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.
Sips n Strokes gifts paintbrush-wielding neophytes the tools and confidence to create, with a mélange of masterpiece-making tutorials and a bring-your-own-beverage policy. Artists can elect a class from the shop's calendar to hone the painting style that best complements their home, office, or neighbor's windshield, including picks of imagery from Parisian scenes to funky roosters. Each course, led by an instructor well versed in the trade, pairs well with the liquid inspiration of each student's choosing. Silence-seeking artists or easily corruptible mimes may opt for an afternoon or weeknight session, as the weekends generally garner 20 to 50 rowdy rookies.
Run by master picturemaker Jennifer Harwell, a self-taught painter popular for her angel series, jenniferharwellart's weekly classes help sprouting artists' talents grow and blossom. In a laid-back, relaxed setting, students unleash their furor artisticus upon a 16"x20" canvas while the swaddling wraps of a smock-frock protect their soft innards. Usually the gallery provides wine and snacks in addition to all the necessary artistic supplies. Students get to keep their magnum opus once their paint guns stop smoking.
The life's work of Brother Joseph Zoettl began as little more than a hobby. Originally born in Bavaria in 1878 as Michael Zoettl, Brother Joseph chose to join the Benedictine order at a young age and ended up at St. Bernard Abbey, where he was tasked with working the power plant. His long days of hard work were only interrupted by the weekly opportunities to attend Sunday Mass, so he decided to make the most of his free time by embracing a hobby: creating miniatures.
Beginning with cement, Brother Joseph patiently constructed a scale replica of a church. Visitors flocked to see his early creations, so Brother Joseph continued his hobby while gradually increasing the ambitious scope of his projects. Over the course of the next 40 years, he would go on to create the 125 miniature reproductions of iconic churches, shrines, and buildings that currently fill Ave Maria Grotto's four acres of park land.
Often made of the marbles, cold-cream jars, broken bathroom tiles, costume jewelry, and pieces of colored glass that were mailed to him by admirers, Brother Joseph's meticulously intricate miniatures include everything from the basilica in Lourdes to a prophetically accurate model of the International Space Station.