Major Ridge is a polarizing figure in Cherokee history. He was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, which sold Cherokee lands to the United States in exchange for Oklahoma, and led to the forced Native American migration know as The Trail of Tears. Today, though, Major Ridge's erstwhile home in Georgia is the Chieftains Museum?a site that celebrates Cherokee history and culture at large, not just his controversial contribution to it.
The American West stands frozen in time at Booth Western Art Museum, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The bronze forms of cowboys and many of the Native Americans encountered by Lewis and Clark populate the sculpture court. At the hall's center stands Vic Payne's Eagle Catcher, a two-story sculpture that depicts a large eagle with its wings outstretched. Its talons lock with the arms of a Native American man who leans backwards as he grapples with the aviary predator—a symbol of the struggle for the American West.
The impressive sculpture is just one stop on the museum's tour, which takes visitors into a permanent collection that comprises more than a dozen galleries and temporary exhibit halls featuring as many as 12 exhibits each year that explore the west from the 1800s through present day. More than 100 traditional paintings and sculptures by the likes of Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and George Catlin depict cowboys, Native American cultures, and breathtaking natural landscapes in the American West Gallery. Other spaces focus on the Civil War, while the Modern West Gallery interprets the western United States through abstract paintings and other contemporary forms by such artists as Nelson Boren, Thom Ross, and Ed Mell. Beneath the portraits of every U.S. president in the Carolyn and James Millar Presidential Gallery, personal letters written by the robotic arm of each leader humanize the lofty figures of American history.
In addition to exhibits, Booth Western Art Museum hosts adult art classes and seasonal events, such as April's "Civil War Comes Alive!", wherein visitors might stumble upon Abraham Lincoln mid-Gettysburg Address or spot soldiers firing cannons, and October's Southeastern Cowboy Festival & Symposium, which features Native American dancing, gun-fight reenactments, and a traditional western marketplace. Kids can savor hands-on history in Sagebrush Ranch, where a three-quarter-scale stagecoach, an authentic loom, real Western wear, and a bounty of other attractions await to grant little ones with an immersive educational experience.
The sleek, dark body of the A-12 Blackbird is invisible to radar detection, but that doesn’t stop it from attracting the attention of every visitor to the Southern Museum of Flight in sight. The retired bomber is just one of the aircrafts in the Southern Museum of Flight’s outdoor collection, and it gives visitors a glimpse of what’s to come. Stepping inside, you can almost hear the purring engines from the Korean War jet or 1920s Huff-Daland crop duster.
Not only does the museum bring high-flown feats of engineering artistry down to earth, it sets its impressive collection of airplanes into realistic dioramas. The exhibits, designed to give life to the history of southern aviation, sprawl across 75,000 square feet and includes photographs, models, original engines, and the tiny gnomes that power them. The Korean War Jets exhibit, for example, uses mannequins and a surprisingly realistic mock-up of Kimpo Air Force Base to tell the story of No Kum Sok, a North Korean lieutenant in the Air Force who defected.
In one corner, kids practice cracking a safe. In another, tiny hands sift through sand to find ancient fossils, with no archaeologists in sight. Toddlers, meanwhile, wander through a surreal dreamscape of 10-foot milk cartons and car-sized paper towel rolls. But these aren’t scenes from a zany summer movie about all the adults disappearing: they're snapshots of the McWane Science Center, whose dozens of fun, interactive exhibits enliven science.
Notable exhibits include a collection of Alabama dinosaur skeletons that help us understand what life was like in the state millions of years ago. An aquarium area boasts a Shark & Ray Touch Tank, delighting visitors with an aquatic petting zoo. Interactive contraptions such as the pulley chair lift—which lets kids learn about simple machines as they hoist themselves aloft—convey abstract concepts with fun activities.
The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is a stately 33,000-square-foot museum, where more than 5,000 sports artifacts are displayed in glass cases and frames. Memorabilia, jerseys, and photographs commemorate the great baseball players, football stars, and basketball players from across the ages, including Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. The museum gift shop features an eclectic array of souvenir T-shirts, stuffed animals, and local college team regalia.
Explorations in Antiquity Center give modern visitors a taste of daily life in the ancient Middle Eastern world. The Center's founder, archeologist James Fleming, has filled each room with authentic artifacts from his excavations in Israel, as well as faithful replicas of objects found in ancient Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Visitors can immerse themselves in realistic settings including a Roman theater, a 2,000-year-old village, and a goat-hair tent like the ones used by nomadic shepherds. They also learn about worship practices of people from 2,500 BCE to 500 CE by visiting houses of worship excavated in Israel or a catacomb modeled on those where early Christians once prayed.