When I first heard of the South Carolina State Museum, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.
I love a good museum, but typically it’s a museum where I know what to expect when I visit. The African American History Museum, the Natural History Museum and COSI Science Museum are somewhat self-explanatory.
But a ‘state museum’? What did that even mean?
From the first step into the first exhibit I knew that I was in for something great and I wasn’t disappointed. The first thing you see is a giant sculpture of an ancient shark called Megalodon. Its mouth was thought to be up to 8 feet wide.
The first floor galleries included natural history that pertain to South Carolina. Prehistoric animals like mammoths, saber tooth cats and the Glyptodont (that looked like a huge armadillo.)
From the start there were things to do, touch and try. You could try and uncover fossils in a dig area and touch mammoth teeth (replicas).
Once we finished with the exhibits on the South Carolina State Museum’s first floor, it was time to go to the planetarium show we’d purchased tickets for. One of the great features of the museum is that you can ‘build-your-own’ experience through the Explorer levels. You can just get a general admission ticket ($8.95 adult / $6.95 child), or for a little more you can add different levels to your ticket so you can see the planetarium, 4-D movies and see traveling exhibits.
We picked the Explorer 1 package which included general admission and one museum attraction. This package is $13.95 for adults and $11.95 for children.
We chose to see ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ planetarium show (since it was just after Christmas) which looked at explanations for what astronomical event the wise men from the Bible could’ve experienced between 8BC-1BC.
The story goes that they followed this ‘star’ to Bethlehem, so the planetarium show explored possible options for this phenomenon. I came to find out this was Stephen’s first time in a planetarium. I hope that we can return to another planetarium on our travels so he can experience a more traditional planetarium show.
Once the planetarium show was over, we headed to the second and third floors. The State Museum actually has a lot of things to see in each exhibit. We were recommended that the museum would take 3-4 hours and that’s definitely a fair estimate. You could actually spend even more time there if you read everything and did all the activities.
The second and third floors included the importance of the railroad, textiles, wood and industrial revolution to South Carolina. There were some really cool exhibits there, like the machinery as an example of what a textile mill would have looked like. That exhibit used mirrors to extend the perspective of the space which made it look as if the mill machinery went on forever.
The State Museum was formerly a cotton factory, so the machinery helped you picture how it would’ve looked in the past. They still have the original flooring and you can see the rows where the machines would’ve been located.
The fourth floor looked at the different time periods that South Carolina has gone through, including the Revolutionary War, The Antebellum Period, African American History and The Civil War. It also included an entire area dedicated to South Carolinian Astronaut and man on the moon, Charles Duke, Jr., as well as the Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy and the Observatory.
We really enjoyed the observatory as you can look at what the Sun looks like in real-time through a monitor. Apparently, the Sun is on an 11-year activity cycle and we’re currently at the end of the cycle. The Sun’s surface will be at its most active again in 5.5 years. We were able to see a prominence or two though and the educator showed us a very active day from a few years ago. After visiting the observatory, it was time for the museum to close.
Both Stephen and I enjoyed our time at the South Carolina State Museum. The exhibits were all interesting, the activities were fun and interactive and it was priced very well. A few of the activities didn’t work properly (mainly a few of the electric trains), but otherwise it was a lot of fun. We’d recommend it for anyone visiting Columbia, South Carolina.