Vermont – Day 1: Museums, Maple Candies, and a Video Store

I started my first day in Vermont with a trip to a local museum called Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. I arrived around 10 a.m. and didn’t expect to spend as much time there as I did. They had two special exhibits: one about dinosaurs, the other about butterflies. Dinosaurs are awesome and butterflies are usually pretty, so I was excited.

Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

The prices for admission were $8 for adults and $6 for adults up to 25 with a student ID. I told the lady at the counter I had a student ID and she gave me the discount. [Note: I know this was a lie of omission. I never said I was in school, merely that I had a student ID…] For an additional $3 or $5 I could opt in to a presentation in the planetarium. It was $3 for a thirty minute presentation or $5 for sixty minutes. I asked the lady what the difference was and she said the shorter one was more geared toward families. I opted for the longer one in the hopes that no little kids would be screaming/crying throughout it, and to even out my $2 discount from earlier. So, $11 later I was on my way.

I started with the dinosaur exhibit. It was right by the entrance and dinosaurs are the best! First, let me just say how much I appreciated all of the interactive components the museum had. Often times when I’m at a museum and it says not to touch something, it makes me want to touch it more than I would’ve had they not had the sign. Luckily, Fairbanks had a number of things on display that said “Touch Me,” but not in a creepy way.

Invitation to touch a dinosaur leg at Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Invitation to touch a dinosaur leg bone at Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

It was a pretty small museum so I didn’t think it’d take me very long to get through it. I took the time to read almost all of the signs, listen to or watch all the clips and really absorb everything they had to offer. The dinosaur exhibit was great. They had a video explaining how a new branch of science, that I forget the name of, sort of combines paleontology with computer programming/science. Basically, they can use the bones they find at a dig site and replicate them in the computer program to see the dinosaur’s probable range of motion. It was really cool. They also had an example of the technology available where you could click on a dinosaur and move your finger around on the touchscreen and make it move it’s neck and then do the same thing for a giraffe to compare the two. It was pretty freaking cool. I’m sure it was meant to engage children, but as an adult I found it equally educational and fun.

Next I chose to do a loop around the lower level to check out all the taxidermic birds that lined the perimeter. Now, normally taxidermy really freaks me out and I try to avoid it at all costs. However, for some reason, this time I just found it really fascinating. There were so many birds. So. Many. For such a small space. Like, hundreds, probably over a thousand, actually. 

Isn't it kind of cute?! Stuffed owl at Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Isn’t it kind of cute?! Stuffed owl at Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

From what I gathered, Mr. Fairbanks started collecting dead animals and other trinkets when he was a little kid and then opened a room in his house called the “cabinet of curiosities” to the public when he became an adult. Eventually, his collection became too large for his house so he had the Fairbanks Museum built and later the planetarium was added.

There were other taxidermic animals besides birds. I posed with the moose in case it’s the only moose I see in new England, besides Lenny. They had a polar bear (my favorite!), as well as a few other types of bears. Also a buffalo, and some larger felines. They even had little scenes of otter and opossum life. It was pretty neat.

My new friend...sorry Lenny, Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

My new friend…sorry Lenny, Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

When I went upstairs I figured it was going to be more of the same. I was wrong. The spiral staircase led me to a Civil War exhibit that showed uniforms and other military gadgets from both the Union and Confederate armies. As I wound my way around the balcony I learned about Vermont’s booming wool industry and saw some spinning wheels. I came across some bug art. Yep, bug art. Art made out of dead bugs. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at, but then I re-read the placard and did a double take and was ASTOUNDED. These pictures took over ten thousand dead butterflies and beetles to make. How does one even go about collecting that many critters, let alone preserving them and using them to make mosaics?!

Bug art created by John Hampson in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Bug art: “North Star” created by John Hampson in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Close-up of "North Star" by John Hampson. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Close-up of “North Star” by John Hampson. Cool huh? Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Next came some weaponry. Then the toys and dolls. Then, throwing me completely for a loop, we jumped to Pacific Island cultural stuff. Then Native American artifacts, Middle Eastern stuff, Japanese, Chinese, Swiss. It just kept changing. It was so fascinating to have all this different material in the same museum. As I rounded the corner I came across minerals and then found the butterflies before I was back to the Civil War. Awesome. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get many good pictures because of the lights and glass upstairs. 🙁

An adaptation to ward off predators. Clever. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

An adaptation to ward off predators. Clever. Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

I took a quick lunch break outside before heading to the planetarium presentation at 1:30 p.m.. The planetarium was fantastic! One other lady and I had the place to ourselves. The speaker talked about the lunar eclipse that was going to happen that night and explained how the north star works and how the sun and the moon and all the planets always travel through the astrological constellations. It was super fascinating, but then I’ve always been really into space.

Finally, I wandered into the basement to check out the scales. Apparently Fairbanks scales were the first of their kind and totally revolutionized the weighing industry. Nifty.

Fairbanks Scales, Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Fairbanks Scales, Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury, VT.

After Fairbanks I headed to the Maple Grove Farms of Vermont Museum and Gift Shop. Back in Arkansas I’d started eating Maple Grove Farms pure maple syrup, so I was really interested to learn more about it. Maple Grove Farms of Vermont was started by two women, Helen Gray and Ethel McLaren, a hundred years ago when they started making maple sugar candies. I got to sample one of the candies in the gift shop. They were  hard at first and then all of a sudden just dissolved on my tongue. It tastes like maple and sugar with a granulated texture. I liked it. The museum was a bit of a let down. There were a few artifacts in this shed-like structure and an old box TV playing a two-three minute video showing some farmers harvesting the sap. The TV had a terrible connection though and there was a really obnoxious static sound that kept coming and going. I promptly left. Fortunately, the gift shop also had a video. It was about ten minutes long and took viewers through the process at the factory. It was pretty neat.

Finally, I was driving to check out a bookstore I’d seen earlier, but missed my turn and went to turn around and found:

A real-life, in-person video store?! No way! St. Johnsbury, VT.

A real-life, in-person video store?! No way! St. Johnsbury, VT.

Yep. A real life video rental store! I was ECSTATIC! I love Netflix as much as the next person, but there is something super stellar about wandering around a video store and finding a movie you’ve either never heard of, or hadn’t thought about in forever, and being like, yes this is exactly what I want to watch tonight. It’s so much easier to wander through a store and quickly soak in all the movies visually rather than having to sift through them one at a time on Netflix. Not to mention that a video store has pretty much every Disney movie imaginable. I was BEYOND EXCITED that video stores still exist and am adding it to my list of necessities when I finally decide to settle down somewhere.

Look at all those Disney movies! Video King, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Look at all those Disney movies! Video King, St. Johnsbury, VT.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d finished perusing the video store and got back to the bookstore it was closed. Oh well, I come across a lot of bookstores in my travels. This was the first video store.

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