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June 5, 2014
by Harriet Baskas
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Tipping a tiny hat to the Homestead National Monument

In May, I had the great honor to visit the Homestead National Monument of America – a National Park site in Beatrice, Neb. that sits on the land that belonged to Daniel Freeman, one of the very first people to file a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862.

I was invited to be a guest speaker at the park’s “friends of” event because someone on the staff had read about my book, “Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You,” and offered me the chance to poke through some of the items kept tucked away in the storage cabinets to see what treasures we could find.

Lots of things caught my attention, including dolls, old clothing, odd tools and scary medical devices. But my favorite item in the collection was this miniature top-hat, decorated with a yellow ribbon, that at first glance looks like it might be made of cork.

Homestead Souvenir HAt

But it’s not. According to the yellowed piece of paper taped to the top of the hat, it’s made from about $2,000 worth of mashed up bank notes.

Homestead Souvenir Hat Label

Park records date the note and the hat to around 1887. And while I’ve seen some old postcards and a few other items made of macerated money when visiting other museums, I was surprised and delighted to find this early souvenir in the collection of a historic site dedicated to homesteading.

Just as unusual – but more in keeping with what I imagine was the necessary ‘homemade’ part of homesteading -was this tin item described as a tie.

Homestead Tie

Park records describe the tie as being made of one long strip of tin bent around twice to form a bow tie effect, with two clamps on the back for fastening to a shirt.

We all agreed it didn’t look like it would be too comfortable to wear.

If you’re heading to – or through – Nebraska anytime soon, I urge you to make a point of visiting the Homestead National Monument of America. There’s a Heritage Center there with an award-winning movie about the history of homesteading, a wide variety of well-made and educational exhibits, an early schoolhouse and a cabin built in 1867.

Best of all, there’s a restored tallgrass prairie you can walk through that has many of the plants and animals that once covered the central plains of the United States.

A great time to go would be next weekend (June 13-15), during Homestead Days, when the park offers traditional and modern homesteading demonstrations, music, special guest presenters and more.

(Photo credits: Homestead National Monument of America)

April 16, 2014
by Harriet Baskas
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The Smile Face Museum

smile face bag

Here’s something to smile about:

Sunday, April 27 offers one more chance to visit the latest installation of The Smile Face Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Organized by artist Adrienne Garbini and featuring more than 1000 smile face items from the archives of Mark Sachs – the original curator of The Smile Face Museum – and several other smile face collectors, the installation has been open to the public for just a few days since the end of March.

SMile face mug - courtesy Mark Sachs

Mark founded the original Smile Face Museum back in 1992 and for many years the collection was in his home.

Here’s a video of him giving a tour of some of this favorite items:

Can’t make it to Brooklyn on April 27th?

Don’t frown: the permanent on-line Smile Face Museum is filled with all manner of smile face memorabilia, including clothing, containers, crafts, kitchenware, toys, games and more – including this smile face toilet seat cover.

smile face toilet seat cover

(All images courtesy of The Smile Face Museum)

April 7, 2014
by Harriet Baskas
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Richard Nixon armwrestling George McGovern

We’re coming up on the anniversary of the death of Richard Nixon (April 22), so here’s an excerpt from my book: Hidden Treasures – What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You – about a few items tucked away at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

California_YorbaLinda_Nixon_statue

Courtesy Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, NARA

Richard Milhous Nixon, the thirty-seventh president of the United States, was among the country’s most controversial commanders in chief and the only United States president (so far) to resign the office.

He served as vice-president from 1953 to 1961 and during a not-quite-two-term presidency (1969-1974) visited and initiated diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union, signed legislation abolishing the military draft (1971), met with Elvis Presley at the White House (1970) and signed the Paris peace accords, which ended American involvement in the Vietnam War.

These and any other accomplishments made by Nixon remain forever overshadowed by the Watergate scandal, which began with the news of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington, D.C. in June 1972 and spread to include a wide array of crimes, cover-ups, secret White House tape recordings and, on August 8, 1974, Nixon’s announcement that he’d resign the presidency the next day.

