{Scotland} Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum

September 7, 2011

Scotland

Last month, I was invited to visit the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum for a personal tour round the museum with the Chief Executive of the Carnegie Dunfermline & Hero Trust Fund and the Museum Manager, in exchange for some feedback on the museum, which was refurbished in 2009, and some advice on social media.

The museum consists of two parts – the cottage where Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 (the cottage itself dating back to the 1750s), and an extension to the cottage which was built in 1928. The cottage tells the story of how it all began, i.e. where Carnegie was from and life in the 19th century. His father was a weaver, and the cottage includes a loom which has monthly live demonstrations. Unfortunately, the cottage is not accessible by wheelchairs or prams, and can’t be made so due to the historic architecture, but there are copies of the sound recordings, which play in the rooms, available to listen to and an album of photographs for those who can’t see the cottage for themselves.

The extension was built by Carnegie’s wife to commemorate her husband’s life work, and tells the story of his life in America and how he made his fortune. The main exhibition hall is divided into a series of alcoves which run around the perimeter, each focusing on a different topic relating to Carnegie’s life: America – Land of Opportunity; Industry & Fortune; Skibo Highland Resort; Heroism & Pacifism; Global Philanthropy; and Carnegie – A Living Legacy. In the centre of the exhibition space is the ‘Hall of Philanthropy’, which showcases other philanthropists that have followed in Carnegie’s footsteps, who have been awarded the Medal of Philanthropy that is given out every two years, e.g. the Heinz and Cadbury families, and Edinburgh philanthropist Tom Farmer.

After its renovation, the exhibition hall now has improved displays and interpretation, including AVs and touch screens with photographs, audio and film clips, and some hands-on interactives. Some of the displays are real treasures – e.g. a significant collection of freedom caskets with the keys to the cities in the UK that Carnegie received (there are 54 in total, though not all are on display) – and according to my hosts they have more “goodies” in the basement, e.g. Carnegie’s death mask. The museum is open from 1 March to 30 November all week, and admission is free. They also have a museum shop, cafe and garden, as well as temporary exhibitions throughout the year, and if you pick a day when the weaving demonstrations are on you can get a good hour or two our of your visit.

I really enjoyed my visit, and the fascinating insight into how Andrew Carnegie became the richest man in the world and the father of modern philanthropy. The boy (who was with me) and I also had fun searching for the Carnegie bunnies, which are hidden within the displays throughout the museum. You may be forgiven for thinking they’d forgotten to pack these away after Easter, but they are in fact a permanent feature of the museum. Carnegie had pet rabbits at the age of 8 and persuaded his friends to help search for food for them, but he couldn’t afford to pay them so promised to name baby bunnies after them instead. You could consider this to be his first business venture! If you find all the bunnies, you get a cute sticker AND a certificate signed by the Museum Manager. Apparently the bunnies are so popular, that even adults – especially students and overseas visitors – ask to take part.

So, a historic cottage and state of the art modern interactive displays, live weaving demonstrations and a bunny treasure hunt, a most fascinating life story, not forgetting the cafe and shop – this gem of a museum has it all! Next time you’re in Dunfermline, be sure to drop by, or even better, why not make time for a wee day trip? I’m sure you won’t regret it.

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