You know the kids are having fun when you hear a Boom! followed by shrieks emanating from the Then Now Wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. Visitors can grab hard hats and walk through a re-created Iron Range mine with loud hands-on drill simulators. The biggest hit is filling four holes with dynamite to create the replicated explosion. This kid-friendly exhibit opened in November 2012 and is the center’s largest and most hands-on to date. It pulls together diverse pieces of Minnesota’s past, touching on the eras of voyageurs, pioneers and lumberjacks, industries like mining and farming, and even addressing the tragic Interstate-35W bridge collapse in 2007.
Kids can crank up a Model T, pretend to ride a streetcar, pull or push a pioneer’s hand plow, and sit in a tepee to hear a Native American artist talk about his culture. One section details the harsh history of Native American boarding schools; a modern lunch table introduces visitors to kids from the Red Lake Reservation.
The Minnesota History Center gorgeously frames the state capitol within its two-story windows. The Open House section offers a creative peek at a century’s worth of stories, along with typical furnishings from residents within a single Saint Paul home, from early German merchants and Italian laborers to African Americans and Hmong families. Rotating exhibits cover topics like the Dakota War of 1862 and Minnesota’s role in the Civil War.
If the displays whet your appetite to learn more about a particular time period, two well-stocked gifts shops carry hundreds of history and regional books, as well as locally made pottery, bath and body products, jewelry, seasonal gifts and souvenirs.