(Then Vice-president Gerald Ford stepped in to replace Nixon. And on September 8, 1974 Ford pardoned the former president for “all offenses against the United States.”)

After leaving office, President Nixon struck a deal with the General Services Administration that might have allowed him to destroy presidential and other materials that he claimed were his personal property.

That included thousands of photographs, broadcast, video and audio tapes (including the secretly recorded “White House tapes), 46 million pages of documents and more than 30,000 gifts from foreign heads of states and American citizens, including treasures that include a diamond watch from the defense minister of Saudi Arabia, an official painting of St. Peter’s Basilica given to the president by Pope Paul VI, a painting of Nixon done on black velvet, one made of corduroy and another that depicts him as a gladiator.

Congress and two decades of litigation succeeded in saving all those materials, and the collection now resides at the nine-acre Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, which also includes the house Nixon was born in, his gravesite, and Army One, a helicopter used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford and the one that whisked Nixon away from the White House on August 9, 1974; the day he resigned office.

Many artifacts from the collection are used in the permanent and temporary exhibits in the museum, but supervisory museum curator Olivia Anastasiadis says a few items seemed destined to stay forever tucked away in storage.

Nixon's clamshell

Courtesy Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, NARA

One is a giant clam given to President and Mrs. Nixon on October 26, 1969 by the Philippine Ambassador, His Excellency Ernesto V. Lagdameo and Mrs. Lagdameo. “It obviously represents the Philippines’ natural resources,” said Anastasiadis, “But the valve has collapsed and needs a mount to ‘stretch’ it in place inside the shell. That’s a difficult conservation project and, at 600 pounds, this clam shell is really hard to move around.”

Another item stored away is one Anastasiadis considered putting on display during the “Nixon as Icon” exhibit in 2011, but the white plaster sculpture of Richard Nixon arm wrestling the late Senator George McGovern (Nixon’s opponent in the 1972 presidential race) is damaged.

“One of the feet is broken, one of the hands is cracked and before we could display it we’d need to find funding to get a conservator to fix it,” said Anastasiadis.

The sculpture was made in 1972 by a group of ninth-grade students at Lancaster Country Day School in Pennsylvania. They had recently visited an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that featured the work of pop artist George Segal, an artist who used unpainted white plaster casts of models as sculptures and their art teacher, Mary Elizabeth Patton, said her students were inspired to trying making their own plaster bandage sculpture.

Because the Nixon/McGovern presidential campaign was underway, the class decided to portray the two candidates having an arm wrestling contest. After Nixon won the election, the school’s headmaster contacted the White House and a delegation of students traveled to Washington, D.C. to present the sculpture to a Nixon aide for the presidential collection.

“One of my former students contacted me recently and said he thought the sculpture was probably in a dump someplace,” said Patton. But she discovered that the sculpture was shipped from Washington, D.C. to California along with everything else in the Nixon collection, including gifts from heads of state. And even though the work is a bit mangled, Patton says “It’s good to know it is still there. A little worse for wear – but still there.”

April 6, 2014
by Harriet Baskas
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Updated National Civil Rights Museum reopens

Civil Rights Museum

Courtesy National Civil Rights Museum

 

The main section of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. reopened to the public on Saturday, April 5, 2014, one day after the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The civil rights leader was gunned down April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, which is now part of the museum complex.

The museum has undergone a $27.5 million renovation and now includes short films, interactive displays and new exhibits, including one recreating a slave ship galley and another portraying the courtroom where legal arguments were presented that led to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954.

Many original exhibits documenting iconic events in the civil rights timeline remain, including a replica of the bus from the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and a lunch counter representing the 1960 sit-in campaigns.

“They’re still there,” said museum spokeswoman Faith Morris. “Now we take the stories a bit further by adding archival film, touch screens and interactivity. In many exhibits, you can sit down and get involved.”

Unchanged is the exhibit in Room 306 — where King was staying when he was killed. “It is because Martin died here that this place even exists,” said Morris. “We’ve taken that tragedy and added the back story and the front story. And with this renovation, we now use new technology to help tell those stories.”

Admission to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and students with ID and $12 for children ages 4-17.

