Republican-American Article

This one went to “subscriber’s only archives” quickly. Anyway, here it is.

May 18, 2009
SMALL TOWN MATTERS

One man’s quest to prove there’s plenty to do

While doing research on state museums the other day, I came across a remarkable gem on the Web. It’s called Connecticut Museum Quest (www.ctmuseumquest.com).

What first struck me was how thorough it is, far more informative than any other site I could find on the subject. It lists more than 500 museums in the state.

That averages about four per town, although they’re not so evenly distributed. I had no idea we were such pack rats.

But even more striking was to learn that the site is the product of just one person, a private citizen with a mission. The site’s motto: “Destroying the myth that there is nothing to do here.” Indeed. Just reading every entry on the site, much less visiting everything, could take years.

Connecticut Museum Quest is the work of Stephen Wood, a 36-year-old West Hartford resident who just visited his 100th museum in the state. To honor that feat, his wife baked him a cake that said “20 percent done!”

I had to call this guy.

Bracing myself for a blast of adrenaline over the phone line, I was surprised to find a rather soft-spoken and diffident fellow.

“I’d rather talk about the site than about me,” he said. “Fine,” I replied, “but first tell me why you’re doing this.”

He chuckled, and explained that he is fascinated by arcane facts and artifacts, loves to explore, enjoys writing and is enamored with lists – the highest this, the oldest that, and the like. His site is full of such stuff, along with reviews and photos of every museum he has visited.

tcm2.jpgA former insurance executive, Wood left his job late last year to concentrate on the project he started for fun in 2006 and to take care of his son, Damian, who, now 3, has special needs. A native of Delaware, Steve attended the University of Connecticut and decided to stay on after graduation in 1995. He met his wife, Hoang, on the job, and she remains the breadwinner. On weekends, they head out together to visit places they’ve never been, sometimes hitting seven or eight in a day.

The more he has learned about his adopted state, the more he likes it. “With its colonial history, industrial past and big money, Connecticut is a perfect museum storm, so to speak.”

Understanding how curious this fellow is, I still wondered why an apparently healthy man in his 30s who majored in biology would want to spend his life traipsing through museums.

It turns out, that’s not all he does. Once a competitive bicyclist, Wood has hiked and biked all over the state, and his Web site lists a formidable number of Connecticut’s 800 miles of “blue-blazed”trails he has trekked in the past decade.

There’s a point to all this. He wants people to know “all the things to do close to home that are free or very cheap.” Side note: The state has scores of well-paid employees humming the same tune.

Wood estimates that he and his family have spent a total of no more than $250 in admission fees visiting all those museums over the past three years. “Of course, there is the cost of gas,” he added.

I admitted to a mission of my own. Looking at his blog, it is apparent he has yet to make a significant dent in Northwestern Connecticut. No Mattatuck, no Glebe House, no Sloane Stanley. “They’re all on my to do list,” he said, while not quite saying he was saving the best for last.

The other thing this super-blogger can’t keep up with is all the changing schedules at museums that are feeling the economic pinch and cutting back on hours. “I always advise people to call or e-mail ahead,” he said. “The guidebooks are out of date.”

I hesitate to tell you Steve Wood’s 10 favorite museums, because he has 400 to go. But it won’t do any harm to tell you that he really liked the Stone Museum in Barkhamsted, primarily because “they’ve got the coolest bear display in the state.” His number one choice is a sentimental one: New Britain’s Industrial Museum. A sign he saw while driving through New Britain one day four years ago pointed to that museum and gave him the idea for starting Connecticut Museum Quest.

“People my age either leave the state or complain all the time about it,” he said. “If they got out of the bar or away from the TV, they’d see what they’re missing.”

George Krimsky can be reached at gkrimsky@rep-am.com. His column can be heard at www.rep-am.com.

Leave a Comment

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism