1 The Muppet Mindset: Sesame Street Checks Out the Library

Sep 11, 2010

Sesame Street Checks Out the Library

This week's Sesame Street Saturday is brought to us by our friend Josh Hankemeier, who brings us an exclusive look into a project he created to celebrate Sesame Street's 40th Anniversary. Josh is a Library Specialist in the Undergraduate Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Illinois. Let's hear from Josh, shall we? To follow along with Josh's virtual tour of the exhibit, check out the official site complete with pictures!

Josh Hankemeier - A few months ago, I joined our Exhibit Committee, which is in charge of informing our patrons about different collections we have in our library. We display titles of books, DVDs and more in glass cases in the main floor of the Undergraduate Library. Call numbers are also displayed to help patrons find the materials easier.

I decided to create an exhibit to honor Sesame Street's 40th Anniversary. I reserved it for September mainly because that is the month that Sesame Street first premiered and also Jim Henson and Steve Whitmire's birthdays are in September. I also consider the exhibit to be a grand finale to Sesame Street's 40th year. So, with a lot of research, a lot of work and a lot of fun, I finally finished the exhibit, which I entitled "40 Years of Sesame Street:  Brought to You by the Letters U, G and L." (UGL is the acronym of the Undergraduate Library).

So, how do you squeeze 40 years of one of the best shows ever made into two glass cabinets? It wasn't easy, because Sesame Street has such a rich history and hundreds of characters that it would be impossible to mention everything that happened or every little walk on Anything Muppet. Instead, I decided to create an exhibit with a sample of the well known, the not so well known and the completely obscure of Sesame Street. A typical, traditional student seeing our exhibit would have been born around 1990, so they wouldn't have seen many of Sesame Street's major milestones or main characters that have come and gone. Some of them may not even know who Jim Henson was. To many of these patrons, they would only know Sesame Street featuring mostly Elmo, Zoe, Baby Bear and to a lesser extent Telly.

As you can see in the exhibit photos, the exhibit case begins with a simple pre-introduction. The Sesame Street gang gazes up at the Orion Nebula and the lyrics to Jeff Moss's poem "Imagination". This song, though not as well known as other Sesame Street songs, still is quite lovely. It simply talks about the power and appeal of creativity being a positive thing. A lot of Jim Henson's work and a portion of the spirit of Sesame Street revolves around this concept:  the importance, appeal and happiness found inside the imagination and the celebration and appreciation of creativity. It's all wrapped up in this little poem, which appeared both on records and in clip form on the show.

One of the main points I wanted to make with the exhibit is that Sesame Street is more than just "The Elmo Show" as some fans have put it. He is featured in the exhibit, but as part of an ensemble--the way Sesame Street was for many, many years. I wanted patrons to see some of the important events that have taken place over the years. At the same time they would be introduced to a lot of new (to them) information about the show. The Salesman (Lefty) and Ernie appear over especially interesting facts. Lefty holds a Sesame Street-shaped sign with the words "Did You Know..." printed on them.

It was a lot of fun to create pages for the exhibit. With these pages, I was able to display facts and trivia. A page about early monsters used on Sesame Street hangs next to a picture of Kermit and Rowlf from the pitch reel, trying to come up with a title. A page talking about Kami from Talakani Sesame is displayed next to a page plugging the non-Sesame Street-related work of Joe Raposo, Sonia Manzano, Jerry Nelson and Frank Oz. Another page shows information about Mount Ihu Papa'a Lo'ihi Nui (Mount Snuffleupagus). One page shows the raggedy-looking Big Bird with spiral-eyed Telly. Another page debunks the "Veggie Monster" rumor. Yet another page shows Gordon through the years, played by 4 different people.

Speaking of Gordons, there is a special tribute to the folks over at Tough Pigs in this exhibit. I love the Tough Pigs site and all those cool, funny articles.  One of my favorite articles on there has to do with a mystery actor who played Gordon in the Sesame Street test pilot.  If you haven't read it yet, read it here:

So, as one of the 3D props for the exhibit, I converted a regular milk carton into a Hooper's Store milk carton.  On the side, there's a caption "Have You Seen Me?" with a picture of the mystery Gordon.  Underneath the photo is the little information we do know about him.  Patrons are encouraged to go to Tough Pigs, read the article and (if they can) help solve the mystery.

Also among the 3D props are a replica of the "Teeny Little Super Guy" and a miniature replica of the clumsy baker who taught children numbers by falling down flights of stairs with different desserts.  I created these, along with the drawings of Reporter Kermit and the drawing of Oscar at the end of the exhibit.

The last main replica you can see is of the famous picture of Mr. Looper...I mean Hooper. I was very careful to make it look just right and find a yellow frame for it without glass, just like the original. (It's harder than you think to find a yellow frame like that nowadays).

