Opening Saturday, “Chocolate: The Exhibition” promises to be an intellectual feast the likes of which Calhoun County has never seen.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” says Scott Williamon, facilities manager for the museum. “It’s going to be something really special.”
The exhibit, created by the Field Museum in Chicago, traces, in chronological order, the entire history of the world’s favorite delectable treat, in the process filling virtually every available inch of the museum’s space from the lobby to the auditorium.
“We’re wall-to-wall chocolate,” says Cheryl Bragg, Anniston Museum director. “What better subject to dedicate this much space to … who doesn’t love chocolate?”
Talk about a sweet deal … visitors will take a 45-minute continuous tour through time and continents to learn the entire, rich history of chocolate.
Historians believe cacao — the term for the unprocessed seeds of the cacao tree — was first domesticated by the Olmec in the humid lowlands of the Mexican Gulf Coast between 1800 and 300 BCE. But the first conclusive evidence of chocolate consumption is linked to the ancient Maya of Mexico and Central America beginning around 200 CE. The Maya used cacao by mixing it into a spicy drink to be used in various ceremonial rites and to trade with those who couldn’t grow their own.
The exhibit, which includes illustrated text panels, lifelike exhibits and short films, will detail the impact that chocolate has had not only on our taste buds but how it gave rise to the Aztec empire, changed European culture, fueled the Industrial Revolution and influenced the stock market.
“This exhibit is very educational,” Bragg says. “We’re showing chocolate in a way that most people have never imagined. It’s got to be seen to be believed.”
In terms of sheer size, “Chocolate: The Exhibit” is unprecedented for the Anniston Museum of History. But coming on the heels of “A T. Rex Named Sue,” which was also created by The Field Museum, Anniston Museum staff had a better understanding of what it would take to make this latest feat a success.
Arriving on six trucks — double the size of “Sue” — the museum was forced to shut down for an entire week to install “Chocolate.” Bragg believes it will be well worth the effort given the expected boost in museum visitors traveling from both in Calhoun County and beyond. The Anniston Museum as well as the Berman Museum of World History has a $31.5 million impact on the area in terms of tourism.
And that’s on a “normal” year, Bragg said.
“So we hope to increase that exponentially with this type of exhibit,” she says. “This is something Anniston should really be proud of. If you look at the schedule for ‘Chocolate’ and see some of the other places who’ve hosted it, you see that they’re all huge museums in huge cities. We’re probably the smallest museum ever to host this exhibit.
“That’s something to be proud of. We’re playing with the big boys.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chocolate: The ExhibitionWhen: Saturday through May 22. Museum hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.
Where: Anniston Museum of Natural History
How much: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors (60+), $6 for children ages 4–17, children 3 and younger are free
Contact: 256-237-6766 or www.annistonmuseum.org