By Rachael McMillan
Did you know there’s a mummy — like a real, Egyptian mummy — in Urbana?
It’s true. And, you can see it for free at the University of Illinois’ Spurlock Museum (suggested donation: $3).
I visit the museum often, both with my children and in my job as a middle school history teacher. In my experience, its appeal is strong with all kids from approximately third grade up. If yours are into either the Percy Jackson or Kane Chronicles book series, however, you may just become their personal hero for taking them to check out this hidden gem. Younger children will enjoy the weekend programs and Around the World Wednesdays; more on those later.
Here are five quick things to know about visiting Spurlock:
- There are five main galleries, broken down by world region.
On the lower level you can visit the Ancient Mediterranean (think Greece/Rome) and American Indian Cultures galleries, while the upper level houses the European, Asian, and African/Ancient Middle Eastern galleries.
The artifacts in each gallery are a mix of the ancient, the really old, a few reproductions (some of which are fairly old themselves), and some newer pieces. Some reproductions of famous artifacts—such as the copy of the Rosetta Stone and the Venus de Milo—are decidedly impressive.
- The museum has great interactives.
There are clothes to try on in two of the galleries (Asian and African) and percussion instruments to play in the African gallery. My favorite interactive exhibit, however, is a kiosk which explains the history of Mesopotamian cylinder seals. The museum has several great examples of the seals themselves which, at approximately 5,000 years old, are some of the most ancient artifacts at Spurlock.
- The exhibits have plenty of “wow” factor.
Did I mention there’s a mummy?
Kids will also love the Indonesian dragon, teepee, massive Grecian statues (heads up: many statues are pants/topless), and partial model of an early Egyptian tomb.
Some of the smaller objects, such as the playing dice in the Egyptian collection, or the baby feeder in the Greek/Roman area, are no less thrilling.
- Spurlock loves kids.
Spurlock often hosts weekend activities geared toward instilling a love of studying different cultures in even the youngest museum patrons. For example, coming up on Saturdays in July (all except for the 4th), they will be hosting a build-your-own-magical-tablet craft: for $2 apiece, kids can create a tablet similar to the one from the Night at the Museum movies. If your children have seen the most recent sequel, they may especially appreciate being able to charge their tablets in a “moon” which will be on hand at the event.
Spurlock’s Around the World Wednesdays program is also great for kids from Pre-K on up. These are held on various Wednesdays through the school year and often involve a craft or some other hands-on activity to help kids learn about that day’s subject (bring $2 per child who will do the craft).
In the past, Spurlock has held day camps as well. Though there aren’t any this summer, keep an eye open for future offerings; my kids thoroughly enjoyed “Camp Olympus” last year, and word on the street is that Castle Quest is also great fun.
- Bring change for the meter (but aim for free parking on Saturdays).
Spurlock’s hours are: Tuesday noon-5 p.m., Wednesday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday noon-4 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and on all U of I holidays.
It is located at 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana (east of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts). Metered parking is available in the lot south of the building. On Saturdays, you can park for free in the non-metered, non-reserved spots in lot D-22 behind the building.