August 25, 2011

Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium

Most of the weekends this August have been a bit rainy, but I haven't let that dampen my adventurous spirit. A few Sundays ago, I grabbed my umbrella and headed out to the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport. 

The Vanderbilt museum consists of a large grounds with a stately mansion, carriage house, marine museum, pristine gardens, and, of course, the planetarium. There is also a plan afoot for the restoration of the Normandy Manor, the original caretaker's cottage. When unveiled in September of this year, the manor will serve as the museum's Design Show House. The entire property is surrounded by a great stone wall. As you pull into the gates, you ride through two pillars with a huge wrought iron eagle perched on each one. There are a lot of cobblestone paths that lead to the various sites; the cobblestones are very charming, though a little bit hard to walk on until you get used to it, especially in the rain. I soon found out that I chose to visit the Vanderbilt at a good time as the Planetarium would soon be closing for extensive renovations and upgrades.

The first thing I did was to take the mansion tour. William Vanderbilt was a prominent scientist/adventurer. His house was constructed in the 1930's during the depression era. Grand in every sense of the word--beautiful architecture at every turn, smooth limestone walls in the foyer, ornate woodworking, an organ room that featured pipes that run from the vaulted ceiling to the floor (about twenty feet in length) covered by a great tapestry--the type of place where you can see the time and care that went in to every grain of wood, every stone. Mrs. Vanderbilt had a walk-in closet that was larger than most living rooms, it was able to hold our entire tour group (over 15 people) with ease. She had a separate dressing room, its walls were made up entirely of over-sized mirrors, so she could check her appearance from every angle. The bedrooms were absolutely palatial. The Vanderbilt home housed 35 servants and had many different wings and floors, including a trophy room and 2 kitchens. The breakfast room window lent a perfect view of the Long Island Sound, over-looking Northport Harbor. There were several sailboats cradled on the swells, just an idyllic and serene setting. I stared out of the window, allowing my imagination to transport me back to that time and I dreamed of what it must have to been like to actually live in such a house...

In the basement of the mansion, we find evidence of Mr. Vanderbilt’s love of car racing. Many old photographs adorn the walls and miniature models are set up to depict racing scenes. In the attached garage, we can even view Mr. Vanderbilt’s car. One poignant story tells of how Mr. Vanderbilt's son was killed during an auto racing accident. Mr. Vanderbilt was devastated and immediately began building a trophy room to honor his son's memory.

Certain areas of this complex are set up to be viewed as museum exhibits, showcasing mammals, marine creatures, dinosaurs, and some historical artifacts. One room had a miniature model of the entire mansion depicted in great detail. Very fascinating.

On the opposite side of the grounds is the Vanderbilt Planetarium. The lobby of the building is set up with many exhibits dedicated to space and science. The hallways are lined with beautiful photographs of nebulae and constellations. The focal point is an 8-foot high model of the moon (in intricate detail) that rotated on an axis. I bought a ticket for the laser show in the planetarium theater. The show featured music from Broadway and movies. I reclined comfortably in my theater seat and stared up at the domed ceiling as the Phantom of the Opera washed over me. The laser show illuminated the faux sky above me like a psychedelic ballet and I just relaxed and drifted away on the experience. It was heavenly; I can hardly wait to see what the new and improved planetarium will offer next year. :)

“Riches won’t help
on the day of judgment,
but right living can save you from death.”

~Proverbs 23:4-5