*For another look at how communities are marking the history of the civil rights movement, take a look at “Civil Rights Sins, Curated by One of the Sinners,” in the New York Times, which outlines the efforts – and debates – going on to gather items to be displayed in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, set to open in 2017.

(My story: National Civil Rights Museums reopens in Memphis first appeared on NBC News Travel.)

June 28, 2012
by Harriet Baskas
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Where to find Paul Bunyan

American folklore hero and lumberjack Paul Bunyan was said to be so loud that fellow lumberjacks had to wear earmuffs year round. When he sneezed, legend has it that he blew the roof off the loggers’ bunkhouse.When he was a baby, it took five giant storks to deliver him,” Carol Olson, manager of the Bemidji Tourist Information Center in Minnesota, said of the larger-than-life figure.

“North America has a fascination with powerful men such as Daniel Boone, the fur traders, prospectors and the cowboys, who opened or cleared wilderness,” said folklorist Jens Lund. “And in Paul Bunyan, we combine the superhuman powers of a mythological entity with a frontier hero and the humorous appeal of ridiculous exaggeration.”

Here are a few places around the country where you can spot the big guy this summer.

Bemidji, Minn.

If you’re passing through Bemidji, Minn., on a Wednesday, you’ll see lots of people dressed like lumberjacks, in black and red plaid.

The midweek get-up is at the request of the mayor and part of a year-long celebration that includes cake-decorating contests and museum exhibits to mark the 75th anniversary of the city’s infamous Bunyan statue.

One of the exhibits at the Beltrami County History Center is a collage made up of hundreds of photos sent in by people who stopped to get their photos taken with Paul and Babe over the years. It was put together by Mitch Blessing, creative director of Design Angler Inc.

At 18 feet, the big Bunyan figure outside the tourist information center on the shore of Lake Bemidji is not the world’s tallest statue of the legendary logger, but it is one of the oldest.

“In 1937, there was a lot of logging around here and the statue was built for a winter carnival,” said Olson. “The mayor at the time was 6 feet tall, so they made the statue three times his size.”

A statue of Babe, the blue ox, was added two years later and, ever since, visitors have been bee-lining to Bemidji to get their pictures taken with the oversized duo and to see the display of Bunyan’s personal effects, including his giant-sized flannel shirt, toothbrush, wallet and telephone.

Brainerd, Minn.

In Brainerd, there’s a 26-foot tall, 5,000-pound Bunyan statue at the Paul Bunyan Land amusement park with a moving head, arms and eyes and who greets visitors by name. “I can’t tell you how he knows everyone’s name,” said amusement park co-owner Lois Smude. “That’s part of the magic.” Smude said the park, which also features more than 35 rides and attractions and a pioneer village with antiques from the late 1800s, celebrates Bunyan’s birthday on June 29 each year.

Akeley, Minn.

In the middle of Minnesota, the city of Akeley (pop. 432) has a 25-foot-tall Bunyan with an outstretched palm low enough for visitors to climb into for a photo op. “Right next to the statue we have his giant cradle,” said Akeley clerk/treasurer Denise Rittgers. “We don’t do anything special for Paul Bunyan’s birthday, but if you drive into town, he’s right there, you can’t miss him.”


Bangor, Maine

Once called the “Lumber Capital of the World,” Bangor, Maine, boasts a Bunyan statue that’s 31-feet tall. “Even though Lucette, Paul’s wife, has begun to try to make him eat healthier, poor Paul still weighs in around 3,700 pounds,” said Jessica Donahue, marketing and promotions director at the Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Paul is also friends with famed author and Bangor resident, Stephen King, and was brought to life in ‘It,’ King’s 1986 novel.”

Portland, Ore.

A 31-foot-tall Buynan statue in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland, Ore., dates to 1959 and depicts the legendary woodsman leaning on a giant axe and dressed in a red and white plaid lumberjack shirt and blue pants. Originally created for display at the state’s Centennial Fair, this big Bunyan was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Klamath, Calif.

At the Trees of Mystery attraction in Klamath, Calif., there’s a 49-foot-tall Bunyan leaning on this axe with a 34-foot tall Babe the blue ox by his side. This Bunyan has been winking, swiveling his head and “talking” to passersby via a hidden public-address system since 1961.

