by Bruce Scofield
It was during an induced day-dream the other day that I took a tour of the National Astrology Museum, which, as you probably know, is located in Cleveland, next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As I walked through the tilted Saturnian rings that guard the front entrance, noticing the statues of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses that Saturn's Moons were named for, I suddenly felt tired, like I'd been walking forever. Odd. Anyway, I did make it through the front door, paid my $3.60 admission and tried to avoid looking at the things for sale at the museum shop, figuring I'd check that scene out when I was done.
Well there I stood in the middle of a great circular room, really well-done, with forty-foot ceilings and murals on the walls. It was mostly a collage of ancient motifs like old zodiacs and gods, etc. On the ceiling was a copy of a Renaissance chapel ceiling with angels and zodiacs and, according to the museum guide, some rich patron's horoscope was cleverly painted into the scene. Overall, it was pretty impressive and a fine testimony to astrology's long history.
The museum building itself was circular and the usual tour of it looped through a number of rooms. In the center of the building was the Sun and Moon room and around them the rooms of the planets. I decided to check out the planet rooms but to get there I had to first enter a cylindrical shaped and darkened room with glow-in-the-dark moving spheres. This was an experiential astronomy display, and it was really very interesting. You stepped up onto a platform in the middle of the room, which was supposed to be the Earth, and could see the Sun, Moon and all the planets orbiting around you. On the curving background wall was the zodiac, with grid lines that allowed you to see where the planets were. The entrance door was at the first degree of Aries and the exit at its opposite point at the first degree of Libra. Two vertical light bands moved ever so slowly against the zodiac and I realized that these represented the Ascendant and Midheaven -- for the actual moment. So the whole display was a giant, astronomically correct, horoscope in motion. I spent a long time in this room waiting to see what would happen when the degree of the Ascendant reached the degree of my natal Pluto. During the 20 minute or so wait, several groups of people came and went but just when the Ascendant moved to within about 10 minutes of arc to my Pluto, a dark-haired woman came in with an infant whose diaper smelled so bad I quickly left the room.
The next room, which I might add was very well-lit, was dedi_cated to the planet Mercury. There were about 100 different things going on at once and it took me a while to settle on which things I wanted to see or hear. I went right away to the astrono_my section of the room (all the planet rooms apparently have a section concerned with their physical characteristics) to check out the space-probe photos of the mysterious hieroglyphs that were discovered in 1995 on its surface. It always made sense to me that Mercury would be the planet on which the aliens would leave a billboard. So far, nobody's been able to make heads or tails out of these markings, but they do look a little like the crop circles of the early 1990's. After only a few minutes of being in the room, I started to feel anxious, probably because of the heavy media bombardment I was getting, so I ran out and entered the Venus room -- and what a relief!
Of course, the Venus room was well decorated and relaxing. It was also the most crowded with fat museum-goers sitting on the many couches and recliners that were provided to view the various displays. There was a foamy fountain in the middle of the room and the temperature was at least 80 degrees. As I started to relax, I took notice of the fact that, aside from the many statues and pictures of women, the huge models of kidneys and ovaries and the chocolate shop, there was nothing explaining what any of this meant. I mean, the ambience was great, and the stuff in the room (even the smells) was definitely Venusian, but I wanted to know exactly what the kidneys did in the body and I couldn't find any text or anyone who cared. I finally found a group of women standing near the fountain eating chocolate and figured they must be the official museum guides for this room. When I asked them about the kidneys, they looked concerned and started asking themselves questions. After a while, one held another's hand and it looked like they were working on reaching an agreement. I didn't wait and left for the Mars room.
As you enter the Mars room you are immediately hit with the sounds of metal on metal, sort of like clashing swords against a background of thrashing heavy-metal rock music. This, as it turns out, is the constant soundtrack for the room which is played at high volume. Aside from this audial annoyance, the room was quite interesting with its red-lit displays of ancient Egyptian statues with prominent erections, bizarre circumcision instruments and a large gun collection, apparently donated by the local chapter of the NRA. A portion of the room was taken up by a model of the face and pyramids on Mars -- you know the one's that NASA was afraid of looking at for so long. While I was looking at the model, one of the museum staff punched a visitor who, apparent_ly, asked to have the music turned down. One nice touch, though, there was a spittoon in a corner and it looked well-used. Now that I had a headache I skipped the Asteriod Veranda and entered the Jupiter room.
Of course, the Jupiter room was, except for the lobby, the largest in the museum. Gustave Holst's piece on Jupiter from his Planets Symphony was playing and there were free hors d'oeuvres to eat, which being a Cancer (our motto: "live to eat free"), I couldn't resist. This really was a nice place to be and a lot of other people thought so too. It was kind of crowded, like the Venus room, but there was a lot more movement. In several alcoves in the room were interestingly dressed museum guides giving short lectures on topics like Greek philosophy (one bald, bearded guy was actually wearing robes), comparative religions and stock market speculation. I couldn't believe it but at one point a horse was wandering around freely. Two big, fat dogs were sleeping in a corner near what was apparently some kind of library-like reading room where I took a seat and browsed through some travel magazines. Although I didn't get to it (there was a line), I noticed there was a display on Jupiter's Moons and a holographic red-spot ride that you could step into and experience what the atmosphere of Jupiter must be like.
So Saturn was next and as you might expect was pretty much bypassed by the majority of visitors. First of all, you had to stoop down to get in the room and the ceiling was right on your head -- I guessed it was only about 6 feet high in the center and lower at the sides. It was cold in there too, about 55 degrees (to save on the heating bill a sign said). This was the one room that was really like a museum, all kinds of scientific displays that were loaded with informative text. Personally, I liked the quiet and the loneliness for a change. There was only one museum guide in the room, a very old man, who knew about everything once I got him talking (he apparently wasn't used to people asking him questions). He told me that it is only from this room that you can access the heavily shielded vaults that contain the rarest of rare astrological manuscripts -- but, this is not common knowl_edge and the nondescript door to this room, to the left of the restroom, is usually locked. If you want to use the library you must first apply and go through a thorough background check. It seems that when the museum first opened, some Christian fanatics tried to get into the library to do some book burning and since then, the museum's screening process has been very thorough.
Well, I was really tired now for some strange reason so I just breezed through the Outer Planet rooms figuring I'd come back some day and check them out more thoroughly. As I walked through the Uranus room (as you enter a static electricity burst stands your hair on end) I got hit in the head by a flying rubber chick_en and, after only a minute in the room, nearly punched a weird looking guy who kept trying to explain his really stupid (or maybe they were brilliant) ideas to me. The Neptune room was really nice with its dry-ice-fog-on-the-floor-with-colored-lights effect. Although the music was really great in this room, I couldn't see that there was anything in it. The Pluto room was, as I expected, in the basement of the building. You had to go down a few flights of stairs and, frankly, I didn't like the smell even from above, so I passed it over and cruised through the zodiac room, the astrologers Hall of Fame and finally reached the lobby again. After purchasing an "Astrologers Look In" bumper sticker, I left the building and headed back to work.
Well, next time I visit this place I'll tell you more about it. Now
for something completely different.