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UC museums far from expected

Campus may not be on any AAA Tourbook, but it has galleries galore, from art to natural history.

by Deborah Rieselman

The next time you want to visit a museum, try an obscure place full of fascinating collections, but far from the beaten path. Try the University of Cincinnati.

UC has many museum-caliber exhibits -- with only two drawbacks: Exhibits are spread over an entire campus, and admission often requires an appointment. The bonus side? No lines and lots of personal attention.

Mosasaur in Geology's Durrell Museum photo/Dottie Stover

Mosasaur in Geology's Durrell Museum. Photo/Dottie Stover

Geology exhibit covers 85 million years

A 20-foot, 85-million-year-old skeleton of an extinct reptile guards the Durrell Museum on the third-floor of the Geology-Physics Building. A contemporary of the triceratops, the mosasaur was excavated in Kansas in 1991 and donated to UC by the University of Wisconsin. UC alumni donations funded restoration and mounting.

Other museum treasures include a rare sea scorpion fossil and a massive limestone layer from the sea floor, dating back 440 million years and embedded with fossils of extinct organisms.

Although the mosasaur is visible through the museum's windows, geology professor David Meyer gladly shows the museum's collection of exotic minerals and fossils by appointment.

Also check out the display cabinets in the third- and fifth-floor hallways and neighboring Braunstein Hall's third floor, where the physics department has displayed clearly labeled historic equipment, including optical lenses, a steam engine and a pair of prism binoculars bisected to show how they work.

Geology department

Echo Point photo/Peter Griga

Echo Point photo/Peter Griga

Echo Point … point … point

As you leave Geology-Physics, stop by Echo Point, the circular
brick plaza on the building's west side. Stand in the exact center,
face north, say a few words and hear them echo back, just as
clearly as if you were inside a giant drum. Curiously, people
standing a few feet away from you will hear only your normal

The half circle of concrete seating around the plaza was designed
to form a "spherical audio mirror," reflecting your voice back to the center of the circle, explains Rick Newrock, physics professor and College of Applied Science dean. The walls may appear low, but they're high enough.

Student tour guide explains legend of Echo Point

Historic chemistry apparatus

Studying the history of chemistry is a hands-on experience at UC, thanks to a comprehensive museum assembled in Rieveschl Hall by the course's professor, William Jensen. Besides floor-to-ceiling display cases of antique equipment, the Oesper Museum of Chemical Apparatus houses a reproduction 1900 laboratory behind glass.

1900 reproduction chemistry lab photo/Jay Yocis

1900 reproduction chemistry lab. Photo/Jay Yocis

Filled with genuine antique bottles, burners, balances, ovens and a wooden fume hood from the Ohio Mechanics Institute, the lab is so authentic that it features beadboard paneling, a tin ceiling, a Victorian doorframe, an old radiator and a voltage regulator fitted with two antiquated light bulbs to monitor current.

The Oesper collection also includes 13,000 chemistry books and journals, dating to 1600, as well as 2,000 photographs and prints, many of them autographed by such people as Madame Curie. A $4.5 million endowment supports the museum, which has received donations from 30 different schools and frequently attracts international guests.

"I thought this would be an academic collection," Jensen says, "but non-chemists are far more interested than chemists. I don't know why. Maybe every Frankenstein movie anyone ever saw as a kid hits a button somewhere."

One-of-a-kind award goes to chemist Jensen
Tour for yourself

Magic lantern and slides photo/Dottie Stover

Magic lantern and slides. Photo/Dottie Stover

Unusual art in DAAP library

Although the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning displays art in several galleries, its library holds some charming surprises.

Just inside the 5480 Aronoff door is a current exhibit of historic photography, including an 1830s "magic lantern" projector, powered by candlelight, and the colorful glass slides it used. Further inside, to the right, are display cases of artists' books, curious three-dimensional, artistic literary projects that would rarely fit on library shelves.

In back of the room, hundreds of snow globes from around the world flaunt quirky shapes and contents, while the visual resource room displays impressive posters selected around a particular theme. And, yours to view for the asking are haute couture books forecasting stylish fashions through sketches and fabric swatches. In New York, such books are locked away, unavailable to the public, notes senior librarian Jane Carlin.