“Paul Bunyan is indeed very appealing, especially in forested regions of North America,” said Lund. “No doubt the decline of logging and commercial forestry also makes him a perfect nostalgic character in those regions.”

(My story about where to see Paul Bunyan first appeared in a slight different version on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin.)

In response to this story, Lyn Hudgens sent this photo of a Paul Bunyan-like fellow in Yuba City,CA. Thanks, Lyn!

June 17, 2012
by Harriet Baskas
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Worn to be Wild: Celebrating the iconic black leather jacket

Elvis Presley bought this black leather jacket at J.C. Penney

Today it’s an icon in pop culture and fashion, but the black leather jacket was originally a utilitarian piece of clothing designed to protect travelers.

“In the early part of the 20th century, whether you were flying a plane or driving a motorcycle or a horseless carriage, everything had an open cockpit. So the idea of leather being an appropriate material for transportation gear emerged early on,” said Jim Fricke, curatorial director at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wis.

Early pilot in black leather jacket. Courtesy Library of Congress

The museum’s newest exhibit is “Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket,” which runs throughSept. 3. More than 100 artifacts are on display, including dozens of jackets worn by celebrities and pop culture icons as well as leather jackets from fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace. The exhibit also uses a wide variety of motorcycles, photographs, film footage, literature, advertisements and music to explore how this single article of clothing became such an iconic object in popular culture.

During World War I and II, pilots were photographed looking dashing in their leather bomber jackets, but the public’s fascination with the zippered, wind-protecting garment soared in the 1950s, when Hollywood got hold of it.

“It happened because of the movie ‘The Wild One,’ when Marlon Brando played a motorcycle gang member and wore one of our black leather jackets,” said Jason Schott, COO of Schott Bros. clothing manufacturer and great-grandson of Irving Schott, who is credited with making the first zippered leather motorcycle jacket in 1928.

Brando’s bad-boy image seemed cool, so people wanted that jacket. But because the jacket was associated with hoodlums and juvenile delinquency, many schools tried to ban it.

At the time, leather jackets were considered one way to identify juvenile delinquents, said Fricke, who included memos from an Ohio school district in the new exhibit.

“That made people want it even more,” said Schott. “The jacket just became synonymous with the rugged bravado that Americans seemed to embody.”

Despite a lull during the hippie era in the 1960s, Fricke said, the black leather jacket has maintained its role as the uniform of youthful rebellion and has been seen on everyone from James Dean and Elvis Presley to the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen.

A leather outfit worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 2” and leather jackets worn by musicians and celebrities such as Fergie, Gene Vincent and Michael Jackson are among items on display. The exhibit also reunites the Harley Davidson motorcycle bought by a 21-year-old Elvis Presley in 1956 with the motorcycle jacket he bought a few years later, from J.C. Penney.

After leaving Milwaukee, “Worn to be Wild” will move to Seattle’s EMP Museum, home of some of the music and science-fiction artifacts included in the show, and will run from October 2012 through February 2013.

If you’re flying to Milwaukee, you’ll arrive at Milwaukee County’s General Mitchell International Airport, which provides free parking for motorcycles and a Harley Davidson shop. Here’s a link to the airport guide for General Mitchell International Airport that is part the 50 airport guides I maintain for USATODAY.com.

My story: Worn to be Wild: Celebrating the black leather jacket first appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin.

June 2, 2012
by Harriet Baskas
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Cool collections at new Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

Chihuly Garden and Glass opened May 21, 2012 in Seattle, Wash. Located at Seattle Center, the 1.5 acre museum-like space is filled with the art of Dale Chihuly, and includes a lush glass art-dotted garden, the impressive Glasshouse and (my favorite) the Collections Cafe, where each table is also a shadow-box filled with items taken from one of Chihuly’s vast array of personal collections.

