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Mississippi on display: Newly expanded museum connects visitors with Old Man River
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Photo:
A young visitor watches fish in the museum aquarium. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
Photo:
Young visitors to the museum make use of the interactive displays. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
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A turtle who calls the museum home. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
DUBUQUE, IOWA -- "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water."

Loren Eiseley wrote that. Iknow because on a recent visit to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, it floated across a giant video screen. That was just one of the exciting new features at the newlyexpanded attraction. It's a great place to learn about the river, from river-related jobs past and present to environmental changes and problems.

The original exhibits are still there: the open sturgeon pond where you can reach in andpet a fish, the bayou exhibit with a large alligator lounging on a log, and the river wetlab that teaches children about life in and around fresh waters. The expansion pushes theeducation aspect to a whole new level with interactive videos, touch and learn displays, and a huge playground on the upper level called "River Works" for kids -- not to mention the immersion theater experience presenting films bigger than life with specialeffects and sounds that will make you swear you were there.

At one interactive station, if you want to find out an interesting fact on, say, steamboats, push a button. A display will light up with information about how steamboats were often used to transport slaves tofreedom, and how they had a huge effect on the outcome of the Civil War, both by blockingenemy pathways and in battle.

In another section there's a wealth of information both enlightening and alarming on climate change, how it impacts what little precious fresh water we have, and our relationship with water,from human consumption to human impact. Pollution displays of waste trudged fromwaterways will make you think twice the next time you hop on a boat. The unfortunatedeformities affecting animals that live in the water also is disturbing. Around the cornerfrom that, however, is hope in the form of photographs and videos of volunteers cleaningup the messes of others -- and what we can all do to help keep our planet and its waters ashealthy as possible. As Aristotle said, "Boundaries don't protect rivers, people do." (I learned that from a video screen, too.)

You'll also learn about the people who lived and died on the river that splits throughour country. Mark Twain, whose pen name came from the waters he loved (it is thesounding call for two fathoms or 12 feet of depth), is heralded as America's greatestriver man, not only for his brilliant work, "Life on the Mississippi," but also for his yearsas a steamboat pilot. In fact, even his masterpiece, "Huckleberry Finn," plays out on theMississippi and is just as controversial today as it was when he wrote it. Impressiveaccomplishments for a man who completed only 12 years of school.

Across from this display is an interesting bit of historical trivia. It explains how in 1900,the flow of the Chicago River was reversed due to sewage contaminating the city's watersupply resulting in cholera and typhoid outbreaks.

Towards the back of the building and behind the video aquarium is a realaquarium "where the river meets the gulf." Eels, stingrays and sharks all share a homewith other large fish. It's a tranquil experience that's worth a seat for a few minutes. I noticed several awe-struck kids watching the eel drift up to the top of the tank in a ribbon ofKelly green.

Of course, after that the kids raced upstairs to the "River Works" room.This area is fun for all ages but a real treasure in teaching children about our functioningplanet. It tells the story of water cycles, water power and how we depend on it. In thecenter is a huge tub filled with water and miniature towns. A child starts by buildinga boat, then he puts the boat in the water, watching it make its way down the river.By pushing, pulling and twisting levers, he can make it rain, propel his boat, or openthe lock and dam. Speaking of dams, there's a short hut just for kids a few steps awaycalled "Beaver Lodge" that explains how the furry little guys work.

If you go this winter or spring, you'll see thetraveling exhibit, "Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters inAmerica," which features the untold stories of innovative, action-oriented women who helped shape the nation's social and cultural landscape. It will be at the museum through mid May.

The museum is located at 350 E. 3rd St. in Dubuque, about an hour and a half north of the Quad-Cities via U.S. 61.



For information on admission rates and hours, call (800) 226-3369, or visit www.mississippirivermuseum.com.






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