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.
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.
Though admission to the Birmingham Museum of Art's permanent collection is always free, admission to special blockbuster exhibitions may not be. Membership includes one free pass to any ticketed exhibition (family membership includes two passes), special rates on museum classes, invitations to members-only special events, discounts in the museum store, and a slew of other art-enhancing benefits.
Sporting the largest cast-iron statue in the world—a 56-foot, 100,000-pound statue of Vulcan, Roman god of the forge—Vulcan Park and Museum also boasts panoramic views of the city and eye-opening lessons on Birmingham's geology and industrial history. Assembled from local metal in 1904 and erected at the World’s Fair in St. Louis the same year, Vulcan was then shipped back to Birmingham. In 2003, after successfully defending the city from the Kraken, the Colossus of the Deep South was painstakingly moved to its current Red Mountain roost. Inside the museum, a multitude of interactive exhibits regale visitors with tales of the town and Vulcan's storied past, from its World's Fair beginnings to its failed hip-hop career. An elevator ride to Vulcan Park's 124-foot-high observation deck splashes dazzling snapshots of the teeming wildlife in the urban jungle below.
The BCRI, founded to promote civil and human rights through education, will host masses of masked mortals at its 10th annual Mardi Gras celebration, themed this year as Social+Social Media, to raise funds for its educational programs. Partygoers can polish off Cajun-inspired fare and drinks while polishing their dance moves to live music by Jazz Safari or various tunes from the DJs. Attendees anxious about public speaking or thumb-muscle atrophy can participate in a text-to-win auction, which allows for digital silent bidding on autographed sports memorabilia, spa packages, weekend getaways, and electronics. Feel free to slap on a mysterious mask, don a funky hat, or switch jumpsuits with Danny DeVito to ruthlessly compete for a cash prize for most creative costume. Detective Chris Anderson, Birmingham Police Department veteran and current star of A&E’s The First 48, will serve as the night’s honorary host.
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.
Mary G. Hardin Center decks the walls of its three ever-changing galleries with local and national exhibits that boast a variety of media, whereas Imagination Place hosts the learning expeditions of a younger set. Members enjoy unlimited admission to both cultural centers for all the limbs of their bodies or all the people in their household, plus four guest passes, invitations to exhibits' opening receptions, and discounts to more than 200 other museums and science centers. From June 30 through December 23, film buffs can geek out over a singular cinematic touchstone with Gone with the Wind at 75: A Diamond Jubilee.