Here’s a quick look at what you’ll see inside the galleries and out in the garden:

Ikebana and Float Boats

And here are some of the collections that are placed inside shadow-box tables in the Collections Cafe:

Jucie squeezers inside shadowbox table at Collections Cafe

Want to go? Chihuly Garden and Glass is in Seattle, Washington at Seattle Center. Admission is $19 for adults ($17 for 65+) and $17 if you live in King County. Kids: $12. No admission charged to access the bookstore/gift shop or the Collections Cafe.

(All photos courtesy Ross Reynolds)

June 1, 2012
by Harriet Baskas
0 comments

Grand opening of LeMay-America’s Car Museum

 

A new shrine to car culture opens Saturday, June 2

Built on nine acres adjacent to a busy stretch of Interstate 5 in Tacoma, Wash., about 30 miles south of Seattle, LeMay — America’s Car Museum (ACM) has its high beams set on illustrating a century of automotive history and celebrating what museum president and CEO David Madeira calls “America’s love affair with the automobile.”

“This museum is about is that special car — your first car, the car you took to college, the one that broke down, the one you had your first date in or the car you drove to the prom,” said ACM spokesman Scot Keller.

From the outside, the gleaming four-story, 165,000-square-foot building resembles a shiny jet fuselage. Inside, there are galleries and exhibits that together feature about 350 cars, including sports cars, one-of-a-kinds and pristine classics.

1948 Tucker - #7 of 51

 

The shiny new facility showcases some of the prized possessions amassed by Harold LeMay, who according to the Guinness Book of World Records, amassed the largest private collection of automobiles.

The first and largest exhibit visitors encounter at ACM includes several dozen choice cars from the collection of Harold LeMay, including a 1916 Pierce Arrow Brougham, a 1932 Chevrolet Canopy Express “Huckster” truck (a favorite of early traveling salesmen) and a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.

LeMay, a Tacoma-area businessman who died in 2000 at the age of 81, amassed more than 3,500 cars, putting together a collection the Guinness Book of World Records declared to be largest private collection of its kind.

The cars displayed in the LeMay Exhibit will rotate, as will the themed exhibits in the rest of ACM. Those exhibits, assembled by guest curator and automotive expert Ken Gross, currently include a look the Indianapolis 500, Ferrari in America and the 1960s British Invasion — not the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but MG, Austin-Healy, Triumph, Jaguar and Aston Martin.

There’s also an exhibit featuring Buicks, Cadillacs, a Chrysler, a Hupmobile and several other American-made cars from the collection of jewelry magnate Nicola Bulgari, a celebrity the museum describes as “Italian by birth but American behind the wheel.”

ACM also features an area where collectors can store and supply their own cars, a slot-car track, high-end racing simulators, and a 3.5-acre outdoor show field that will host car shows, live concerts and drive-in movies.

Summer hours for ACM are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Labor Day. Admission costs are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, students members of the military, and $8 for kids (5-12).

My story - America’s newest car museums revs up for grand opening – first appeared on msnbc.com Travel

April 26, 2012
by Harriet Baskas
0 comments

Celebrate the strange on Obscura Day

Whether you’re home or on the road this weekend, check to see if an Obscura Day event is taking place nearby.

If there’s room in your travel plans for activities ranging from a guided tour of the world’s second largest particle accelerator to a behind-the-scenes tour of Alcatraz, then Obscura Day, on Saturday, April 28, is for you.

Organized by Atlas Obscura, a website co-founders Dylan Thuras and Joshua Foer call a “collaborative compendium of amazing places that aren’t found in your average guidebook,” Obscura Day is a celebration of offbeat expeditions and behind-the-scenes tours at more than 100 cities in the U.S. and around the world. Ticket prices for events vary and many are already sold out.

“For our third annual Obscura Day, institutions, tour guides and individuals are going to lead tours, walks and adventures and show off spaces and parts of collections that people don’t normally get to see,” said Thuras, who recently returned from his honeymoon in Southeast Asia. (“I promised my wife it would be a ‘normal’ trip, but we couldn’t resist,” said Thuras. “We found a wonderful museum of taxidermy in Hanoi and an enchanting museum with cool medical specimens in Bangkok.”)

On Obscura Day, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Thuras plans to attend several events, including a tour of abandoned beach areas on Staten Island and a visit to Columbia University’s Rutherford Observatory. Also in New York, an urban foraging tour of Central Park will show participants how to identify edible plants and herbs.

