls.  Mama, who took photos throughout the whole evening, had fun photographing the illuminated fossils.  We also stood in the darkened turret and looked out over the city.  And then we saw a movie on the wonders of the Arctic!  Plus a snack and a bedtime story. 

My favorite part, besides the experience of being in the museum after closing, was visiting the butterflies.  I love butterfly-ariums!  The one at AMNH is small, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  I even had a few land on me—one on my hand, one on my shoulder, one of my skirt, and one on my forehead!  That last one, an owl butterfly, stayed put for 20 minutes even as I walked around; I finally had an attendant remove it so we could continue our explorations.  It felt so light, and tickly, like my own live butterfly headdress.  Sis had one land on her arm and Bud had one do a touch-and-go landing on him, too. 

And then we readied for bed under the whale, around midnight.  Many kids were riled up, running around screaming, but Bud was asleep before the bedtime story (Trenc’s original picture book Night at the Museum) and Sis was asleep right after I gave her one of my ear plugs and didn’t even hear me sing “Baby Beluga” to her.  I listened to the ruckus but mainly focused on the whale above me, flickering in the flashlight lights as if it were under the sea.  This effect was even stronger when they shut off all but emergency lights, but the sky lights behind the whale were swirled shades of blue.  Beautiful, mesmerizing.  I almost couldn’t sleep.

The view from my cot
But eventually I did, waking only once when Sis needed the restroom.  The hall of hundreds of people was very quiet, except two very loud almost caricaturish snorers, and that beautiful whale.  I loved sleeping "under the sea."

The next morning found us having a quick breakfast, picking up some pins and magnets at the shop, and heading home, talking about how this was tied for best sleepover ever with the 19th-century ship Conrad at Mystic.   It just occurred to me that both have connections to whale, though the latter’s is pretty gruesome.

I much prefer the image of that giant blue whale above us.  I’ll treasure that for a long time to come.

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