DAAP Library's virtual tour

DAAP's online exhibit of Pogue sisters' travel

Discover a few of the art galleries and programs of UC:

Vibraslap photo/Peter Griga

Vibraslap, a musical instrument. Photo/Peter Griga

Archive exhibits without the glass

If viewing a 15th century "Book of Hours" behind glass sounds captivating, stop by UC Archives and Rare Books and eliminate the glass.

Open to the public, the archives on the eighth floor of Blegen Library has the expected campus photos, student newspapers and documents dating back more than 100 years. But it also collects materials for scholarly research, including an 18th century Illustrated Koran with views of Mecca and Medina.

One of the archive's odder items is the vibraslap, a musical instrument in which an ass's jawbone was slapped so the teeth would rattle. Once used in minstrel shows, it is part of the Stephen Foster collection.

Archives online galleries

	German heritage photo/courtesy of UC Archives and Rare Books

A bratwurst booth at the county fair, c. 1909. Photo/courtesy of UC Archives and Rare Books

German-American collection No. 1 in U.S.

Cincinnati's strong German heritage played a role in UC archives developing the largest German-American collection of its kind, curator Don Heinrich Tolzmann explains. Popular with international scholars, the public collection of old newspapers, photos, journals, citizenship records and nearly anything pertaining to German-American history has both local and national focuses, including an extensive history of brewing.

Among its treasures is a 1776 Germantown, Pa., "Gun-wad Bible," so called because Revolutionary War soldiers typically ripped handy pages out to stuff muskets. Pennsylvania's abundance of German soldiers nearly annihilated the Bibles.

The postcard illustrates a bratwurst booth at Hamilton County's Carthage Fairgrounds in 1909, part of the national Turnfest competition. Such festivals were sponsored throughout the country and Germany by Turner clubs, societies dedicated to promoting physical and mental exercise.

Online Turnfest gallery

Refracting telescope photo/Dottie Stover

Refracting telescope. Photo/Dottie Stover

Historic observatory

No museum guide to UC would be complete without a drive to Mount Lookout to visit the historic Cincinnati Observatory. Located on Observatory Place, the facility is owned by the university, but operated by a not-for-profit organization that handles restoration in partnership with UC.

Originally founded in Mount Adams by a Cincinnati College professor in 1842, the observatory moved to its current home in 1873. Although UC students no longer formally use the facility, two refracting telescopes are available to both researchers and the public. In addition, historical tours are conducted two Sundays a month. (Call 513-321-5186 for schedules and prices.)

Students can also complete some astronomy assignments on the roof of Braunstein Hall, where a 12-inch telescope is mounted in a dome. A radio telescope is also mounted there for students to track the sun and supernova remnants through radio signals.

Visit the Cincinnati Observatory Web site.

Rooftop conservatory

Greenhouse and Pam Bishop photo/Dottie Stover

Pam Bishop in the rooftop greenhouse. Photo/Dottie Stover

Rieveschl's rooftop greenhouse may be smaller and more crowded than Cincinnati's Krohn Conservatory, but much about it looks like admission should be charged. Operated by the biology department to provide specimens to students and aid faculty research, the 145-by-25-foot structure offers moss, trees, flowers and plants from a variety of ecosystems.

The largest resident is a rubber tree, which manager Pam Bishop has repeatedly pruned to keep it from breaking the glass ceiling. The most unusual houseguest is a non-ornamental, little-understood tree that a professor brought back from Indonesia.

Good news for the public is that the greenhouse propagates plants for biannual plant sales to bolster its budget. One is conducted shortly before Mother's Day and one before Christmas in Rieveschl Hall. (For more details, call 513-556-9700.)

Herbarium among nation's best

Herbarium and Victor Soukup photo/Dottie Stover

Victor Soukup studies samples. Photo/Dottie Stover

Providing plant identification not only for students, but also for UC's Drug and Poison Information Center, is the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences herbarium. Ranked among the top 10 percent in the United States, based upon size, range and scientific value of its unique collection, the herbarium comprises more than 70,000 plant specimens, pressed, dried and filed in numerous cabinets in 1600 Crosley Tower.

Its reputation is in part due to the efforts of Victor Soukup, adjunct professor of biology and volunteer associate curator, who has undertaken international collecting trips, discovered new plant species, worked with the chemistry department in related research and painstakingly remounted more than 4,000 historically valuable, yet fragile specimens.

Profile on Victor Soukup