Elsewhere, this year’s Obscura Day events include everything from a tour of the Fermilab particle accelerator in Batavia, Ill., to an expedition to Japan’s largest stone-carved Buddha and the 1,553 stone-carved monks of Nihon-ji. “They’re in a beautiful, crumbling ruin in a forest and you need to take a train and a boat and a bus just to get there,” said Thuras.

The worldwide schedule of Obscura Day events “will help raise awareness of some of the lesser known attractions and wonders around the world,” said Doug Kirby, publisher of the website RoadsideAmerica.com.

In San Francisco, Annetta Black, senior editor of the Atlas Obscura and vice-president of the Atlas Obscura Society, will be leading Bay Area events that include a tour of the USS Iowa, a WWII battleship leaving soon to become a museum near Los Angeles, and an evening salon talk at the Long Now Museum, where the discussion will focus on the importance of planning beyond our own lifetimes. There will also be an after-dark tour exploring the off-limits areas of Alcatraz.

The Museum of Human Disease in Kensington, Australia, is returning as an Obscura Day participant, and this year it has added a workshop on human tissue preservation. Participants will get to preserve a pig’s heart in a hands-on demonstration.

“I just don’t think anyone else is really offering that kind of opportunity, which makes me very happy,” said Black, who sums up Obscura Day as a great way to “build curiosity about the places we live, which leads to cultural engagement and an interest in local history.”

Obscura Day is “really just fun field trips for adults,” said Thuras, “that will make you realize that the unusual sometimes comes in an unusual package.”

My story on Obscura Day first appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin

April 20, 2012
by Harriet Baskas
0 comments

To the Bat Cave: Bracken Bat Cave now open

The public will finally get to see a natural, nightly show that’s totally batty.

It’s a hidden treasure – that’s alive!

Bracken Cave, the Texas home of the world’s largest bat colony, is open for public tours for the very first time.

(Photo credit © Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International)

From April through October, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats move into the cave, which sits on 697 acres of protected land near New Braunfels, Texas. The summer gathering creates one of the largest concentrations of mammals on earth.

“We haven’t actually counted them all, but estimates are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million bats,” said Fran Hutchins, Bracken Bat Cave coordinator for Bat Conservation International (BCI), which owns the property.

Since 1992, only BCI members have been allowed to witness the nightly tornado of hungry bats emerging from a sinkhole at the mouth of the cave. But this summer BCI has joined up with a neighboring attraction, Natural Bridge Caverns, to offer public tours to the cave.

“It’s a spectacular sight. The bats form a vortex dense enough to show up on airport radar,” said Hutchins. “They fly in a 60-mile radius in search of food and in one night will eat hundreds of tons of insects, which makes the farmers around here very happy.”

Tours last three to four hours and begin with an orientation at Natural Bridge Caverns. Visitors then form a convoy and drive down a gravel road on BCI property to the cave.

“It’s a remote site that has been kept purposefully natural,” said Travis Wuest, whose family has owned Natural Bridge Caverns for three generations. “We tell people to bring binoculars because there’s a whole ecosystem of other animals, including falcons, hawks, raptors and owls, that come out to try and eat the bats.”

The Bracken Bat Flight tours are scheduled several times a week, through October. Reservations are required, as tours are limited to 60 people per night. Cost: $24.99 (adult or child), with a portion of the proceeds supporting conservation of the Bracken site. (Combination tickets with Natural Bridge Caverns are also available.)

Hutchins said bat fans should also be sure to visit Austin, about an hour away. “Bracken Cave is home to the largest bat colony in the world, but Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world.”

Austin’s 1.5 million bats make their summer home underneath a downtown bridge. Each night hundreds of bat-watchers gather by the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, along the river banks of Lady Bird Lake, to watch the city bats head out for their evening meal of moths, mosquitoes and pests.

Austin celebrates its bats with a free annual Bat Fest, which this year will take place on Saturday, Aug. 25.

(My story: Holy bat cave: new tour puts millions of bats on display, first appeared on msnbc.com.)