"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Recreating an exhibit that no longer exists

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

Not every museum exhibit will survive untouched from your childhood to your grandchildrens'. Over time, historic and scientific accuracy, changing mores and aesthetics, and improvements in design will force some exhibits off the main stage and into the dusty storage room of memory.

But you can still love them from afar.

On this, the last day of "My Favorite Museum Exhibit" week, I'd like to include one man's tribute to a long-dismantled museum exhibit. Tom Luthman writes:

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I'd go to the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio (COSI). COSI opened in 1964, in the old Franklin County Memorial Hall, built in 1906. It closed in 1999, or rather, it moved to a new location, and most of the old exhibits didn't make the move.

One of the exhibits was THE TRIUMPH OF MAN, a leftover exhibit from the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, built by the Travelers Insurance Companies. You'd walk down a darkened corridor, and off in alcoves were 14 paper-mache scenes depicting the history of humanity. All accompanied by a recorded narration from the World's Fair. It was also sold in the gift shop as a 33-1/3 record, which we had.

Now, Luthman has put that recording to good use, incorporating it into a Flash-based recreation of THE TRIUMPH OF MAN* that will live online, long after the physical exhibit has decomposed in a landfill somewhere.

This is a really neat project and worth checking out, even if you don't have the emotional connection to THE TRIUMPH OF MAN that Luthman does. Just make sure you're someplace where you can crank up the sound and enjoy that sweet, sweet mid-20th-century triumphalism in stereo.

A virtual recreation of The TRIUMPH OF MAN

*Of course it's in all caps every time. It's THE TRIUMPH OF MAN, for god's sake.


  1. That exhibit really harkens back to an earlier era, in how we saw our (Americans) role in the world, and how we approached education.

    I can very much appreciate the recreation and preservation of our educational history, but I’m also glad that we do not approach education in this manner anymore. Science museums have been crusading for the last decade to shake this exact image from people’s minds – stern narration and sterile dioramas.

    The exhibit itself is frighteningly Euro-centric, starting by highlighting the European expansion (using MIGHTY FIRE) as the most important development for early humans, as well as focusing nearly all “civilization” aspects on Romans, Europeans, white settlers and finally AMERICA – showing a clear lineage of relevance and dominance that excludes all others.

    And of course, there is the narrator’s proudly inflected pronunciation of “MAN”, as if the word is so strong that he must steel his nerves before casting it out as an incantation of destiny.

    1. Totally agree, Sam. On all points. Like I say, there are good reasons why exhibits like this one don’t last. But I can also see why a small child might have loved it and I think it’s awesome that Luthman took the time to preserve it this way … as a cultural artifact, not really an education piece. 

      It’s meta, right? A 1960s science museum exhibit that could now be used as an exhibit in a museum of American cultural studies? 

      1.  Heck, half the exhibits of the Smithsonian Air & Space museum are like that (well, more from the 1970s and 1980s, I suppose). All this “Hurray! America has taken space back from the Commies!” attitude. Part of me will regret when these exhibits get redone.

      2. COSI was the best part of visiting Columbus as a kid.  I remember the time tunnel, as I knew it as a kid in the 90’s.  It’s creepy how well I remember the Black Death scene.  Seriously, that scene is what I think of when I think of the bubonic plague.  Fortunately, that’s not all I remember, but I did forget how Euro-/Americ-centric it was.

        I don’t remember any lines at the old COSI. In retrospect I realize that there were lines, but my parents stood in those while I got to look at all the cool interactive displays that were lines the walls.  Yes, those displays were old, but simple physics and biology displays (from a child’s perspective) didn’t become outdated and offensive the way the time tunnel did.

        None of those interactive exhibits made the move in 1999 either – or at most a few did.  My memories of the new COSI are of long lines in bare hallways interspersed with a few interactive displays in the traveling exhibits that always seemed over-crowded.

        So while I agree that outdated commentary and general bias should be replaced, I fear COSI threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.  Since I haven’t been back since the early 2000’s, I can’t really say what COSI is like now.

        Also, I wonder what we will consider inappropriate bias in another 20-30 years that is accepted as good science/history education now.

  2. Having grown up in central Ohio, I have to thank Luthman (and the oldcosi.com site he links to) for the nostalgia trip.

  3. Oh man, as a fellow former-Columbusite who must have gone to the old COSI dozens of times growing up, thank you for the memories and the images.

