Where Big Bird Meets LBJ: Visiting the PBS Exhibition at the Presidential Library

Published: October 18, 2017
Categories: Feature, Reports

Today’s article was written by guest blogger Erin Roe Yaple.  Thanks for the review, Erin!

photo by Jay Godwin for the LBJ Library

There are not a whole lot of things that keep a toddler entertained for an extended amount of time. Toys are frequently picked up, played with once, and then thrown on the ground. I am always trying to find fun things for my son, Colin (whom we affectionately call “Coco”) to do on the weekends.

When my brother Ryan (of your favorite Muppet fan website, ToughPigs.com!) told me about “On the Air: 50 Years of Public Broadcasting,” a PBS-based exhibit currently at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in my home city of Austin, I decided to take Colin and check it out. Colin, like most toddlers, loves Elmo. Except he calls Elmo “la la la la” (because of the theme song of Elmo’s World). (It’s adorable.)

I walked into the museum having no idea what to expect. For whatever reason, Coco wanted to skip the section with newspaper articles about the moon landing, so we went straight up to the exhibit. We got off the elevator, rounded a corner, and BAM! There was Big Bird! And Oscar! And the Count! Colin seemed a little confused at first, and immediately wanted to go up and touch every single puppet. Of course, there was glass surrounding each one, so he had to settle for leaving handprints all over the place.

They also had a place where you could take pictures next to a Sesame Street sign, and they had Big Bird’s nest with stairs, so you could climb up and get a photo where it looks like you’re in Big Bird’s nest. I couldn’t get Colin to “branch out” and climb the stairs to the nest, but he did let me get pictures of him standing on the replica of Sesame Street.

I think Colin was most fascinated with the Oscar the Grouch puppet, who was animatronic—he would go down into the trash can, and then pop out. Colin approached Oscar frequently, eagerly waiting. Each time Oscar came out, Colin looked a little unsure and ran towards me laughing and whining simultaneously. This kept him entertained for a while, playing the “I Think I Like This, But I’m Not Sure, Is My Mom Close By?” game.

If I’m being honest, I was a little bit disappointed in its lack of kid-friendliness. An exhibit that features Sesame Street Muppets is naturally going to attract parents with kids, so I was hoping for something a little bit more interactive. In terms of the Sesame Street part of it, it was only the puppets behind glass and the small photo op displays. And no Elmo!  Where’s “La la la la?” Colin definitely had a good time, but he was also really entertained by the automatic doors. I think I got a lot more out of it than he did.

Much to the chagrin of my brother, I’m not super knowledgeable about the Muppets and Sesame Street (Don’t disown me, Ryan!) so I learned several fun facts. Each puppet was accompanied by a little write-up about the character. Did you know that Jim Henson got the idea for Oscar because he was eating lunch and his waiter was rude and grouchy? Did you know that Jim Henson originally designed Oscar as a purple puppet? And that Big Bird was going to be sent to space until they realized just how big he is? And that in the second season of Sesame Street, Oscar had a best friend named Wilde, who disappeared after a few episodes? (One of those things is not like the other, because I made it up!).

You regular Tough Pigs readers probably knew all of that, but I didn’t. So there! It was fun for me to learn these things, and to remember them so I can impress my older brother with my Sesame Street knowledge when he next comes to visit.

Overall, I was a teensy bit disappointed in the exhibit in that it didn’t seem like it was catered towards children. However, we did stay at the museum for several hours, I got some adorable pictures, and Colin had fun. The “On the Air” exhibition will be at the LBJ Library through November 12, so if you’re in Austin — or another city that gets the exhibit in the future — I would absolutely recommend it for adults or older kiddos. If you’re going with a younger child, expect them to have fun, but to be equally entertained by the automatic doors… and by the velvet ropes preventing visitors from entering the replica Oval Office (Lame!).

Click here to run away from Oscar on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Erin Roe Yaple

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