Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Positively Eerie

August 30, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’ve noticed that my blogs tend to have an incredibly critical tone to them. As a person who usually is quite positive and tries to find the good in all situations, such a pattern is a bit upsetting or at least surprising to me. Thank goodness for the Cabinet War Rooms offering me the chance to mix up the tone a bit.  What seems to be most upsetting to me about certain places I have visited while in England is if that place operates behind a façade of what it really is. St. James’ Park is beautiful and promises peaceful relaxation but is only enjoyed by a select few. Bath is beautiful because that’s what tourists want to see. The Cabinet War Rooms are a bit on the pricier side of the spectrum so admittance could be seen as selective in ways. But assuming you have the twelve pounds and some change to get in, you’re guaranteed to see and experience all that the rooms were during World War II. That sense of ‘real-ness’ is something I most appreciated about the museum. The Blitz completely changed the London atmosphere during WWII, and somehow the museum was able to capture the feelings of anxiety that one can only imagine were present in the city at that time.

Outside view of The Cabinet War Rooms

Outside view of The Cabinet War Rooms

Upon entering the museum, a feeling of eerie tension is almost inescapable. A most unpleasant guard very solemnly asked to look through my bag before I was to be admitted into the museum. I cracked an admittedly bad joke about how many maps I was carrying in it and how that might be difficult to look around in the bag. Laughter, a smile, even a twinkle of the eye was completely absent in his reaction. I recognize that he must get similar jokes all the time but his stern mood definitely set the mood for what was to come in the rest of the museum. Now, this may seem an odd experience to enter into the blog especially when I’m hoping to highlight how wonderful the museum was. Truly, I would have appreciated if he had acknowledged my attempt at being friendly but I think it’s actually good that he didn’t. The museum wasn’t a happy one. It shouldn’t have been. It was a preservation of a shelter that was put in place to ensure that communication and governance could continue in the case that an air raid might occur. As the Blitz is still a very real and felt occurrence in London’s history, the museum that seeks to capture that time should do that as fully as possible. So, having learned my lesson about keeping my jokes to myself, I proceeded through the rest of the museum. The lighting was dim, the people going through the museum quiet, the rooms closed off, and the lay out confusing. Again, this may sound like a negative review of the place but it’s exactly the opposite. More than any of the readings of personal accounts or facts about the destruction of the bombings, it was the tense atmosphere found in the museum that made the Blitz seem the most real to me. I was guided by a very thorough audio tour and yet still never knew where to go. Yes, this was frustrating but imagine how living and working in that space must have been. Churchill and his staff were living and working in that dreary underground space trying to carry on as positively and normally as possible. They were in the midst of a war with a threat of an air raid always present and surrounded by the people who are relying on them to not mess up. And if that isn’t enough pressure, they were underground- the situation could, arguably, not have been more confusing and frustrating. Those feelings are still alive in the museum. Yes, it’s a tad disconcerting to feel that strange in a museum but if you push past the feeling of ‘wow, I feel a bit uncomfortable’, you realize how fitting that feeling is for the location.

I realize that I took an odd way to describing a positive side of a museum by essentially saying “it was creepy but cool!” But that’s not so much the message. The message to me is that the museum successfully steered clear of any type of gimmicky portrayal of the war rooms and offered its visitors a chance to really sense what being in the war rooms might actually have been like. Now if only we can get rid of the cheesy gift shop and lower the price…I’ll save that for another post though.

Categories: Audrey · Museums
Tagged: ,

1 response so far ↓

  •   russella // Aug 30th 2009 at 15:00

    I am going to have to agree…and disagree with you. The building itself did an amazing job of making me feel claustrophobic and ill at ease, which was the point; however, the museum yanked me out almost with equal force. I have no idea why they put the wax statues in there. Just as I’d feel like I was really in the Blitz, I’d see a creepy statue. What was weird for me was where they put them. There were like six figures in the entire place.
    I agree that the audio guide was fantastic though, it was definitely made the experience so much better.

You must log in to post a comment.