In 1942, Alfred North Whitehead said of Boston that it had come to occupy a position in the 20th century similar to that of Paris in the Middle Ages. It had become, he observed, the "capital city" of Western learning. One of the reasons behind the British philosopher's observations lay in Boston's many remarkable museums.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, the preservation and exhibition of artistic, historical, and scientific objects have reached impressive heights in and around Boston. Whatever a tourist's interests, he will find a wide variety of museums to match them.
One might begin with a leisurely stroll through the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a great mansion in the Fenway area of Boston, designed after a 15 th-century Venetian palace. Planned by Mr. Gardner herself, the museum houses an impressive and eclectic collection of art -- original works by Rembrandt, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Vermeer, as well as John Singer Sargent's portrait of Mrs. Gardner.
An exquisite lace collection, a 14th-century Syro-Egyptian bowl, a bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty (1200-1100 BC), and a goldover-porcelain Empire tea set from France, displayed against a backdrop of Whistler pastels, can be viewed within the museum's many galleries.
Within walking distance of the Gardner museum, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts of fers, to give just a sampling, Egyptian and Near Eastern art, a textile collection which includes embroideries, printed fabrics, weavings, and costumes from all over the world, and works by French Impressionists, Spanish and Italian painters, as well as American artists such as John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart. (Stuart painted the famed George and Martha Washington portraits, which will be housed alternately every three years between the Museum of Fine Arts here and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.)
Did you know that an electric eel is capable of producing more than 600 volts of electricity . . . that there are 250 known species of sharks . . . that an octopus changes color according to its modds? The New England Aquarium, on Boston's historic waterfront, provides a home for these and many other creatures. Some 7,000 salt- and fresh-water fish are displayed in multi-level tanks, while a four-story-high ocean tank spellbinds children and adults alike with its contents: giant sea turtles, sharks, striped bass, moray eels, and an occasional diver descending 23 feet into the tank at "chow time" to feed them.
A children's aquarium allows youngsters to touch and examine living sea urchins, and sea lions thrill viewers seated around the edge of a 110,000-gallon pool.
Not to be overlooked is the fascinating chicken-hatching exhibit at Boston's Museum of Science located on the Charles River Basin. In sharp contrast, the visitor can only gape in amazement at the 20-foot-tall model of a flesheating Tyrannosaurus rex. Energy and environment exhibits, a tool display, and life-size models of spacecraft are interesting, too.
An additional attraction is the Hayden Planetarium, featuring such special programs as ". . . and a star to steer her by," (though June 23), which illustrates navigational techniques used in the great age of sail, and "The Stars Tonight" (also through June 23), where visitors learn to identify various planets and stars.
The Museum of Transportation, located in a renovated 188 wool warehouse on the waterfront, offers "Boston/A City in Transit." Its main exhibit encompasses more than three centuries in its historical analysis of the city.
The history of a simple village by the sea that grew to become a bustling city is traced through a study of its changing transportation systems. The days of clipper ships, Model T's, and horse-drawn milk carts may be long gone, but they come to life once again on a tour of the museum. The visitor can examine a 1914 Benz tourer with mahogany lapstrake body, wicker dashboard, and hammered German silver hood, walk through a Boston City square as it was in 1895, or ride a hovercraft.