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Take a Virtual Tour of the Museum of Endangered Sounds

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Brendan Chilcutt wants to preserve the aural history of technology. Since 2012, he’s been recording and uploading the clicking, whirring, and beeping sounds of outdated devices to a website called the Museum of Endangered Sounds. It’s a fascinating project: While most museums preserve physical artifacts, Chilcutt is more interested in preserving experiences—what it felt (or sounded) like to use those devices. Chilcutt's Museum calls attention to the fact that as technologies change, our sensory experience of the world around us changes too, in near-imperceptible ways. 

"Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine. Imagine generations of children unacquainted with the chattering of angels lodged deep within the recesses of an old cathode ray tube TV,” Chilcutt writes. “And when the entire world has adopted devices with sleek, silent touch interfaces, where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that. And tell me: Who will play my GameBoy when I'm gone?”

Though the sound samples on display at the Museum of Endangered Sounds date back to the early 20th century (for example, there are rotary phones, typewriters, and record players to be heard), it seems like the most attention has been paid to the 1980s and '90s. There's some logic to that decision: Technology changed so rapidly during that era that many of its sounds feel genuinely ephemeral. Most of us probably still remember the sound of connecting to a dial-up Internet service, but how many recall the upbeat theme music of Microsoft Encarta's MindMaze game or can still hum Nokia's once-iconic first ring tone? Thanks to Chilcutt, they're readily available once again. 

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New Museum Exhibition Shows Off Rare Handwritten Letters From History’s Most Famous Figures
An autographed letter from 7-year-old Victoria, future queen of England, to her uncle, 1826.
An autographed letter from 7-year-old Victoria, future queen of England, to her uncle, 1826.
Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago

There’s something special about seeing the handwriting of one of your heroes. Just ask anyone who has gotten a celebrity’s autograph. The unique power a signature holds is at the center of an upcoming exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection.

As part of the display, the museum features drawings, signed photos, and rare letters from figures throughout history—from line drawings Michelangelo used to order marble for the facade of a basilica he was contracted to build in Florence to a previously unpublished, signed photo of Rasputin.

A line drawing with a marble order from Michelangelo
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564). Pen and ink drawing with autograph instructions for a marble order for the facade of San Lorenzo, [Florence, 1518]. Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago.

The materials on display are just part of the collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago, a Brazilian art historian and author who started writing to prominent celebrities when he was 12 years old, asking for their autographs. Over the next 50 years, he assembled a massive collection of autographs, manuscripts, and other handwritten materials that date back to 1140. The 140 items on display at the Morgan make up just a tiny fraction of the 100,000 autographs he owns.

The items are divided up into several different categories: art, history, literature, science, music, and entertainment. Many of them have never been shown before in a public exhibition.

Handwritten mathematical equations by Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein (1879–1955). Autograph mathematical manuscript, ca. 1940s. Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago.

The exhibition includes treasures like a 12th century papal bull signed by four different medieval popes (three were cardinals at the time of signing) and a Catholic saint, Guarinus of Palestrina. There are documents and letters signed by royalty, including Richard III and Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots; there is a rare letter from Leon Trotsky to Frida Kahlo, written as the two were ending their affair; and an autographed draft of a letter Jean-Paul Sartre wrote to the Swedish Academy in 1964, asking them not to give him the Nobel Prize (they awarded it to him anyway). There is a draft of a poem William Butler Yeats wrote on the back of a letter, and a signed mathematical manuscript from Albert Einstein.

Below is a handwritten bill for 20 therapy sessions with Sigmund Freud. Freud charged American neurologist Roy Grinker 100 Austrian schillings per hour, or the equivalent of $20 or $25 at that time, for psychoanalysis sessions.

A handwritten note on stationary from Dr. Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Autograph invoice signed, to Roy Grinker, written on a personal correspondence card, Vienna, 30 June 1934. Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago.

Artist René Magritte sent this letter to photographer and filmmaker Francis Lee, suggesting Lee make use of the sequence of drawings included (of a man removing his gloves, hat, and head) in a film:

A two-page letter with drawings of men in top hats
René Magritte (1898–1967). Autograph letter signed, to Francis Lee, Brussels, 22 January 1946. Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago. © 2018 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society

This is one of two surviving letters from Oscar Wilde to Bram Stoker. Wilde wanted Stoker, who worked at London’s Lyceum Theatre, to set aside a ticket for him that night:

A handwritten letter from Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde (1854–1900). Autograph letter signed, to Bram Stoker, London, [1879 or 1880]. Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago.

This draft of the opening of Swann's Way differs slightly from what Proust eventually published. Notably, it doesn't include what would become the first sentence: “For a long time I used to go to bed early."

A ripped page from a Proust manuscript
Marcel Proust (1871–1922). Swann’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann), autograph manuscript draft of the opening passage, ca. March–April 1913. Collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago. Image used with permission of the Proust Estate.

The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection will run from June 1 to September 16, 2018 at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

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Swim With a Pineapple Under the Sea at America's First Museum for Scuba Divers
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At the first underwater museum in the U.S., you’ll find a motley crew of characters. There's an oversized skull, a deer, a pineapple, and a model of undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau's scuba mask.

Seven sculptures in total are coming to the Underwater Museum of Art—UMA for short, pronounced like the actress—which will make its debut off the coast of South Walton, Florida, in late June.

A skull sculpture
Underwater Museum of Art

Unlike most museums, visitors don't need to buy tickets. But they will need their own scuba or freediving gear, plus a boat to get to the diving spot, which is located less than a mile off the coast of Grayton Beach.

The sculptures lie at a depth of 60 feet in an area containing an artificial reef, which has grown over the years in an effort to encourage marine life. And statues certainly aren't the only thing to admire underwater—divers have a good chance of spotting turtles, snappers, groupers, and all types of reef fish, according to Andy McAlexander, president of the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA), which founded the museum in collaboration with the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA).

"It's the Gulf of Mexico. Anything could swim by you," McAlexander says.

A turtle reef
A turtle reef in the South Walton Artificial Reef
Underwater Museum of Art

McAlexander played a key role in helping UMA get off the ground, and organizers plan to continue expanding their underwater art collection. "We plan on doing it every year, so we'll select between five and seven [artworks] a year from now on," he tells Mental Floss.

When the CAA put out the call for artists who wanted to submit (and submerge) their artwork, they received about 20 entries. Above all else, the sculptures had to be environmentally-friendly and toxin-free, so materials were limited to steel, concrete, and aluminum. That was no problem for artist Rachel Herring, whose father owns a metal fabricating shop. She had taken a few welding lessons from him in the past and put that knowledge to use to construct a large, metal pineapple.

A pineapple sculpture
Underwater Museum of Art

"The pineapple is the symbol of friendship and welcoming, and what better way to welcome wildlife and tourists alike to the Underwater Museum of Art?" Herring writes on her website. "It is intentionally hollow to shelter small fish and wildlife. From above, the leaves splay out to create the view of a sun from above, which is the symbol of life."

Another sculpture mimicking Aqua Lung, a scuba mask invented in the '40s by Cousteau and Émile Gagnan, was created with help from local school students.

The museum may be the first permanent underwater sculpture exhibit in the U.S., but there are other places to see submerged art. In Key Largo, Florida, an underwater sculpture dubbed "Christ of the Abyss" depicts Jesus with outstretched arms.

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