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What to do with the kids on trips? Try museums intended for them

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Want to take your kids exploring through an Egyptian tomb, walking in a city sewer, strolling through a human heart or talking to a pioneer doctor? Then visit a children's museum.

These not-just-for-kids places are high technology with lots of hands-on happenings. Gone are the boring, static displays with dry- as- dust explanations. Instead, today's museums pack lots of action and interest for kids and often present topical exhibits that enable you and your children to talk about your ideas and concerns.

If you've wondered what kind of children's museums other areas offer, here are several choices:

Indianapolis, Ind.

This heartland USA town has two wonderful surprises: the world's largest children's museum and, nearby, Conner Prairie, a re-created pioneer town.

* The Children's Museum of Indianapolis -- the largest in the world -- is, as its motto indicates, "a place where children grow up, and adults don't have to." This museum appeals to kids of all ages. The What If gallery, which opened in May, targets ages 6-10 by presenting three environments requested by more than 1,000 children: a dinosaur den, an underwater coral reef and an Egyptian tomb with a mummy in it. Kids dig for fossils, peer at a coral reef and put together a mummy puzzle.

Playscape lets preschoolers ages 2 and up experiment with water, shapes and sand. Teens aren't forgotten, either. At the Center for Exploration, visitors get to vote on such controversial issues as capital punishment and gun control.

But adults should give in to the child within. Don't leave without taking a ride on the Victorian carousel and browsing the antique doll collection and the extensive array of model trains.

For special kids events, call the KIDSLINE at (317) 924-KIDS. For museum information, call (317) 924-5431.

* Conner Prairie: At this living history museum in Fishers, about 40 minutes from Indianapolis, it's always 1836. Kids will be intrigued by the costumed interpreters who make the frontier come alive. The doctor's wife tells you how her piano had an TC easier trip from the East than she did, and the carpenter shows you how to fashion a chair leg.

At the Golden Eagle Tavern, Martha Zimmerman bakes cookies and warns you about the dangers of women traveling alone. At the hands-on Pioneer Adventure Area, have fun weaving, grinding corn and walking on stilts, a popular pioneer pastime.

Fall events include demonstrations of hog butchering -- the real thing -- and smoking meats pioneer-style. Call (317) 776-6000.

For more information, call the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, (800) 323-INDY.

St. Louis, Mo.

* At the St. Louis Science Center, the emphasis is on doing, and the things to do are great fun.

One building opened in November 1991, and the other reopened in June after remodeling.

Kids become wide-eyed at the life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex, which moves and roars menacingly in the atrium. Wind your way through his world and the changing habitats to see what the land looked like when these giants roamed or when dragonflies swooped with 2 1/2 -foot wings.

At the Human Adventure gallery, explore perception and senses by creating patterns in a kaleidoscope or find out why "pretzels" in your ears help hearing. At the Med Tech center, try your hand at surgery, and in the Gateway Arch, practice stacking blocks to build an arch.

A walk through the two buildings takes you into a simulated coal mine, complete with shoveling noises and canary songs, and a sewer, where water pipes emit swishing noises and live -- but caged -- rats run.

Skip the Alien Research Project. Although you get to vote on topics related to population control, the information about the possible elimination of senior citizens will scare some children, especially those visiting with their grandparents.

And when these adventures make you hungry, eat at Einstein's Food for Thought Cafeteria, where the snacks are relatively good.

Call (314) 289-4400. For St. Louis information, call (800) 325-7962.

Cody, Wyo.

Wyoming's national parks -- from the jagged peaks of Grand Teton through Yellowstone's mountains, canyons and roaming buffalo herds -- set a larger than life stage for Western images guaranteed to thrill all ages.

Cody offers two intriguing but very different Western museums.

* Historic Trail Town: Set on a strip of land off a main drag, Historic Trail Town creates a haunting presence. In 1967, archaeologist Bob Edgar began collecting and moving 19th century pioneer buildings to this site, where Buffalo Bill Cody and friends first surveyed "Cody City."

What you see looks like a set for a cowboy movie. But this is the real McCoy. The 26 authentic log buildings face each other on two sides of a "street" separated by scores of settlers' wagons. The structures' weathered wood and simple furnishings evoke the West as it really was.

The collection includes the Hole in the Wall cabin, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out; a saloon with bullet holes in the door; and a cemetery, where, among others, Jeremiah "Liver Eating" Johnston, a mountain man, hunter and trapper whose life became a movie legend, lies buried. As you peer in these fragile-looking buildings and feel the wind in your face, you can imagine the toughness of pioneer living. Call (307) 587-5302.

* Buffalo Bill Historical Center: Often called the "Smithsonian of the West," this facility's four separate museums house an amazing collection of Western artifacts. Spend the afternoon here, and you'll come away with an enhanced sense of both Western myth and reality. From the artifacts of showman Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show, you understand the larger-than-life panache of mountain men, rodeo riders and sharpshooters such as Annie Oakley.

The extensive holdings of the Firearms Museum include muskets dating to 1590 as well as 18th century flintlock rifles, Civil War pistols and 19th century percussion revolvers. Browse the Whitney Gallery of Western Art to see the land and its people, sometimes idealized, through the eyes of such artists as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and Albert Bierstadt.

The Plains Indian Museum displays the clothing, religious objects and daily artifacts of the Sioux, Crow and 25 other tribes who lived from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from Texas to mid-Canada. Children will delight in the intricately beaded moccasins, shirts and dresses. Call (307) 587-4771.

For more information, call the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, (307) 587-2297.

Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry is Chicago's science showplace. A walk through a U-505 German submarine captured in 1944 makes real the hard-to-envision world of undersea gauges, gizmos and cramped quarters.

At the exhibit on the brain, become familiar with how the brain perceives and what happens with learning disabilities.

A stroll down Chicago's re-created 19th century Main Street takes you by a post office, a small Marshall Field store and an ice cream parlor, where you can snack on some real treats.

Explore the human body by walking through a 16-foot pulsating heart and looking at fetuses floating in bottles. Kids Starway, for ages 7-12, teaches about emotional health. A magic wishing well lets kids identify feelings, and another area conveys the distorted impressions created by alcohol and drug abuse. Call (312) 684-1414.

* You and your kids can walk into a re-created Egyptian tomb and learn about mummies and hieroglyphics at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History as well as tour habitats as diverse as wetlands, prairies, lakes and cliffs to learn about birds and other critters.

When the exhibit "Messages from the Wilderness" opens Nov. 14, you'll be able to take a walk on the wild side through regions as diverse as the Arctic and Argentina. Call (312) 922- 9410.

For Chicago information, call (800) ITS-CHGO.

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