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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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In Kids & Family Commentary

Goodnight, museum!

In Kids & Family Commentary

Searching for piles of (fake) poop.

In Kids & Family Commentary

Shining flashlights on dark exhibits is creepy and cool.

In Kids & Family Commentary

See?!

In Kids & Family Commentary

Almost like camping. But no mosquitos.

In Kids & Family Commentary

The mannequins were very well behaved.

Overnight at the museum exceeds expectations


The book "Night At The Museum" was published in 1993 and the popular movie starring Ben Stiller came out in 2006. Overnights at the Milwaukee Public Museum, however, precede both of these releases.

"The overnight program started in the 1980s and originally with smaller Scout groups only," says Lisa Ponto, the public programs coordinator for the museum.

All of the overnights take place on Friday nights, starting at 6 p.m. (guests can arrive any time between 6 and 7:30 p.m.) and end the next day at 8 a.m.

The experience is open to children ages 6-12 and they must attend with an adult.

The cost is $47 per person – $37 for members or $42 if a group of 15 or more attends – and include a Dome Theater show (formerly known as the IMAX Theater), educator-led activities, self-guided flashlight explorations, a light evening snack and breakfast and all-day admission to the museum the following day.

All of the museum overnights have a theme. Upcoming overnights include "Raiders of the Lost Artifact" on May 16; "Wildlife Adventures" on June 20; "Mummies" on July 25 and "Streets Of Old Milwaukee" on Aug. 15.

A couple of Fridays ago, my family and I attended one of the overnights. The theme was "Safari" and opened with a small group tour of the Africa exhibits led by museum educator Jennifer Keim.

Keim certainly knew her audience. At one of the exhibits she pointed out the piles of fake animal poop and had the kids count the piles (there were seven.)

"I try to have fun with it," says Keim.

We then watched a 3-D film, "The Meerkats," on the massive Dome Theater screen.

The 45-minute film was entertaining and interesting, chronicling a meerkat family's life in the desert. I wasn't exactly sure what a meerkat was prior to the screening, but quickly figured out the tall, skinny, hind-leg-standing creatures are a bunch of adorable bad asses.

After the movie, we had a snack provided by the museum of a granola bar and water. Guests can bring their own food or drink to consume during the snack time, but it has to be stored in the kitchen area and cannot be brought into the exhibit areas at any time. Water bottles in covered containers are permitted everywhere. Beer, sadly, is not permitted at all.

The next portion of the evening was by far the high point and included exploring the dark museum with flashlights. The museum provides a scavenger hunt-type game but my 11-year-old son enjoyed trying to scare other guests more than locating artifacts.

At 10 p.m., everyone met up in the cafeteria and a museum employee went over basic rules and safety information. Then groups were dismissed to set up sleeping quarters in pre-assigned parts of the museum.

Everyone in our group – which was more than 200 strong – slept on the second floor next to the exhibits. No one slept in the igloo, which was temporarily disappointing to my son.

Overnighters will want to bring air mattresses or foam bedding to put under their sleeping bags. We also brought extra blankets, but it turned out it was a tad warm and so we didn't need them.

Lights out is between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Considering how many people were sleeping in close quarters, it was impressively quiet throughout the night – with the exception of one woman who spoke on and off without using her "library voice" and a persistent cougher or two. But hey, we expected to get little-to-no sleep and actually managed to snag nearly a full night's rest.

Around 7 a.m., there's a wake-up announcement followed by songs like "Here Comes The Sun" by The Beatles and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!. It's a little early for my family, but beats having early bird museum goers stepping over your sleeping, drooling self.

In a nutshell, we (including the grown ups) had a really fun time and since we didn't get munched by any of the exhibit animals coming alive in the night, we considered our museum overnight a smashing success.


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