Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2013, 6:51 pm

Family Museum offers Halloween fun and learning

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

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Bella Ward of Bettendorf decorates a miniature pumpkin at the Scarecrow Shenanigans at the Family Museum in Bettendorf Sunday afternoon Oct. 27, 2013.
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Lenox Holmes 2 has fun decorating a miniature pumpkin with his mom Timea Holmes of Moline during the Scarecrow Shenanigans at the Family Museum in Bettendorf Sunday Oct. 27, 2013.
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Erick Petersen, left, and Nicol Milbrandt of Donahue, Iowa watch Micah Milbrandt 1 play with a miniature while at the Scarecrow Shenanigans at the Family Museum in Bettendorf Sunday Oct. 27, 2013.
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Sloan Cannady, 3, of Davenport, makes herself a popsicle stick skeleton while at the Scarecrow Shenanigans at the Family Museum in Bettendorf Sunday Oct. 27, 2013.
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Ingrid Kruck, 1, dressed as a cupcake and her brother, Otto Kruck, 3, of LeClaire, as a box of popcorn as they take in the fun at the Scarecrow Shenanigans at the Family Museum in Bettendorf Sunday Oct. 27, 2013.
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Reagan Adkins 8 of Davenport reaches out to catch a bubble formed from carbon dioxide released from dry ice during a demonstration at the Scarecrow Shenanigans at the Family Museum in Bettendorf Sunday Oct. 27, 2013.
BETTENDORF -- Glenn Boyles cut into the cow's eyeball Sunday and a thick, clear liquid (called vitreous humor) oozed out, even squirting a bit on a costumed little girl.

It wasn't funny, but kind of gross, causing an instinctive "eww" from several other kids.

"Why is there liquid inside there?" asked Mr. Boyles, dressed as a scientist in white lab coat and red bow tie in a second-floor classroom in the Family Museum for the annual "Scarecrow Shenanigans" Halloween event. "It keeps it round. If it didn't have stuff in it, it would collapse."

An education coordinator with the museum, the energetic Mr. Boyles explained each part of the eyeball (similar to a human's) and its purpose to a rapt group of children and parents. He noted one lens in an eyeball was misshapen and likely forced its bovine owner to be blind.

If people have a problem with their lens, they wear glasses. "They don't have glasses for cows, the poor things," Mr. Boyles said.

"Pretty much in science, people are constantly taking things apart. The reason people take things apart is, they want to find out how they're made," he said. "What's nice about taking a cow's eyes apart is, cows and humans are both mammals, and our eyes are structured pretty much the same."

An estimated 1,000 people came through the museum for a myriad of fun, educational activities. In the museum's Great Hall, visitors built haunted houses, got their faces painted, played Halloween games and could grab a quick snack. In the dance studios, guests watched the Family Museum Dance Company perform, decorated a mini pumpkin and could take a turn on the "Skary-Oke" stage.

Visitors also were invited upstairs to make slime out of common household items, make a skeleton craft and pet Madagascar hissing cockroaches, shown by education coordinator Becky Ortner. She noted females have smoother backs and softer antenna than their male counterparts.

"They don't bite, they don't fly, they don't jump," she assured the kids. One Ms. Ortner brought downstairs had just shed its exoskeleton and turned an appropriately ghostly white.

In the main hall, museum educator Jared Kannenberg asked visitors, "Want to see my ice scream?" By placing a spoon and other utensils on dry ice, the ice did indeed screech.

"What's happening is, it's vibrating so fast," he explained. "You vibrate when you get cold."

Mr. Kannenberg also made bubbles float over the dry ice.

Nearly every gallery and room in the packed museum was filled with art activities, games and science projects. New this year was a child-size train offering rides in the parking lot.

"I like seeing all the kids dressed in costume and all the activities they have planned," said Rakesh Alla of Rock Island, who visited with his wife Dhatri (who wore a witch's hat) and their daughter, Inika, 3, dressed as Rapunzel, and son, Rishik, 6, dressed as Flynn from the Rapunzel movie "Tangled."

"They like the interactive exhibits, and they really like it since it's (the museum) been remodeled," Mr. Alla said. "They did a really job with this Fox Hollow concept. My daughter comes in for a lot of activities, arts and crafts, and the staff are always energetic and upbeat, and they have a good time relating to the children."

The former Welcome Theater -- slated for the final phase of the Family Museum's three-phase, $1.3-million renovation -- was spookily transformed Sunday into a mini-haunted house, with skeletons, witches, zombie-like figures and black light that caused crafty "vampire veins" to glow an eerie green.

Ruth King, a volunteer, said the old 900-square-foot room was used often as storage, but will be opening Nov. 14 as a hands-on "Think Shop" for kids to make whatever they want with real tools.

"I just like seeing all the kids in their costume, so excited, seeing the families having fun, interacting with the kids," Ms. King said Sunday. "For some families, this might be the only time of year they come here. It's indoors, they come for trick-or-treating, and it's safe."

Jenee Dettman of Bettendorf brought two of her six grandchildren -- 4-year-old Lars, dressed as Spider-Man, and 7-year-old Asta, dressed as a ballet dancer, who visit her about once a month from North Liberty, Iowa.

Asta said she "liked the glowing stuff the most," but since they got to play with all the museum's permanent exhibits, she said: "I like all of it."

"It's a good opportunity to test out the costumes before Halloween," said Jeff Reiter, Family Museum business development and community relations manager. "We always incorporate science-related activities.

"The kids don't necessarily know they're learning something," he said. "Through the easy science activities, like dry ice, they always get a kick out of it and they still learn something."

The museum is excited about finishing the renovations, he said. The first phase opened last October.

"We found the theater concept didn't really work that well for us. It was underutilized," Mr. Reiter said of the new "Think Shop." Kids can use hammers, nails, vises -- "things they can find at home, but don't get to play with," he said. "We'll have it supervised here and they can play with that stuff."

"Scarecrow Shenanigans" offered families a great chance to see the completely overhauled museum if they haven't been here in the past year, Mr. Reiter said. The new layout and exhibits have helped boost membership and admission. Before the project started, the museum averaged 100,000 visitors a year; this past year, it attracted more than 165,000 people, Mr. Reiter said.