Must-See at MoPOP in Seattle

Exterior of MoPOP Museum of Popular Culture Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Distinctive Frank O. Gehry-designed exterior of MoPOP, the Museum of Popular Culture in Seattle WA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Any museum that wants to preserve and showcase popular culture is going to find that different generations respond to different pop culture memories. It matters how old you were and what was going on in your life when you experienced a certain movie, TV show, streaming show, or music.

An afternoon with my 20-something daughter at MoPOP, one of the top things to do in Seattle, showed me that we might squeal and say “Oooohh!” in front of different exhibit cases, but each of us could have a wonderful time re-connecting with artifacts from both our own youths and our shared times as a family.

What is now called the Museum of Pop Culture or MoPOP began as the Experience Music Project in 2000, founded by Microsoft’s Paul Allen. It’s sort of a big attic (not unlike our “Nation’s Attic,” the Smithsonian in Washington DC) or maybe you could call it a very fancy grab-bag of things that mattered when you were growing up.

Here’s what I found most interesting and engaging at MoPOP …

An Exhibit I Didn’t Think I’d Like That I Did

My daughter likes fantasy – in fact she’s writing her own fantasy novel – but I’m not really into it, so I did not expect to be as enthralled as I was by the Fantasy Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit. You enter through a giant door, and many parts of the space are laid out like rooms in a magical castle or Hobbit house.

From the Wizard of Oz to The Princess Bride to, of course, the Harry Potter series, I realized that many of my favorite books and movies were (duh!) considered fantasy.

Costumes from the Princess Bride movie at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Costumes from “The Princess Bride” movie at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, so had no idea that it’s been around since the early 1970’s.

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons released in 1974 at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, released in 1974, displayed at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The best part of the exhibit for me was a little alcove with video interviews of fantasy writers and film/TV producers like Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) talking about the inspirations for their craft and the process of creating fantasy worlds. Parts of it were oddly projected onto the eyeballs of a giant dragonfly.

Creating fantasy books and movies video projected onto purple dragonfly at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Creating fantasy books and movies video – this is part of a scene from “The Princess Bride” – projected onto purple dragonfly eyeballs at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Seeing this exhibit encouraged me to stop thinking that I automatically don’t care for a particular genre of book or film; I may not have found the right one for me, yet.

Movie and TV Stuff To Go Nuts Over If You’re An 80’s Kid

The proton pack from the original Ghostbusters.

The red jumpsuit worn by Robin Williams in Mork & Mindy.

The hoverboards from Back to the Future.

MoPOP’s Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction was one “Oooh, Oooh, Oooh!” display case after another.

There is also a big interactive video game deck where you can play out your Star Wars fantasies …

Star Wars interactive video exhibit at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Star Wars interactive video exhibit at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Display Case Where I Said, “Eeeeek!”

I love the Indiana Jones movies so much – the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark when it came out, I walked out of the theater at the end, bought another ticket, and went right back in to see it again.

My kids love Indy’s adventures too, so I’ve been able to enjoy the films with them, over and over for decades.

Seeing the famous headpiece for the Staff of Ra in the Hall of Fame exhibit is squeal-worthy.

The Headpiece to the Staff of Ra from Raiders of the Lost Ark at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Headpiece to the Staff of Ra from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” at MoPOP in Seattle WA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I’m still gleeful every time they say, “They’re digging in the wrong place!”

Also, now is a good time to remember the satisfaction of punching Nazis.

The Roots Of MoPOP Are In Music

Large sections of the museum are dedicated to music, which makes sense since the “Experience Music Project” is how MoPOP started.

Guitar sculpture with guitars that play preprogrammed music at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Guitar sculpture with guitars that actually play pre-programmed music, at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There is lots of memorabilia to see; my favorites include Eric Clapton’s first Stratocaster guitar, a 1956 Fender he called “Brownie” that was the one he played on the Derek and the Dominoes album that includes Layla.

“You’ve got me on my knees,” indeed.

There is an enormous sound studio setup – the Sound Lab – where you can make your own music and record it, too. I love music but don’t play an instrument, so I mostly wandered around this section feeling a bit inadequate.

Playing guitar in a MoPOP sound studio in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I watched this young man enviously, wishing I could play an instrument and do some actual tinkering in the MoPOP Sound Lab. (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There is an exhibit devoted to grunge rock and Nirvana, which of course took root in this part of the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve never been a big Nirvana fan, but it was poignant to read about the band’s very early days, and to see this scuffed cassette tape that was their first demo …

Nirvana's first demo recording 1988 at MoPOP in Seattle (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Nirvana’s first demo recording, on a 1988 cassette, displayed at MoPOP in Seattle WA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

You’ll need at least two or three hours at MoPOP, because there are also traveling exhibits in addition to the permanent ones.

General walk-up admission, plus whatever big exhibition is on, costs US$36. Save a lot by buying the Seattle CityPASS for US$89 which bundles a group of top attractions including MoPOP, the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Space Needle, the Seattle Aquarium, and a harbor cruise.

Have you been to MoPOP? What did you think? Tell us about it in the comments….

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