When you think of great museums, Kentucky is probably not the first state that comes to mind. And yet, I’ve found that Kentucky has some real gems. My most recent find is the Kentucky Museum, on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. This three-floor museum has a wide variety of exhibits, including several that the kids will enjoy. To make it even more enjoyable for the kids, be sure to borrow a Museum Adventure Pack when you arrive.
It contains a Family Guide booklet with activities for kids and some other items kids can bring home with them.
The activities in the guide are organized by floor. Just return the empty backpack at the end of your visit.
One of the museum exhibits, a log house, is located outside the building.
We’ve toured plenty of log cabins before, but this two-story house is much bigger than a cabin. Inside you’ll find reproduction tools and furnishings.
The first floor has an interesting exhibit on the Civil War.
This exhibit has several hands-on activities. For example, your kids can learn about the codes used to write letters so that spies couldn’t read them.
My daughters loved the Civil-War-era dress-up clothes, especially the hoop skirts.
One exhibit featured art by Bowling Green native, Dorothy Grider (1914-2012). If her art looks familiar, it may be because she illustrated over 100 books during her career.
The exhibit that was my personal favorite was about Duncan Hines, who was born in Bowling Green. I’m sure that most of my readers recognize the name Duncan Hines as a brand of cake mix, but you may not realize that, unlike Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima, Duncan Hines was a real person. Until I visited the Kentucky Museum, I had no idea how much I had in common with Duncan Hines. The similarities are actually rather eerie. He started his career as a traveling salesman and his career change to a travel writer was unplanned, as was mine. As he traveled, he noted the restaurants he really liked and included a list of them along with his Christmas card one year. Other people requested his list and the following year he self-published his first book, Adventures in Good Eating.
He went on to published a Vacation Guide and Lodging for a Night.
In my case, a friend and I started intentionally exploring our city with our kids. I wrote about our adventures in my Christmas cards too and friends said they enjoyed reading about them. We then started speaking to moms’ groups and gave out a list of recommended attractions. People who heard about our list wanted a copy. Eventually we self-published a book, Adventures Around Cincinnati. Even the first word in our book titles are the same. I told you it was eerie. Another similarity is the value we place on earning the trust of our readers by telling them what they want to know. I love the story shared on this display.
That kind of loyalty and the trust he earned is how his career continued to expand into other areas, including cake mix. That is the kind of trust and loyalty to which I aspire. If you’ve met me personally, you know that I take it very seriously. I was so inspired by the life of Duncan Hines that I requested (and received) a copy of one of his books for Christmas. But, don’t expect me to start selling cake mix!
Bowling Green honors Duncan Hines with an annual festival, which, as you might expect, includes a baking contest. The only negative about the exhibit at the Kentucky Museum is that it will probably make you hungry for cake, especially when you see the display of cake mix boxes over the years.
Another fascinating exhibit is IAE–Instruments of American Excellence–which showcases ordinary items used by prominent Americans in extraordinary ways. The collection has a variety of items including sports gear such as a golf club from Jack Nicklaus, one of Mia Hamm’s soccer cleats, and this tennis racket used by Chris Evert.
The collection includes instruments from the arts, including one of Thomas Kinkade’s paint brushes, shoes that Liza Minnelli wore on Broadway, and this computer keyboard that author Jodi Picoult used to write several bestselling novels.
My daughters were more interested in Kit Kittredge’s typewriter, from Valerie Tripp, the author of several American Girl books. They also liked seeing equipment used to make Dippin’ Dots ice cream from inventor Curt Jones. You can also see industrial items, like a lathe used by Bud Hillerich to make Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and a grinding stone from Eli Whitney. I enjoyed seeing one of Jay Leno’s microphones and sermon notes from Billy Graham.
Isn’t the idea for this collection fascinating? The intent is to educate and inspire. There are hundreds of items and the collection will have a permanent residence at the Kentucky Museum.
The museum also has a collection of home decor items from different periods of history that I found interesting (the kids–not so much). The Quilt Gallery was closed during our visit, but I would have liked to have seen it.
Neat museum, isn’t it? We actually had to come back a second time because we didn’t have enough time to see everything the first time.
Ready to visit?
Western Kentucky University
1444 Kentucky St.
Bowling Green, KY 42101
Monday–Saturday: 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Sunday: 1–4 p.m.
$10 for Adults
$5 for Children ages 6–16
$5 Seniors (over 60)
$20 for Families
Children under 6 are free
Disclosure: my kids and I were provided with complimentary admission to the museum so that I could write about the museum. Our visit was arranged and hosted by the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
You might also be interested in