"This is going to turn into a history lesson, isn't it," Cristi said. This was my weekly column, the one you're reading now. She knows me well.
Sure, I had every intention of mentioning that two Oklahomans, James Banning and Thomas Allen, were the first African Americans to fly across the country. Why not? They coined themselves The Flying Hobos. They thought that, after arriving on the east coast, they'd be rewarded with a $1,000 prize. But, it was a hoax. They didn't receive the money, but they completed the journey with financial assistance from friends and family around the country.
Why wouldn't I bring that up in the column, I thought, as she joked with a volunteer staff member. Tulsans love facts, don't they?
Well, don't you?
If so, The Tulsa Air and Space Museum, 3624 N. 74th E. Ave, across from the zoo, has many (facts) to share with you and your family. The museum and planetarium are open Tuesday through Saturday 10am-5pm and on Sundays from 1pm-5pm. A dual ticket, which I highly recommend, is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, students, and military, and $6 for children 4-12. For children 3 years of age and younger, no money is required to change hands for entry.
While the museum and planetarium are modest, the two buildings are home to a wealth of knowledge about astronomy in general and the history of aviation in Tulsa.
Don't expect to get lost in the museum. It's only one large room. But, there are numerous planes, interactive exhibits and photos to experience.
After being greeted by the third volunteer in 5 minutes, a testament to the friendly staff and to the less than immense crowd on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to introduce myself, something I don't typically do, because I prefer to stay anonymous and avoid any preferential treatment. But, I wanted to quote Bud Wills, a volunteer at the museum.
"You tell me when, where and why and I'll be there (to fly)," Bud said smiling. He, like most of the staff, volunteers at the museum because of his love for aviation. I followed by asking if he really needed a why.
"No," he laughed. If you're looking for a flying partner, I know where you can find one.
Bud visited with Cristi and me for 15 minutes. His passion for flying was evident as he shared stories of Charles Lindbergh's 35.5 hour flight from New York to Paris and the aftermath of that flight (parades in Paris and New York) and various other tales of Tulsa's aviation history. His zeal for flight continued to radiate (time slipped by), and had Cristi not accompanied me to the museum, I'd have completely missed our scheduled showing in the planetarium. I knew I brought her for a reason!
All these years and I had never been to a planetarium. The best I'd done was a simple, yet lengthy observation of the stars in rural areas of northern California and southern Belize. On this day, I would be looking at neither a night sky over California nor Belize. This show was designed to give those in attendance a glimpse of the night sky over Green Country -- minus all the light pollution, nighttime glow around cities that serves to dim the brightness of stars, of course.
The theater opened about 5 minutes before the show. I scurried to the best possible location and took a seat. I felt as if I was 10 years old again. I was giddy. In the five minutes between my entry and the beginning of the show, I looked at my watch upwards of 10 times. I shared with Cristi. "I'm really excited about this," I admitted. She could tell.
In retrospect, I can say my most prominent thoughts from the planetarium were: I need to get a telescope and I should check out the stars tonight.
In the confines of the warm, wind-proof building I forgot that the wind was howling outside and preparing for a chilly evening. Later, the last thing I would want to do was go outside, but at the time of the star show in the planetarium, I seriously questioned why I didn't take time each night to observe the stars.
Throughout the 30-minute exhibit, Matthew, who guided our sky journey, educated us about constellations, nebulas, and the planets. I've talked about this before, but here goes again -- to experience the stars, planets and worlds beyond ours is always humbling for me. It makes me appreciative of what I have.
Matthew also did some serious running in the theater, something that the 10-year old in me greatly opposed. The smart-alecky child inside of me wanted to stand and audaciously issue a warning to him: "Sir, there's no running in the theater. Let that serve as your warning! Next time I have to say something, you're going to have to patiently wait for us in the lobby."
I fought the urge, and I'm glad I did. Matthew's love of the stars was intoxicating. Banishing him to the lobby would have been a mistake.
The show was about to begin. Yay!
I relaxed in my reclining seat. I was reminded that Venus and Jupiter are still visible in Tulsa's night sky until about 8:30 pm. Saturn will be in the spring of 2009, but for now it is only visible around 3am. I can wait.
Matthew taught us the stories behind the constellations and, in doing so, about the truly amazing amount of patterns in the night sky. Because of his presentation, I'm going to explore educating myself on the stars. It's an intriguing topic that I know embarrassingly little about.
After the show at the planetarium concluded, Cristi and I made our way back to the museum. We had yet to visit the interactive (upstairs) area.
Tulsa's air history is extensive. In 1935, Tulsa's airport was the busiest in the nation. But, that all became an afterthought during a friendly paper-airplane-flying-competition upstairs. The second floor of the museum and the outdoor playground are tailored for children, but I, too, know how to enjoy paper airplanes, flight simulators and paper rocket launchers.
The Tulsa Air and Space Museum will undergo an eventual expansion (in the next five years) connecting the two buildings (museum and planetarium). The museum will also add two additional planes to their collection, which will mean more exploring for guests. Until that time the small Tulsa Air and Space Museum continues to pack a large educational opportunity into your day. And, remember: No running in the theater. Please!
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