5 Times Kids Corrected Museums

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Museums are bastions of knowledge, but they're occasionally no match for an eagle-eyed youngster. Here are five times that kids and teenagers have spotted—and corrected—mistakes in exhibitions, or noticed something amiss.

1. THE KID WHO SPOTTED THE LONDON NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM'S DINO MIX-UP.

While partaking in the London Natural History Museum’s “Dino Snores for Kids”—an overnight sleepover for young museum buffs—in July 2017, 10-year-old Charlie Edwards noticed that one of the signs in the museum’s “Dinosaur Trail” fossil-spotting activity wasn’t quite right. It was supposed to show an Oviraptor—a beaked, carnivorous dinosaur—but Edwards knew that the image on the sign actually depicted a Protoceratops, a sheep-sized herbivore.

Edwards told his parents, who were skeptical, but contacted the museum anyway on their son's behalf. Several weeks later, the family received a letter from the Natural History Museum confirming the boy’s hunch. (According to a statement issued by the Natural History Museum, the exhibition had been "refurbished several times" and "an error [had] been made.") Thanks to Edwards, officials are now planning to correct the sign.

“I am really, really proud of him,” Charlie’s mother, Jade, said. “Charlie has Asperger syndrome and tends to find a subject he loves and tries to learn so much about it, so it’s really nice that he’s been able to show what he’s learned and that knowledge base.”

2. THE KID WHO HELPED FIX A MISTAKE IN THE SMITHSONIAN'S "TOWER OF TIME" EXHIBIT.

In 2008, 11-year-old Kenton Stufflebeam and his family traveled from Michigan to Washington, D.C. to visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. There, Stufflebeam noticed that a notation in the museum’s "Tower of Time" display incorrectly listed the Precambrian—the first super eon of Earth's history—as an era. His fifth grade teacher had once made the same mistake before correcting himself, and "I knew Mr. Chapman wouldn't tell all these students” incorrect facts, Stufflebeam later told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Stufflebeam reported the error by filling out a comment form at the museum’s information desk. A few months later, the Smithsonian contacted Stufflebeam to tell him that he was “spot on": "The Precambrian is a dimensionless unit of time, which embraces all the time between the origin of Earth and the beginning of the Cambrian Period of geologic time," their missive acknowledged. As for the error itself, museum officials planned to rectify the mistake—which had been spotted years earlier by annoyed staff experts—by simply painting over the word “era.”

In early 2017, Stufflebeam—now 19 years old—made headlines again, this time when he found himself in the middle of a bidding war for his graphic design services. ESPN wrote about Kenton's grammar school brush with fame via the Smithsonian, noting how it portended "his eye for detail."

3. THE TEEN WHO NOTICED AN HISTORICAL INACCURACY IN A RECREATION OF AL CAPONE'S PRISON CELL.

While touring Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary in 2016, 13-year-old Joey Warchal observed that a large cabinet radio inside the museum’s recreation of Al Capone’s jail cell—which the famous gangster inhabited from 1929 to 1930—wasn’t historically accurate. Warchal, who collects antique radio and record players, correctly identified the music player as a Philco A-361, which was manufactured in 1942.

The helpful teen emailed the institution's vice president, Sean Kelley, and volunteered to track down a period-appropriate radio. Kelley took the precocious antiques buff up on his offer, and gave him a $400 budget to find a replacement. Officials at Eastern State Penitentiary also threw a party for Warchal to thank him for his hard work.

4. THE TEEN WHO NOTICED THE MET'S FLAWED MAP OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE.

Thirteen-year-old history buff Benjamin Lerman Coady was touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City during his summer break in 2011 when he noticed that a permanent exhibit about the Byzantine Empire—a subject Coady had recently studied in school—contained a flawed map. The 6th century map was supposed to show the empire at its peak, but Coady noticed that Spain and parts of Africa weren’t present.

A museum docent instructed him fill out a form, and in September, Coady received a letter from the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs, informing him that his observation would be reviewed by the museum's medieval art department. Sure enough, the teen was correct: In January 2012, Byzantine art curator Helen Evans reached out to Coady, acknowledged the mistake, and invited him back to the Met for a private tour. She also asked him to draw his own version of what he thought the museum’s Byzantine Empire map should look like, and said that museum officials were taking steps to fix their portrayal.

