One of those sprawling mansions on Lake Calhoun has a surprise in store -- a treasure trove of delights for budding scientists and history-lovers alike.
The Bakken Museum welcomes visitors through its gilded doors with an antique arcade machine called "Electricity is Life," which administers a mild shock to all who touch it. Per the thinking in 1903, the shock cures everything from headaches to nervousness. "It's an actual artifact," noted Kelly Finnerty, deputy director of programs for the Bakken. "It's unusual for a museum to allow visitors to play with artifacts."
Founded in 1969 by Earl Bakken, co-founder of Medtronic and inventor of the world's first transistorized pacemaker, the Bakken was designed to illustrate the history of electric innovation in science. The mansion is packed with strange devices including the 1900 D'Arsonval Spiral, a man-size cage swirling with electromagnetic fields. In honor of its founder, the Bakken also has a deep collection of historic pacemakers -- including one shocker, a nuclear pacemaker from 1974.
"We use history and the arts to engage people with science," said Finnerty. "But our true mission is inspiring passion for science in children." After all, a young Earl Bakken decided to study electricity after watching the 1931 film "Frankenstein." In hopes of replicating Bakken's experience, the museum has installed an object theater that dramatizes the electrical experiments that brought Frankenstein's monster to life.
Fast-forward to the 21st century: The museum has been dazzling young scientists with a new device called Mindball. Resembling an air-hockey table, the game allows a player to move a ball into his opponent's court simply by relaxing his brain.
Bonus: The Bakken is a pleasure for design-lovers, too, with its labyrinthine hallways and Italian wood carvings. For an extra treat, end the tour by circling the mansion's exterior, a rare mash-up of Tudor and Gothic styles.
Christy DeSmith • 612-673-1754