Hello! It’s me, Boop! I’m the Discovery World spokesturtle. How are you? Beep and I were a little bored this week.
This was not the kind of bored you get on a rainy, Saturday afternoon where you read a book and then spend a good hour staring out the window. This was a different kind of bored. It was the kind of bored you get after like three months of rainy Saturday afternoons. Sure, you know that at some point that it will stop raining and the sun will come out. Maybe it’ll be even sooner than you hoped, but no one can say for sure. But it won’t be today, and it probably won’t be tomorrow. Sigh. Beep and I were that kind of bored.
We needed to get into mischief! Turtles are excellent at getting into mischief. Constructive mischief. Creative mischief. The good kind of mischief.
We thought about making one of those inspirational song videos and posting it on Twitter. You know, like all those celebrities did a few weeks or a million years ago. They sang “Imagine” by John Lennon. We wanted to do that, but better. Beep wanted to sing “Groove is in the Heart”. I told Beep that “Groove is in the Heart” is not sufficiently inspirational. Yes, I was wrong. I know that now. The fish wanted to sing “Rolling in the Deep” because they’re huge fans of Adele. Also, they’re fish and rolling in the deep is what they do. The jellyfish wanted to sing “Shoop” by Salt-N-Peppa. I wanted to sing “Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige. It is inspirational, and it slaps. Anyway, none of us could agree on a song, so Beep and I had to find something else to do.
Then we realized that we had an entire science center to ourselves (though we would very much rather not have the entire place to ourselves). Luckily, Discovery World is filled with exactly the right kind of stuff we needed to get into exactly the right kind of mischief. We had exhibits we could “borrow”. We had labs. We had microscopes, electronics, tools, and design supplies. All we needed was a plan.
Our first thought was to build a matter transporter. Press a button and travel instantly from one point to another. A matter transporter would be awesome. It takes almost forever to get anywhere when you’re a turtle. With a matter transporter we could “beam” ourselves to the Domes, the City Hall Bell Tower, Lake Emily underneath the old Northwestern Mutual Building, the flame on top of the Wisconsin Gas building, that bronze statue of zombie Henry Winkler, or anywhere in Milwaukee we wanted to go!
So we built one. It worked! We managed to transport a half-eaten piece of melon from my mouth to about three feet away from my mouth. But then Beep and I hit a snag. Well, I hit a snag. Beep was the snag. Beep didn’t want to be the test pilot turtle. Especially after I explained
that the matter transporter scans you, stores your pattern in a computer, dismantles you atom by atom, and then creates a new you, a copy of you, somewhere else. The you that you used to be is dead, and there’s a nearly-identical new you in a new place. Anyway, Beep was afraid of the matter transporter! Lol. That ended our promising matter transporter experiments.
What else could we build? Beep and I thought about it. We thought about it some more. Beep and I decided that it would be fun to see what Milwaukee was like over a hundred years ago. So we decided to build a time machine. Yes, traveling backwards in time is “impossible”. For humans. Turtles have a whole different kind of theoretical physics that is, um, a lot more theoretical.
Boop’s First Law of Time Machines is that they spin really fast. So Beep and I dismantled the huge DNA sculpture in the Technology Building because we needed a powerful motor. Boop’s Second Law of Time Machines is that a proper time machine needs a Steampunk aesthetic. So we borrowed some of the gears and other spinning things in the Milwaukee Muscle exhibit. Boop’s Third Law of Time Machines is that they need a safe and comfortable place to sit. So we took the chair and pneumatics from Discovery World’s driving simulator.
Finally our time machine was complete. We were ready to travel through time! We set the dial to 1910. We pressed the big red button and pulled the big shiny lever.
We spun and spun and spun until we were dizzy. We wobbled out of the time machine and… into the future! Thirty-two seconds into the future, the exact same amount of time we had been spinning. We had built a spinning machine, not a time machine.
Undaunted (turtles are never daunted!), we found a better way to travel back to the past. We found digital Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library website. Check them out!
Fire insurance maps are detailed maps of a city that were drawn up for fire insurance companies. All the streets are labeled. Lots of them are still there and have the same names. Lots of businesses are labeled, too, so you can discover what kinds of businesses operated back then. Beep and I found tanneries and manufacturers and machine shops and plasterworks and coal stations and pumping stations and schools and hospitals and all kinds of interesting stuff. And you can see what the buildings were made of. Pink buildings were brick or stone. Yellow buildings were made of wood.
There are fire insurance maps from 1910 and 1894, so you can see how the city has grown over time! The 1910 maps are arranged sort of like Google Maps, which makes it super easy to explore. The 1894 maps are a little harder to dig through. Click on a numbered area of the city. That will take you to the corresponding volume. The Index is a list of all the businesses, churches, hospitals, schools, and other things in that volume. Each page in the volume is numbered section of the city map. This will make more sense once you start exploring.
So Beep and I explored the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, and we got to travel back to the past, sort of. And we have a fun new spinning machine, which is awesome. I suppose we’ll have to take it apart and put everything back together before we reopen. That’s okay. We’d much rather have an open Discovery World than a spinning machine.
When will we reopen? Soon. We don’t know for sure. We’re going to take it slowly and carefully. And that’s good, because it gives Beep and I more time to put the moving DNA sculpture back together. Putting complicated things back together is complicated. Who knew?