By Coco Mault
The year 1968 was tumultuous, exciting, and boldly patterned. What better museum to document such a year than the Minnesota History Center? Their exhibit documenting the events of the year 1968 takes up a large amount of space on the museum’s third floor — necessarily so. It was the year of social revolutions, war protests, America’s trip to the moon, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Let’s not forget the radical changes that were occurring in fashion, as well as on screen, both on television and in the movies.
The senses are thoroughly charged here, visually, audibly and tactually. Not only are sections of the exhibit designed to look like period living rooms, with natty-fabric sofas and macrame wall hangings, many are punctuated with much larger pieces. For instance, the very first room of the exhibit appears to be a pleasant 1960s living room. A large, not overly-cushioned sofa lines one wall and in front of it sits a coffee table with old magazines. As pleasant as this setting is, there is coverage of the Vietnam War playing on the console television. In order to show how much this war entered into people’s lives, there is an actual Army medical helicopter sitting in the living room as well.
Other rooms are set up with interactive displays, too, such as a “design your own record cover” and a music trivia area. Another room offers beanbag seating in front of several television screens that have embellished, cartoon-like frames showing clips from movies and television shows. It’s hard not to sit and stay a while when the likes of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and Fred Rogers in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood flash onto the screens. Among the many pieces of television memorabilia are an original costume illustration for Laugh-In‘s Goldie Hawn and actual patches from the Star Trek costumes.
To help keep track of all of the momentous events of 1968, the majority of the exhibit is divided by month. One major event is highlighted in each month, such as the Civil Rights Movement, but many more are included on colorful and fun to read time-lines, such as the first human to human heart transplant, Johnny Cash performing at Folsom State Prison, or the beginning of 9-1-1 emergency phone service.
Not only is the 1968 exhibit an eye-popping experience, it is extraordinary just listen to. Be prepared to hear museum visitors point at objects and exclaim, “I had a purse just like that!” or “Oh my gosh, Buffy Sainte-Marie! Do you remember her?” There are also memorable soundbites flying through the air from every direction: Martin Luther King’s powerful ringing voice, the theme song from The Monkees, Walter Cronkite announcing the launch of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission to the moon, and so much more. In another living room display, it looks as though a space capsule has dropped in among the sofa and armchair. Impressive as this is, it is only a model. However, in a display case nearby are three much more exciting objects, and they are indeed the real thing: Astronaut Jim Lovell’s Omega speedmaster chronograph, and pressure bubble helmet are on display along with an Apollo 8 mission checklist.
All of this is punctuated by the distinctive clothing styles of the day; the crisp, precisely tailored clothing as well as the style more associated with hippies — free flowing blouses, pants made of patchwork, and buttons declaring messages such as “Ban the Bra.” There are more than a few fine examples of this style of clothing lining the walls of the exhibit, but the most impressive just may be Janis Joplin’s blouse and psychedelic pants.
1968 at the Minnesota History Museum is a total trip for anyone who wasn’t alive to experience it, and a great reminder for those who lived it, but may not, for some reason (there is a section about popular recreational drugs from the time), remember it.
Minnesota History Center
Hours: Tue – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wed-Sat – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sun – 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Closed Monday