    I, too, miss the old COSI, and not just in a deeply nostalgic way, but in a practical “why didn’t they keep any of the good stuff??” kind of way. So many exhibits were lost forever when they moved — the Time Tunnel, the old Street of Yesteryear, the Coal Mine….

    I revisited the new COSI a few months ago. They’re trying hard to improve it. They closed off large sections of the building to prevent the loooong walk between exhibits, and are trying to make the place cozier and more interactive. But as others have noted, instead of feeling like a mad scientist lab full of wonderful toys, you walk down long rather narrow hallways into exhibit rooms full of lines.

  4. As I mention in that Flash widget, that paper-mache bubonic plague rat was something of a time traveler.

    When groups came through, sometimes he’d been relocated from the Black Death scene to Copernicus’s observation balcony, or to Christopher Columbus’s outstretched arm.

    And, for a time, he was even in the new COSI, in a glass case that had relics of the old COSI.


    Also, on the website nywf64.com, there’s some better pictures of the dioramas:

  5. I vividly remember THE TRIUMPH OF MAN from the 1964 World’s Fair, and even as a 10 year old I noticed that the narration was written to subtly imply that the highest achievement of human civilization was the invention of insurance.  There were lines like, “And so with the taming of fire by the cave dwellers, mankind slowly began to learn how to control his environment–and develop the ability to PROTECT the ones he LOVED!”

    1. I vividly remember THE TRIUMPH OF MAN from the 1964 World’s Fair, and even as a 10 year old I noticed that the narration was written to subtly imply that the highest achievement of human civilization was the invention of insurance.

      And yet, the physical evidence at the Fair made it clear that the highest achievement of human civilization was the invention of Belgian waffles.

  6. I love seeing COSI on here and looking at the oldcosi website. I grew up in Columbus and COSI was one of my favorite places to visit – I even had my birthday there one year. The new COSI has some nice exhibits, but it never measured up to the old one for me. It was great to see the photos of the old building!

  7. I had that record when I was a kid, and I listened to it over and over.  In fact I still have a copy in my record collection.

  8. I recently came across my old Triumph of Man record and was thinking of putting it up on the internet. I’m glad to see someone has done so.

    I’m also rather upset at all the anti-Western bias showing  It was a triumph of the west that led to the long term unification of the hemispheres. It was a triumph of west that led to the scientific method, an outgrowth of the Protestant Revolution. It was a triumph of the west that led to democratic government in large scale civilization. It was a triumph of the west that led to a relatively uncensored internet. You may not think that the united old and new worlds, science or the internet are good things, but they define our present.

    Don’t disrespect fire. Cooked food improved nutrition and simplified digestion. It guided our evolution and made us human. It’s hard to run a big brain 24/7 on raw pickings. Don’t disrespect insurance either. It’s was a major advance in collective risk management and the mathematics and science behind it led to social revolution.

    Sure, the delivery was hokey by modern standards. But Pirate Bay and Anonymous are going to sound just as hokey in a few years.

    1. It was a triumph of the west that led to the long term unification of the hemispheres.

      Them’s some real pretty words for describing conquest, slavery and genocide.

  9.  As long as I’m waxing nostalgic about the old COSI, I’ll mention this:

    In 1978 the Model Railroad and History of Ohio Transportation exhibit opened.

    Here’s some photos on the Old COSI site.   I knew it before it was enclosed in glass.


    The photos don’t really do it justice though; it was a good (and vast) model railroad, with large areas that were just wilderness.  But what made it extraordinary was, there were sections of it that used real water.    One part had a canal boat, being led by a horse.  The horse was on a rod that came up through a groove, I presume some sort of under-the-table mechanism like the mechanical rabbit at a dog-race track.

    Another was a paddleboat, and I presume it moved by being drawn around in the real water by a magnet on a track under the table.

    I can’t really stress how unusual it was to have a model railroad with real water and boats that moved through the water.    My brother had a subscription to MODEL RAILROADER magazine in the 1970s and 1980s, and I used to read through them, and I can only recall one layout depicted in there that used real water and moving boats.

  10. A friend of mine once related to me a story about him getting locked in a museum overnight in Hungary with the Crown Jewels that had recently been returned by the US Carter administration (long before the iron curtain went down).  But a humorous aside was the dinosaur exhibit, which was inflated balloon dinosaurs. :D  (jokes about available orifices ensue…)

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