5. THE TEEN WHO DETECTED SOMETHING AMISS AT BOSTON'S MUSEUM OF SCIENCE.

In 2015, 15-year-old Virginian Joseph Rosenfeld was visiting Boston’s Museum of Science when he noticed what appeared to be a mistake in its “Mathematica: A World of Numbers … and Beyond" exhibit: In an equation for the Golden Ratio, Rosenfeld noticed that there were minus signs in place of what should have been plus signs.

Rosenfeld left a message at the museum’s front desk, and family members provided the institution with his contact information. Initially, Alana Parkes, the Museum of Science’s exhibit content developer, believed the exhibition had made a mistake. She sent Joseph a letter that read, “You are right that the formula for the Golden Ratio is incorrect. We will be changing the – sign to a + sign on the three places it appears if we can manage to do it without damaging the original.”

But at the end of the day, the Museum of Science's "Mathematica" display ended up being technically correct, as the exhibit had displayed the equation for the golden ratio's reciprocal, also called the golden ratio conjugate.

“I’d call it uncommon, not the way most people think of the golden ratio nowadays,” Eve Torrence, a math professor at Randolph-Macon College, told The Washington Post. "It’s not what most people think of, but it’s not incorrect."

Even though the problem wasn't technically wrong, Rosenfeld was still "to be commended for questioning authority," Torrence concluded.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Times People Ruined Priceless Works of Art

Antonio Canova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Antonio Canova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

“Don’t touch the art” is a simple rule, enacted by almost every gallery and museum in the world. Yet for some reason, there are a select few who choose to ignore it, either because their curiosity gets the best of them, or, in a surprising number of cases, because they're on a quest for the perfect selfie. Whatever their motives, the museum-goers below left a trail of mangled artwork in their wakes.

1. Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix

If any lesson should be taken from art gallery mishaps, it’s that you should never use a valuable work of art as a piece of furniture. In July 2020, an unnamed tourist from Austria decided to luxuriate on the plaster cast of Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix (1804) at Italy’s Antonio Canova Museum to make his selfie look as casual as possible. (Bonaparte was Napoleon’s sister.) In doing so, he crumbled the toes of poor Pauline, who is depicted in the sculpture as reclining on a cushion. Surveillance footage shows the man acknowledging the loss of the extremities before walking away. Police later identified him from a museum reservation. He apologized for the accident and offered to pay for the restoration work.

2. Dom Sebastiao Statue

In 2016, a 24-year-old visiting Lisbon, Portugal, made a very bad call when he climbed onto a 126-year-old statue installed on the facade of Lisbon, Portugal's Rossio Train Station to snap a selfie. The freestanding statue, which depicted 16th century king Dom Sebastiao, toppled over and shattered on the ground. The tourist, who attempted to flee, was caught by the authorities and eventually forced to appear in front of a judge; Portugal's infrastructure department has no information about when the statue will be fixed.

3. Statua Dei Due Ercole

Hercules might have had the strength of the Gods, but unfortunately, that toughness didn't translate to sculptures of him. In 2016, two tourists visiting the Loggia dei Militi Palace in Cremona, Italy, damaged the 300-year-old Statua dei due Ercole (Statue of Two Hercules) when they climbed on it to take a selfie. The tourists were reportedly hanging off the crown of one of the marble figures—which held the town's emblem between them—when it gave way, falling to the ground. The tourists were charged with vandalism, and the government called in experts to assess the damage.

4. Ecce Homo

The most famous (read: hilarious) art "restoration" in history might be 80-year-old Cecilia Gimenez’s attempt to fix a deteriorating fresco painting at a church in Borja, Spain. Her new and improved art made international headlines and inspired endless internet memes in 2012. Saturday Night Live even worked the news into their Weekend Update segment a couple of times, with Kate McKinnon playing Gimenez.

