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A World of Discovery

It’s always stressful when friends and family announce that they are coming to Boston to visit you. Somewhere between reading cases, exercising at Shad, throwing holiday parties, and pretending to get some sleep, you realize that you also need to entertain them while they are here. The typical frenzied rush of Boston-at-its-best planning begins. Duck Tour: Check. Freedom Trail: Check. Classroom visit: Check. Dinner Plans: Check. Something interesting and new: Whoops!

I came across this problem recently and found a truly unique treasure right here in Boston. The Mary Baker Eddy Library, located in Back Bay, houses a variety of awe-inspiring exhibits that will impress even the most cynical soul. Trust me, I can be one of them! The history of the library is a story unto itself: Mary Baker Eddy founded The Church of Christ, Scientist after enduring a lifetime of illnesses. Her collection of books is one of the largest in the country. But the books and history are not the only reasons to go. The real attraction is something like a ride in Disneyland.

The Mapparium, a three-story glass inverted globe, was constructed in 1932 by Chester Churchill and remains the largest of its kind. Stepping inside the globe onto a suspended glass walkway, the lights illuminate the stained-glass panels and immediately draw your eye upward towards the Arctic Circle. Maybe it was the magnificent curved structure or maybe it was because I sometimes suffer from vertigo, but I felt myself becoming lighter – almost like I was peeking in on the world from the inside out.

The lights went out and we were alone in the room – even the tour guide had left. A voice-over booming from the loudspeaker went through a brief monologue about the world in 1932, and how ideas have traveled historically across continents and oceans. It was peaceful until the person I was with decided to test out the awesome acoustics in the globe.

Because glass reflects sound, rather than absorbs it, even a harmless whisper from someone on the other side of the globe sounds dangerously close to your ear. The closeness of the voice surprised me, the content of what he said made me laugh, the laughter echoing off the glass walls. For those of you trying to decide if a guy would like this trip, the answer is yes (my guest mentioned something about testing out the acoustics…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination).

Stepping outside the globe, classic architecture meets modern technology in the Hall of Ideas. The marble-clad hallway is warmed with brightly lit quotations from History’s greatest thinkers. The centerpiece of the hall is a modern fountain, sculpted by Howard Ben Tr‚, bubbling with words from inspirational quotes. The laser lit words eventually trickle off the side of the fountain like water, stream across the floor, and climb the wall to their final resting place. Here on the walls, the words are unscrambled, and you take in quotes from Gandhi, Chief Joseph, and Helen Keller.

These days soul-searching seems like a general theme around here, with most classes turning into LEAD and our LEAD classes focusing on our Reflected Best-Self. If your schedule permits, go during off hours (read: try to avoid the weekend lunchtime rush). I found that the peace and quiet of the library minus the hustle and bustle of visitors, can lend itself to some well-deserved “me” time. While the Library is part of the Church of Christ, Scientist, you won’t find explicit spirituality in the exhibits above. The Quest Gallery, located on the second floor, is a different story. A bit hokey, and lacking much substance, it is an exhibit that you can skip without feeling that you’ve missed out.

The Library is located at 200 Massachusetts Avenue and accessible by the Green line. For those that like to drive, there is plenty of metered street parking in the area. Admission is in the budget: Bring your Student ID and pay only $3.

December 6, 2004
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