ScoutingOctober 2002

The BSA's Year-Round Scout Show

By Bill Sloan
Illustration By Joel Snyder

The National Scouting Museum welcomes visitors to its new home in Irving, Tex., with amazing displays of art, history, and virtual reality adventures.

WARNING: If you come home sometime soon from a trip to the new National Scouting Museum in Irving, Tex., and tell your friends what you saw and did there, they may not believe you.

But once they have a chance to experience the museum's amazing displays, technological marvels, and state-of-the-art interactive features for themselves, they'll know you weren't dreaming or stretching the truth.

When the 50,000-square-foot facility officially opens to the public this month, there really will be a place where you can

  • watch celebrated American artist Norman Rockwell "at work" on one of his most famous paintings.
  • hear the history of the Boy Scout movement narrated by its founder, Lord Baden-Powell.
  • take a virtual reality helicopter jaunt and drop in on the action at the 2001 BSA National Jamboree.
  • carry out a rescue of people stranded in a dangerous wilderness setting in which you have to ride a bucking mountain bike, handle a plunging whitewater kayak, and scale a sheer mountainside to complete your heroics.
  • travel back in time for a hands-on experience in Boy Scout camping as it was 50 or 90 years ago.

A 21st-century museum

"And that's just for starters," says museum director Susan B. Hardin. "This is a museum of the 21st century—it's not boring, it's not quiet, and it's not dry. It's designed to provide the typical visitor with three to four hours of unique and exciting activities. Its goal is to present the story, values—and fun—of Scouting in the most entertaining, enlightening way possible."

Planning and construction of the new museum—housed adjacent to the BSA's national office in a separate building at 1329 W. Walnut Hill Lane in Irving—has been under way for about two years. Located just 15 minutes from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, one of the world's largest commercial aviation hubs, the museum is readily accessible. Beginning this month, Scouters and other visitors from near and far will experience the museum's 14 major exhibits.

The BSA has operated a museum, although on a smaller scale, since 1960, when the Johnston Historical Museum was established in New Jersey. In 1986, the name was changed to the National Scouting Museum and it was relocated to the campus of Murray State University, where it operated until fall 2001.

Norman Rockwell gallery

Visitors will enter the new museum for self-guided tours through a 50-by-50-foot Grand Lobby, accentuated by two stone pillars engraved with the Scout Oath and Scout Law, flanking a large BSA fleur-de-lis emblem.

Just beyond the lobby is the Norman Rockwell Art Gallery, where up to 40 works of art depicting various aspects of Scouting will be on exhibit. A life-size figure of Rockwell will be seen at work on one of his paintings in an authentic replica of his picturesque studio in Stockbridge, Mass. Each year, Rockwell will be shown "painting" a different picture.

"Many of the original Rockwells will be on permanent display," Hardin says, "but other artwork in the gallery will change annually."

Although the gallery's emphasis will be on Scouting-related subjects, Rockwell's universal fame is also expected to attract many non-Scouters.

Scouting's founding fathers

Moving into the main hall of the museum, visitors will have an opportunity to learn about BSA history in a 15-minute panoramic theater presentation narrated by a life-like robotic figure of Baden-Powell. Displays of historic memorabilia in the same area celebrate the careers and contributions of three other recognized "fathers" of modern Scouting—the first Chief Scout Executive, James E. West; outdoorsman Daniel Carter Beard; and naturalist-illustrator Ernest Thompson Seton.

From there, it's time for a simulated helicopter ride and a flyover of the most recent national jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

"We've made every effort to make the museum very interactive," says Hardin. "For example, a visitor will be able to 'steer' his or her own helicopter and 'land' for a close-up look at any of the jamboree sites."

Now it's time to take a short hike down a realistically re-created forest trail and enter the museum's elaborate five-section Scout Reservation to sample its wide assortment of activities and diversions.

Younger visitors will be drawn to Cub World with its fully outfitted Western fort and six-lane pinewood derby track, where they can race their own cars or select a ready-to-roll model provided by the museum.

In a deep-woods setting, they'll also find a Scout fire ring and a robotic storyteller spinning spine-tingling tales. A bit further on is the hands-on, interactive Campground, with authentically furnished campsites from 1910, the 1950's, and 2000.

A virtual reality adventure

"The Campground lets today's Scouts and adult leaders experience the evolution of camping over the decades," Hardin says. "They can learn firsthand what it was like to go camping in Scouting's early days and test their skills at lashing together an old-fashioned tripod to support a 1910 cooking pot or using the same tools their grandfathers used to set up a campsite a half-century ago."

Looking for thrills and chills? You'll find them just around the corner in the Virtual Reality Adventure section. The latest electronic technology is used to make "you" the hero of a breathtaking wilderness rescue while up to 30 spectators watch your "heroics."

"It works something like a giant video game that puts you right in the middle of all the action and projects the whole thing onto a big screen," Hardin explains.

The fifth and final activity area is the Venturing Cave, featuring a values-oriented interactive theater, where visitors watch various true-to-life situations, then cast votes on what they think the proper outcome should be.

Trail to Eagle

Other special exhibits feature Order of the Arrow artifacts and history, the BSA's three National High Adventure Bases and dozens of high adventure camps, and the Eagle Scout program.

"The Eagle Scouting values exhibit is practically a whole museum in itself," says Hardin. "It includes displays on the ranks of Scouting, merit badges over the years, prominent Eagle Scouts, the National Eagle Scout Association, council shoulder strips, and chartered organizations who support Scouting."

A large Scout Store stocked with Scouting mementos and a full range of BSA supplies and books and a spacious canteen with food and beverage vending machines are located next to the exit. Museum visitors are also welcome at the national office cafeteria, which is open daily except weekends.

Youth and family research

The museum building also houses the National Youth and Family Research Center. This unique facility offers opportunities for study and research into many of the issues confronting today's American family.

A capital campaign supported by major BSA financial contributors has helped pay for the new museum without infringing on usual council fund-raising activities, Hardin notes.

Annual memberships are available, from $50 per person. They entitle holders to a membership card, discounts in the Scout Store gift shop, and a unique annual patch.

Officials believe the museum will appeal to a broad cross section of the American public and to all age groups. Up to a third of visitors are expected to be schoolchildren from within a 50-mile radius; others will come from the far corners of the globe.

"People will come with different agendas," Hardin says. "Those with a deep interest in Scouting could spend two or three days in the museum, while others may want to see just the Rockwells and may stay just an hour or so. If you spend only 15 minutes in each major section, your self-guided tour will take approximately three hours and 50 minutes."

And when it's over, you'll have plenty to tell the folks back home.

Contributing editor Bill Sloan lives in Dallas.

Top of Page

October 2002 Table of Contents

Copyright © 2002 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.

The Boy Scouts of America BSA