Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Autorama

While the Melton Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut, had been something of a bare-bones affair, the Autorama was opulent. Norwalk, as I recall it, was a warehouse size space (actually a former bowling alley!) with cars displayed matter of factly, left to stand on their own merits, with few accouterments of the era to lend atmosphere. But in the Autorama, visitors walked on plush carpets, had their eyes boggled by brass, and were reminded of the nation's great history in a stirring cycloramic mural.


The oldest cars were displayed in and around Gay   Nineties settings - a courting couple, a picnic-basket laden family, interspersed with mannequins depicting home life of the era — a gowned, bejeweled woman seated at a spinet, a child playing with toy cars, settings that incorporated antique furniture, toys and bicycles from the Melton collection. 


There's a funny story associated with the mannequins: They were perhaps the one item in the new museum that had been a bargain. Some would-be midwestern Madame Tussaud's had failed to pay for their order, and a group of poorly rendered historical figures were on the auction block. The manufacturer had made some subtle changes so that they looked less like the characters they were meant to portray. Nevertheless, my father grimaced every time he walked by the dummy in the curved-dash Olds, muttering "I don't know why, but I just don't like the looks of that one." It was, or had been, a representation of Franklin D. Roosevelt (a major player in my father's pantheon of disreputable characters).

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