Monday, August 31, 2015

Mysterious Happenings at the Museum

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

As the educator here at the museum, I have the fun responsibility of developing new programs.  It can be challenging to come up with new ideas so our all of our visitors get to have ever-changing, interactive historical experiences at the museum.  In the past year, the staff has been talking a lot about how we can make our family programming less totally kid-centric and more fun for the whole family (parent, grandparents, and guardians want to enjoy themselves in programs, too!).  This conversation has led to the creation of several new family programs, most recently, our Museum Detectives series.

Museum Detectives replaced our Museum Mondays summer programming this year.  Museum Mondays had been running for years and were still great programs, but I felt they were staring to lose their luster and I was determined to create something fresh.  The story of how I came up with Museum Detectives illustrates just how random the programming creation process can be.  One day, I was turning the lights off in our education room and I accidentally left our one overhead spotlight on.  I was struck by how the lighting looked straight out of a 1940s Film Noir detective movie.  I started thinking about how to run with that vibe for a museum program. 
Doesn't that look so dramatically film noir?
Then, I remembered these detective puzzles that my parents bought me when I was a kid (they were Highlights’ Top Secret Adventure packs) and how much fun I had solving those clues.  And it all came together from there.
Visitors began in the education room “detective agency” where the head detective (me) gave them their case books and list of suspects. 
Me as the Carmen Sandiego-esque lead detective
The detectives each received their own case book.
I set up 6 stations around the museum, each with their own puzzle that would help eliminate a “suspect.”  The hardest part was coming up with 12 completely different puzzles and games (6 for each program).  At this point, I would like to commend my coworkers for their total willingness to commit to a silly idea- in this case one that involved costumes and characters.  For each of the programs, The Missing Mammoth Mystery and the Chemung County Caper, they dressed up and gave our visitors the information they needed to solve a clue. At the end, the gumshoes would figure out who committed the crimes.
Archivist Rachel as Officer O'DeLaw in the Chemung County Caper

Curator Erin as Cruella DeFurrier in the Missing Mammoth Mystery

Director Bruce as Bruce Baryshnikov in the Missing Mammoth Mystery
 Overall, the programs were a major success.  We’ll be looking to do similarly interactive family programming in the future as well.  And if anyone ever has any ideas of what type of programming they’d like to see at the museum, feel free to tell me about.  You never know where inspiration is going to come from!
A happy gumshoe with his prize for solving the Chemung County Caper.


  1. Good luck with this creative event. Be sure to measure its success carefully. (You can use the assessment to improve the events or other events, AND you could use positive results to help find sponsors of future Mysteries.)

  2. mysteries and finding clues and facts through the pages and pages of history not only here at our museum but many many others. I wish everyone would get involved in solving more mysteries by becoming gumshoe detectives!!!