‘Auto Wars: Then & Now’ exhibit to open at auto museum May 1

MOUNT DESERT — The Seal Cove Auto Museum will open the new exhibit “Auto Wars: Then & Now” with a free public reception on Sunday, May 1, from 4-6 p.m. Part of the Acadia Centennial celebrations, the exhibit commemorates the historic debate a century ago about whether to allow cars on Mount Desert Island.

“Auto Wars” will be presented in a choose-your-own-adventure style, with visitors electing to follow either the pro- or anti-auto factions to explore the impact that community decisions can have upon the cultural, economic and geographic landscape.

The exhibit is multilayered, presenting the history through the personalities involved in the debate in the early 1900s, as well as the humorous publicity stunts carried out by some of these characters. The modern story of the impact of cars on MDI in current times is juxtaposed with this historical story through digital storytelling, revealing the pleasures and trials of getting around on the island today.

This new exhibit takes an innovative approach to museum interpretation. The exhibit will go beyond the walls of the museum through an online forum, public programs, educational outreach and curriculum development. Visitors will have the opportunity to offer their own voice to the discussion, contributing to the debate about transportation on MDI today. The information gathered will be archived and will become part of an island-wide effort to help visitors and residents better understand the history of MDI and work together for a vision of the future.

A number of antique and classic cars in the exhibit have never been seen at the museum previously. A particularly unique vehicle, on loan from Chris and Kathleen Koch, is the 1934 Ford Luxus. This very car was owned and designed by Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s son. Edsel Ford was a frequent visitor to Europe and was enamored of the continental flair displayed by European coach builders, a distinct departure from the utilitarian approach taken by most American manufacturers. He worked with the coach builder in Cologne, Germany, on this custom-built car, incorporating continental upgrades such as a Seth Thomas electric clock and French electric windshield wipers.

On loan from the collection of Ken and Tuyet Clark is a Packard built in 1930. The Packard is just the sort of car that would have been seen at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in July of 1932, when the road up the mountain was dedicated, giving auto drivers their first access to the top of the tallest peak in Acadia.

The 1916 Reo, on loan from the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, started off as a touring car, but was later converted to a delivery truck for the purpose of providing lumber for the reconstruction of a bridge in Wiscasset.

In addition, this spring, the museum has added two antique autos to its collection. A 1916 Abbott-Detroit was donated by Tom Ryan of Glen Ellyn, Ill., and his wife. Thanks to a donation from Michael Werckle of Caledonia, Ill., and his wife, the museum also has acquired a 1915 Detroit Electric.

Creating the exhibit has been a collaborative effort with partners from across the MDI community. Students from the College of the Atlantic assisted designer Khristian Mendez with the graphics and overall design of the new exhibit. Cinematographer Thom Willey interviewed officials from Acadia National Park, members of the community and others as a part of telling the modern story. Willey and the Barn Arts Collective created the digital stories from these interviews, presented in the exhibit on touch screen televisions.

As an Acadia Centennial Partner event, the museum’s exhibit will be linked to the larger centennial celebrations and events taking place on MDI and around the state. With its emphasis on finding community solutions, the exhibit and its programming align with the centennial’s theme, “Celebrate our past, inspire our future.”

The mission of the Seal Cove Auto Museum is to tell the story of innovation and ingenuity in New England and America through the early development of the automobile. The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from May 1 through Oct. 31. Contact the museum at 244-9242 or [email protected], or visit www.sealcoveautomuseum.org.

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