HOW TO USE THE SITE
Goals, Technical Requirements, and Site Organization
“Who Burned Down the Museum?”
“Explore the Museum”
Search the Archive
Visit the Classroom
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
HOW THE SITE WAS CREATED

 

HOW TO USE THE SITE
Goals, Technical Requirements, and Site Organization
We present this re-creation of PT Barnum’s American Museum as a lens into mid-19th century New York City and antebellum America. The Lost Museum website offers visitors a visualization and spacial interpretation of this extraordinary institution as well as an innovative way to learn and teach about the many issues and events of the period.

The Lost Museum website is composed of four sections:
“Who Burned Down the Museum?,” solve a mystery while exploring a 3-D environment;
“Explore the Museum,” explore the 3-D environment without the mystery;
“Search the Archive,” a database of primary documents related to museum exhibits; and
“Visit the Classroom,” support materials for teaching and learning.

You will need Flash 7 installed on your computer in order to undertake the exploration in the first two sections. This site is best viewed with Internet Explorer 5 or higher. This site is not optimized for Safari, and needs pop-up windows enabled. Please view the site on its own window, not nested inside an external frame.

The heart of the website is the 3-D re-creation of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum, the pre-eminent cultural institution of 19th century America that was mysteriously destroyed by fire on July 13, 1865. The first two sections take you, the visitor, into the virtual museum where you can roam freely among the four rooms that we have digitally re-created. There are some links between rooms but you can also use the floor maps that are always available on screen. By moving your mouse left and right, up and down when arrows indicate, you will move around the room -- pressing the shift key, increases the speed. By clicking “hot spots” indicated by a question mark “?” you will access some of the vast number of items and exhibits Barnum displayed in his museum. Animations and close-up views will reveal much of what the contemporary visitor to the museum might have experienced. While in the 3-D space, when viewing an item that has related documents in the Archive an Archive link appears beneath the museum window. Remember to use the "Back" button below the museum window and not the browser's back button. Once you spend enough time on the site please take a few minutes to fill out our User Survey.

“Who Burned Down the Museum?”
If you choose to solve the mystery of who burned down the museum, characters and clues will guide you back in time and place. P.T. Barnum himself sends you off on the search for a credible culprit. As you explore the museum, some of the items you investigate will be shown to be clues. It's up to you to determine to whom each clue points by analyzing the clue and reading and viewing the suggested Archive material. To assist you, we provide a notebook where, after registering, you can collect the fifteen clues, assign them to any of five suspects and, finally, accuse one of destroying the American Museum. [The notebook contains its own instructions.] The notebook will also assist in solving the mystery by providing a movie for each suspect that sheds light on both the suspects and some of the key issues and events of the era. All of your clues, along with any notes you take, will be saved in the notebook for retrieval upon return visits.

“Explore the Museum”
If you select the “Explore the Museum” section, you will have access to the 3-D re-creation of the four virtual museum rooms. All of the items and animations can be seen but none will be presented as clues and there is no notebook available. As you explore the museum, you can refer to the Archive and Classroom sections at any time.

“Search the Archive”
The Lost Museum Archive consists mainly of primary documents – images and text – related to items in the museum. Material can be searched by room (as seen in the 3-D Museum,) by type of document, or by theme. You can also “Browse by Exhibit” to view archive material related to one of 23 of the exhibits seen in the museum rooms; exhibit archives include a brief introduction for each exhibit. The Archive’s searchable database also contains all items from the site’s Classroom section.

“Visit the Classroom”
Background essays on Barnum’s American Museum and topics related to the period can be found in the searchable Classroom section of the Archive. Teaching activities – some utilizing Lost Museum Archive documents and the 3-D site – along with other resources such as a guide for teachers, links, an interactive map of New York City, a timeline, and a bibliography, are also included in this section.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Historians have long recognized P.T. Barnum's American Museum as a pivotal institution in the development of nineteenth-century urban culture. Barnum purchased the museum from John Scudder in 1841. Foreshadowing trends in American commercial amusement, the Museum was the first institution to combine sensational entertainment and gaudy display with instruction and moral uplift. For a twenty-five cent admission, visitors viewed an ever-revolving series of "attractions," from the patchwork Fejee Mermaid to the diminutive and articulate Tom Thumb. But the Museum also promulgated educational ends, including natural history in its menageries, aquaria, and taxidermy exhibits; history in its paintings, wax figures, and memorabilia; and temperance reform and Shakespearean dramas in its Lecture Room or theater. In one site, the Museum gathered exhibitions and amusements that previously had been offered in separate milieus; equally important, it also drew a new audience that reflected the increasingly heterogeneous population of the American city. In an urban culture characterized by increasing difference--in taste, in subject, and in audience--Barnum's American Museum was a singular institution where, in one place, immigrants and native-born, working-class and middle-class, men and women, city residents and rural visitors could gather. However, until the Civil War African Americans were barred from the Museum, as they were from most antebellum New York commercial amusements. On the morning of July 13, 1865, the American Museum burned to the ground as a large crowd of New Yorkers gathered to watch the spectacular fire and the frantic attempts to save the people and objects inside the museum.

HOW THE SITE WAS CREATED
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Old York Foundation, and The Graduate Center, CUNY, The Lost Museum was created by the American Social History Project in collaboration with the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and produced at the New Media Lab at the City University of New York Graduate Center (see “About Us”).

The process of re-creating the American Museum began with research about the physical space Accurately ascertaining the appearance of Barnum's American Museum represented a research as well as imaginative challenge. Aside from P. T. Barnum's perpetual rearrangement of its exhibits and attractions, documentary evidence about the way the Museum looked is elliptical and inexact. Guides such as the 1850 Barnum's American Museum Illustrated and occasional newspaper articles indicate the building's general layout and the contents of its exhibitions at specific moments in time. There are a number of photographs, prints, and paintings of the Museum's exterior as well as of many of its "transient attractions," but the only visual evidence of the building's interior resides in a limited number of wood-engraved illustrations from Barnum-sponsored publications and the weekly illustrated press. (Some of these documents can be found in the Archive.) While these pictures provide us with the best sense of where exhibits were placed and how the rooms were arranged, comparison with contemporary insurance maps indicates that the dimensions they portray are wildly inaccurate. Nevertheless, with the assistance of historical advisors, we created a well-informed, detailed estimation of what the Museum was like.

When we were ready to begin programming the virtual re-creation, we used the sophisticated 3-D animation program SoftImage to build a wireframe model of the entire building with specific attention to the Picture Gallery and the Waxworks Room. In the project’s later phases, we used 3-D Studio Max to model the Lecture Room and Barnum’s Office using the same building architecture. Using these programs, we created wireframe models of each room’s interior architecture (stairs, entranceways, moldings), as well as models for every item within the rooms. Using Adobe Photoshop, we created “textures” to “wrap” around the models. To complete each room, we placed items within the rooms and developed appropriate lighting. In the Picture Gallery and the Waxworks Room, still images taken from within the 3-D software were “stitched” together using QuicktimeVR Authoring Studio to create the “panoramas” that users roll the mouse over to move around in the rooms. After determining the paths a visitor would be able to take through the rooms, we rendered animations in the 3-D software. Media Cleaner Pro compressed all movies and then we transferred all of the material into Flash . Flash makes all of the material navigable on the web, and each room is comprised of several Flash movies.

We created many of the textures and all art for the site design using Photoshop.We created the two-dimensional movies (Introduction, Barnum speaking to begin the mystery, and all of the suspect movies found in the mystery’s notebook) in Adobe After-Effects.

 

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