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Second Shift Twosdays: Columbia’s hidden date night gem

Dinosaur fossils, vintage automobiles, guns used in the Civil War—it’s no secret that the South Carolina State Museum is full of intriguing artifacts and wonders.  Many adults probably remember visiting the museum as a child, looking with awed grins at everything from paleontological models to life-sized replicas of Native American life.  However, if you asked many adults when the last time they visited the museum was, they’d probably scratch their heads, laugh, and say they just can’t remember.

It’s easy to see how one could live in the same city as a four-level museum and never make time to go.  After all, we have jobs, we have hobbies, we have responsibilities—and many of us work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which unfortunately prohibits many excursions to the museum.  So when I heard about Second Shift Twosdays, I realized this was not just a time for kids to come to the museum afterschool.  This was when the adults could come learn, explore, and play, too.

Second Shift Twosdays occur each, you got it, Tuesday at the museum.  The exhibits are open until 8 p.m. that evening to attract late-arriving guests, and occasionally they host special events on Tuesday evenings as well.  But the main attraction is the observatory, which stays open until 10 p.m. every Tuesday, allowing you the opportunity to take in breathtaking night sky views.  That sounded so romantic that I immediately thought: date night.

I spoke with Jared Glover, the museum’s public relations manager, prior to my arrival.  “If you’re looking for a unique date night experience, the entire museum is open to explore,” he told me.  “Including our Boeing Observatory, where you can get up close and personal with the moon and stars and other planets visible this time of year.”

Glover also told me, “Second Shift Twosday is a fun way to experience the museum afterhours for only $5. Occasionally we have special programs running on Tuesdays in conjunction with current exhibits.”

That settled it – date night at the museum was happening.

My significant other and I are, for lack of better terms, nerds.  He is a science nerd, fascinated by zoology, geography, and astronomy.  I am a literary nerd; I am intrigued by cultural studies and the arts.  Together, we are the quintessential example of a couple that cannot spend less than three hours in a museum.

J. Bardin’s ‘Red River Falls’ oil on canvas.

I arrived first, waiting for him to get off work and join me, and this allowed me an opportunity to quietly stroll through the Lipscomb Gallery alone.  I had been through this art gallery before and was pleased to notice that many of the works had been rotated out; the museum is constantly changing their exhibits, keeping things interesting for people who could visit more often.  I found myself so captivated by an oil painting by J. Bardin called Red River Falls that I just stared into it, absorbed, to the point where I think the museum staff member monitoring the gallery became worried about me.  I was fascinated to see a gallery of nothing but South Carolina artists.  Orangeburg artist Leo Twiggs’s batik piece Omen with Cow, Charleston’s Prentiss Taylor’s lithograph Assembly Church, and Sumter’s own Elizabeth White’s oil painting Moonlight at Pawley’s Island all held me captive, just gazing into the paintings for several minutes each.  I thought about life in South Carolina decades ago, when these pieces of art were created, and I swear I could almost feel the breeze of Pawley’s Island around me, like I was inside of the painting itself.

I had to snap out of my enchanted art moments, though, when my date arrived at the museum.  There was instantly a moment of quandary, where the two of us traded vexed glances at one another—what to do, in this giant museum?  We debated seeing a show at the planetarium, but decided instead to check out exhibits together.

Rarely does one receive the opportunity to watch his or her significant other dash around a museum like a child, fascinated by each dinosaur bone in the natural history exhibits.  My significant other was wild-eyed, grinning, somewhat overstimulated by the amount of interesting life science items.  I found myself always a few steps behind him, amused every time he eagerly asked, “Did you see this?”

Yes, we may have thought museums were only interesting for children, but a date night at the museum proves otherwise.  It is a chance to truly see what fascinates your significant other, what grips their mind and intrigues them, and, to an extent, watch your date revert back to a gleeful, fascinated child.  At one point, watching him gawk at an exhibit, I had to laugh and admit, “I think watching you is just as interesting than anything on this floor.”

The museum is packed with historical and technological exhibits highlighting South Carolina’s past.

Things were slightly more somber when we went to the history floor—or at least, we attempted to be more serious.  Surrounded by artifacts from our state’s history, including precolonial times and the Revolutionary and Civil wars, we found ourselves constantly asking, what would it be like to have lived in South Carolina then?  There were definitely moments when I had to suppress my giggles—like when my date tried to persuade me to answer his call on an old-fashioned rotary telephone the museum has set up for guests to touch.  I could not help but to notice other museum-goers glancing at us with smiles.  After all, we were two adults enjoying a date night in the technology exhibits of a state museum with the same excitement we would bring to a concert or cruise.

Needless to say, the observatory stands as the museum’s landmark of romance.  Past a massive collection of astronomical equipment and telescopes, the observatory is open to the public and allows guests the chance to explore the sky through an Alvan Clark telescope.  (If you don’t know what that means, let me tell you, it means big.  It is a giant telescope.)  Museum staff is there to instruct you how to use the telescope and explain to you what you are seeing.

When we first arrived in the observatory, though, the sun was setting, so we walked out onto the balcony steps and took in the sunset together.  It was incredibly peaceful, with a slight breeze blowing and a very quiet Columbia beneath us.  We could see all of the Vista beneath us—the top of the Adluh Flour building, the Congaree River—and everything seemed so small and yet so close and attainable.  A mother and her child stood a few feet away, with the child pointing out every landmark he noticed with ecstatic eagerness.  My date and I swapped knowing smiles, realizing we had just been that elated inside the museum, too.

While that moment of peace was memorable, there were so many silly moments I found myself remembering even more fondly after the date.  There is an exhibit of optical illusions and visual and sensory effects, including a psychedelic, multi-colored screen which traces your body heat.  You can watch your shadow move and change colors on the screen.  And of course, we had to kiss in front of that screen, with one eye squeezed shut and one eye open each, watching our shadows change from green to yellow and melt together.

The museum features life-size recreations of South Carolina living, from the pre-colonial era to the 20th century.

Second Shift Twosdays are named “Twosdays” because admission is two people for $10 every Tuesday evening from 5 to 10 p.m.  These tickets grant you admission to all the museum exhibits and the observatory, with small extra fees if you check out planetarium shows or movies in the 4D Theater.  (Side note: Watching The Lego Movie 4D Experience in a theatre full of children is very amusing.  Prepare for intense visual effects, a trembling theater seat, mists of water, different aromas, and gusts of air.  And if you’re like us, prepare to laugh along with all the children around you.)

Right now, the museum has an intriguing cultural exhibit, “Beyond Bollywood,” going on, highlighting the influence of Indian culture on the United States.  This week during Second Shift Twosdays, you can actually watch the Smithsonian’s My Big Bollywood Wedding at the museum, and see gorgeous traditional wedding attire from India.  It is a truly unique experience, as is the entire opportunity to visit a museum after-hours, to laugh and learn with your date or your kids at night, and to see the night sky through the massive observatory telescopes. Second Shift Twosdays are indeed Columbia’s hidden gem for date night.

For more information about Second Shift Twosdays at the state museum, http://scmuseum.org/events/second-shift-twosdays.

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