The painting, a depiction of Jesus Christ by artist Elías García Martínez in the 1930s, was flaking due to moisture; Gimenez, a parishioner at the church, worked off a 10-year-old photo of the fresco while doing her restoration. When her work was revealed, Ecce Homo was redubbed "Potato Jesus." Gimenez told a Spanish TV station that she had approval to work on the fresco (which authorities deny), and had done so during the day. “The priest knew it,” she said. “I’ve never tried to do anything hidden.”

Though the church had originally planned to work with art restorers to fix the fresco, by 2014 they had changed their tune. Gimenez's artwork became a major tourist attraction, bringing 150,000 visitors from around the world and revitalizing Borja. The church charged $1.25 a head to see the artwork, which was preserved behind plexiglass, just like another very famous, memeworthy work of art: the Mona Lisa. A center dedicated to the interpretation of the new Ecce Homo opened in 2016.

5. Qing Dynasty Vases

Rule number one for entering any space with priceless art: tie your shoelaces. In February 2006, a man named Nick Flynn took the wrong staircase inside the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England—and when he tried to change course, he accidentally stepped on his own untied shoelace and fell. With no handrails to grab, the only thing to break his fall were three Qing Dynasty vases from the 1600s and 1700s, which were sitting on a windowsill. Flynn was unhurt, but the vases, worth more than $100,000, were not so lucky: They shattered into 400 pieces.

"Although [I knew] the vase would break I didn't imagine it would be loose and crash into the other two," he said. "I'm sure I only hit the first one and that must have flown across the windowsill and hit the next one, which then hit the other, like a set of dominos." Flynn, who was reportedly banned from the museum, called the incident “just one of those unbelievably unlucky things that can sometimes happen.”

This story has something of a happy ending, though: By August 2006, Penny Bendall, a ceramic restorer, had glued one of the vases—which had broken into 113 pieces—back together for an exhibition on art restoration. "Putting the vase back together may have looked impossible to most people but actually it wasn't a difficult job—fairly straightforward," she told the Daily Mail.

6. Annunciazione

Should you be given a pass for breaking something if it was technically already broken? In 2013, a Missouri man visiting Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy, wanted to see how the pinky finger of a 600-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary by Giovanni d’Ambrogio measured up next to his own. You know what happened next: The man got a little too close and damaged the statue's digit. Thankfully, the finger that he broke was made of plaster and not original to the sculpture, and art restorers grabbed it quickly before it could fall and be further damaged. The man apologized, and restorers at the museum made plans to repair the finger again. Hopefully the second fix was more permanent.

7. The Drunken Satyr

The good news is this Milan statue, which lost its left leg to an unknown selfie enthusiast in 2014, was a replica of another statue that dates back to 220 BCE. The bad news is that the replica was still very valuable and pretty old, dating back to the 1800s. Security cameras in that area of the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera weren't working when the incident occurred, but according to the Daily Mail, witnesses saw a student tourist climb onto the statue and sit on its knee to take a photo. What the student didn't realize was that the statue, made of terra cotta and plaster, had been assembled in pieces, and the leg was already partially detached; museum director Franco Marrocco told the Corriere della Sera that the museum was already planning to restore the statue before the accident.

8. The Actor

A 6-foot-tall Picasso painting is pretty hard to miss when it’s hung on a museum wall, just as the visitor who fell into one back in January 2010 discovered. A woman was attending a class at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art when she lost her footing and tumbled into The Actor, leaving a 6-inch tear as well as a dent in the lower right corner of the 1904 artwork. “We saw the big, coarse threads that looked sort of like a nasty jute rug,” Gary Tinterow, chairman of the museum’s department of 19th Century, Modern and Contemporary art, said in an interview. “The question was how to get Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

That process took three months. Lucy Belloli, a conservator at the Met, told The New York Times that the process involved photographing the canvas, securing flakes of paint with adhesive, and using strips of paper with rabbit-skin glue as bandages, as well as a six-week period of realigning the painting using small sand bags. ("[T]he torn portion of the canvas had to be gently coaxed back to its flat state, otherwise it would have a tendency to return to the distortion left by the accident," the Times explained.) Some retouching was also necessary. The painting was returned to the wall in April 2010 with a layer of Plexiglass to protect it; most visitors would not have been able to tell the painting was ever damaged.

This story has been updated for 2020.