Perhaps the best thing about this exhibit was who I got tips and advice from when putting it together.  My fiance has known Caroll Spinney since 2001. She created and runs the Official Caroll Spinney website. I went to see Mr. Spinney and his wife, Debi in Conneticutt this past June. I told them about the exhibit and what I planned to do. Mr. Spinney suggested some credit should be given to Robert Myhrum. He also told me that Debi came up with the original idea to have Maria and Luis get married and for Miles to join the cast as an adopted son. After speaking with them, I can tell you that Mr. and Mrs. Spinney are very nice and wonderful people. This is why the exhibit is dedicated to them. It's hard to explain, but as Mr. Spinney was talking to me, I could tell he had a lot of "Jim-ness" about him. The way he explained things, the stories he told, just his overall mannerisms were very "Jim-like". I would encourage everyone to check out the six part interview on YouTube with him. Mrs. Spinney is the kind of person you could easily see as one of the humans on Sesame Street. She's got the same kind of kindness and friendly manner you'd get from Maria, Bob or Gordon. Mr. Spinney says her nickname is "Little Bird."

I also made a collection of pages called "People in the Neighborhood". These are just a handful of the people you would find behind the scenes, but they would also be the names most noticeable in those Friday credits scrolling over Barkley and the kids. The biggest names are there Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Joan Ganz Cooney...but I also gave credit to Dr. Lloyd Morrisett, Robert Myhrum and Don Sahlin. They aren't as immediately remembered as Jim or Joan, but they definitely played their parts in Sesame Street's success.

I also got to go play in one of the best "playgrounds" there is for a Sesame Street enthusiast: the CTW Archives at the University of Maryland, Jim Henson's alma mater. There are TONS of documents about Sesame Street there. I was there for six hours and barely scratched the surface of the collection. I ultimately chose a few black and white photos. One of these is Big Bird in the library (when Linda ran it) and another with Oscar visiting the Sesame Street Bookmobile. According to the CTW Archives note attached to this photo, the woman next to Oscar is the Bookmobile owner "Linda Delgado" (could she be related to Emilio?)  I also found some original storyboards for two animated segments by Fred Calvert. One segment is entitled "N for Naughty and Nice" (which I have never seen but can easily hear Joe Raposo's voice singing the lyrics to a jazzy beat). The other segment is "Story of L" with the moral "Never Leap on a Lying Leopard".

Some of the items were previously in our library's collection before I started my research. But since I had some say in suggestions for new items, I had a list ready. I had our library order copies of "Sesame Street Unpaved", "Sesame Street Dad:  Evolution of an Actor" and "Sesame Street:  A Celebration of 40 Years". I also made sure Jerry Nelson's new CD "Truro Daydreams" was specially ordered.

Near the end of the exhibit are some important topics that I needed to have addressed before I ran out of space. One of these tells about the collection of Muppet Show DVDs we have in our library.  I also make mention that the Muppet Show and Sesame Street AREN'T the same thing. (A misconception many people sadly believe). A screenshot of the Sesame Street gang in Statler and Waldorf's box (with the exact dialogue from that closing gag) is included. Patrons are informed to check out these DVDs and "Statler and Waldorf will enlighten you".

Since the topic has been relevant lately, I also wanted to include the article from Sesame Workshop on the "Talk, Listen, Connect" program and videos. Elmo plays an important role here as he teaches kids about issues military families deal with. I saw the episode about Elmo's Uncle Jack and I think that a resource like that is very useful for families to have. The Links page encourages patrons to visit all kinds of Sesame Street and Muppet-related sites.  These include the Sesame Workshop websites, The Muppet Mindset, ToughPigs, Muppet Central and even websites by Sesame Street's own Sonia Manzano and Roscoe Orman.

The very end of the exhibit ends the way any old school Sesame Street episode would. "Sesame Street is a production of...the Children's Television Workshop". A link is even included online so you can experience that old ending: Barkley and the kids, the harmonica music and finally the drum rolls and funky chimes. (Oh, and Oscar gives us a final piece of advice.)

Throughout the exhibit, you will see 3 signs helping enforce the food and drink policy in the library.  Sometimes our patrons sneak in snacks and eat while they read and study. If they eat snacks while they read, they'll get crumbs in the books.  If they get crumbs in the books, they'll get crumbs in their clothes. If they get crumbs in their clothes, then they'll itch, and they won't be able to study.  We don't want that. One solution is to eat snacks next to Bert's books, (kee hee hee hee hee!) but the solution my boss prefers is to keep the food out of the library altogether. One reminder is linked to the classic "No cookies in the library" sketch with Richard Hunt as the frazzled librarian.

As a rule, each webpage you will see has hyperlinks embedded in the yellow text (usually in the green spaces at the bottom of the page) or in someones name. Many pages are available in PDF form. If you need to see larger photos, they are on Photobucket.

Orginally, the exhibit was scheduled to come down Sept. 30, but it may be up a couple weeks longer.  If you are in the area, this is the homepage for the library: If you can come see it in person, please do!  if you can't, well, enjoy the links and I'll answer any questions anyone has about it.  Happy reading and enjoy!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely stunning! A really beautiful and telling tribute, also wel researched and educational! It's great that you got to combine your work and your Sesame passion! (Jealous!) Keep mup the good work (Get it? Mup? As in Muppet?)

    - Beauregard

    This comment brought to you by the confirmation word: outio, as in, "Not an innio"