Thursday, May 5, 2022

May 5, 1961 - My Cultural Awakening

A Day I Remember

VMFA - Richmond, Va -
Standing in front of the Egyptian
mummified body of Tchai-Ameni-Newit

Mercury-Redstone 3, or Freedom 7, was the first United States human spaceflight. The mission occurred on May 5, 1961, piloted by astronaut Alan Shepard. It was the first crewed flight of Project Mercury.  

Shepard's mission that day was sub-orbital, however, he is recognized as being the first American to enter space. The Russia vs America space race was on, with America playing catch up.  

Why do I remember this day so vividly other than its historical significance?  

I was in seventh grade, still, in elementary school by our rural school standards and we were on a class field trip. Not just an ordinary field trip. This was a group of country kids on the way to the biggest city most of us had ever visited. We had a rickety old city bus for the trip of about 100 miles to Richmond. Yes, my first trip to a real city.  

Bring a kid that loved all things science, I had taken my "six transistor" portable radio to listen to the flight details live. I remember holding it up to the window to get reception as we traveled. The mission was completely successful from all available history

However, something important happened to me that day.

A cultural Awakening. Our destination that day was the Virginia Museum of Art; now known as the Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA). I vividly remember entering a long ornate staircase lined by flags and armor-clad mannequins at the top. As we exited the stairs right, now we get to the good part, we entered the Egyptian Room.

It was dark and we walked up onto a platform. From there we looked down on a real mummy! For a thirteen-year-old, it was creepy and scary looking at something that had been dead for over 2700 years. We were country kids and this sight like this was both mesmerizing and  terrifying; nightmare proportions.  

Still, with this image in our minds, we wondered about other rooms of art treasures and I was enthralled. A true cultural awaking that morning and an experience to be repeated many times in my life as I made efforts to experience culture in person over-and-over; museums, art, music, theater.   

What made me remember this date and event?  Last week while in Virginia I visited the VMFA and revisited the Egyptian (now) rooms. To my surprise the room guide lead me over to one of their most treasured objects. The 2,700-year-old mummified body of Tchai-Ameni-Newit; still there.  (photo above)

Five years after that field trip I returned to Richmond to attend Virginia Commonwealth University and study engineering.  I do still remember that day from exactly 61 years ago and my cultural Awakening.  

How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree) or Richmond and fine art.





  1. I remember something similar (Egyptian-wise) from the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA. While I have been interested in Ancient Egypt since early grade school, a trip there was mind-opening when I was much younger. I still have a lovely statue of the goddess Selket (a replica of the one found in Tutankhamun's tomb) sitting on my shelf from a much later trip to the museum.

  2. The 'Six Transistor' AM (only!) radio was a 'must have' in the 1960's.
    At one time the 9volt batteries were sold at K-Mart for 9 cents each.
    Later, in the early 1970's, I worked in the stereo/television section of a regional department store.
    Our retail price for each radio was $6.00, and we had a policy if any of the radios were returned for whatever reason, in whatever shape, just give the customer a new radio--no questions asked.
    The reason?
    The radios were sold in boxes of 100 and the wholesale price was was an astoundingly low of $36.00 or just 36 cents per radio!
    If one looked inside the radios, you would note they were hand wired, with 'spaghetti' on each bare exposed wire.
    The radios were manufactured in JAPAN, not China, using discrete parts, -- transistors, resistors, RF transformers, ect.. No such thing as integrated circuit chips).
    I am not sure of how of if the manufacturer made a profit.
    Now we pay $1300.00 for a certain cell phones?