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Recipes: Perfect Picnic

Photo by Michael Cornelison
AREA employee David Colmans, wife Evgeniia and daughter Leah enjoy an afternoon picnic. Photos by Michael Cornelison

Not long after my parents were married, my mom suggested to my dad that they have a picnic. He agreed that it was a great idea, and so they set out one pretty Saturday to a shady spot in a park, spread out a blanket and sat down to eat. When my mom pulled two PB&J sandwiches and a couple of apples out of a brown paper bag, my father’s face fell.

Where was the woven basket? The red-and-white-checked cloth napkins? The daisies in a pitcher for decoration? The poor man was expecting to enjoy a little alfresco dining ambiance along with a feast of fried chicken, potato salad, fresh-baked cookies and a gallon of sweet tea – all the fixings we’ve come to associate with a “perfect” Southern picnic. That is not what he got.

Defending herself any time this story gets retold, my mom makes sure to point out that the details and menu for the now infamous picnic were never discussed; she never promised him a full spread that would be photo-album worthy. In her mind, the true pleasure of a picnic was just enjoying a meal outdoors with her sweetie, “perfection” not required.

Whether my father’s expectations were too high or my mom seriously under-achieved that day (or a little bit of both), after this event, picnicking didn’t hold the same appeal for either of my parents. That might be why we didn’t do much of it when I was growing up. And that might be why I love picnicking now. Or maybe it’s because the tradition combines two of my favorite things – food and nature.

No matter what you want out of a picnic – a simple meal for a family, a romantic lunch for two, or a fantastic feast that will impress a group – the way to make sure it works out well for all involved is to plan ahead (and then plan some more). Check out these tips for pulling off a perfect picnic, and then use some of this month’s reader-submitted recipes to create a delicious menu.

– Jennifer Kornegay


Cook of the Month

Bill Stone, Baldwin EMC

Bill Stone may be a bit new to Alabama, but he’s not new to cooking. He and his wife retired to Foley, Ala., from Connecticut in 2011, but he’s been playing around in kitchens for far longer, and that’s how he came up with this month’s standout recipe, Bill’s Cold Lasagna. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I like going to restaurants and coming home and trying to replicate the recipe for what I had,” he says. Looking for a good use for leftover lasagna noodles led him to create a flavor-packed pasta dish that is perfect for picnics since it’s served cold.

“It cuts clean and stays together, so it’s nice and easy to eat,” Bill said. “It looks nice too; all the layers of color make for a great presentation.” He encourages folks to change up ingredients and to use more or less of the things they like best, but he offered one piece of advice: “Don’t go too heavy on the dressing, or it will get soggy, and you don’t want that.”

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Bill’s Cold Lasagna

  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 1 bottle Italian or Greek salad dressing
  • 1 purple onion, sliced thin
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 package baby spinach
  • 2 cups kalamata seedless olives, cut in half
  • 1 container of feta cheese
  • 1 container of Parmesan cheese

Cook lasagna noodles per package instructions, drain and let cool. Pour the dressing lightly in a 9-inch by 12-inch pan and rub around the whole pan. Lay noodles on bottom until covered. Put tomatoes, olives, spinach and onions on top of noodles. Adjust amount to your liking. Sprinkle feta and Parmesan cheeses, as much as you like. Lightly pour dressing over all. Continue layering until the pan is full; the top layer should be tomatoes, onions, olives, spinach, feta and Parmesan. Chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (overnight is better). Cut and serve in squares just like lasagna.


Crawfish Stuffed Picnic Eggs

  • 1 dozen large or jumbo hard-boiled eggs, halved with yolks and whites separated
  • 3 pounds cooked crawfish (store bought or cooked at home), peeled and chopped
  • 24 whole, cooked and peeled crawfish to use as garnish (do not chop)
  • ¾ -1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise (adjust to desired consistency)
  • 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons sweet pickle relish (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 4 green onions, chopped (I add a little extra)
  • 24 green onion stems to use as garnish (about 1/2-inch in length) on the eggs
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons instant mashed potato flakes
  • 2 or 3 drops Tabasco or other hot sauce

In a large bowl, mash the egg yolks until creamy and smooth. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, chopped green onions, pickle relish, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and potato flakes and combine until thoroughly mixed. Fold in the chopped crawfish meat and mix well. Spoon the crawfish-egg mixture into the egg whites, filling the centers generously. Garnish each egg with an entire crawfish tail and green onion stem. Carefully monitor the amount of salt used; if your cooked crawfish are highly seasoned, you may want to omit salt altogether or lessen the amount used. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Kim Robertson, Baldwin EMC


Potato Salad

  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled, washed and cubed
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, cut up
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ¼ cup dill pickles, chopped
  • ¼ cup white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • Salt and pepper

Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and cook on medium until potatoes are tender. Drain. In separate bowl, mix celery salt, pickles, onions, mustard and mayonnaise and pour over potatoes. Add eggs and mix well; add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle bacon bits over the top.

Janice Bush, Baldwin EMC


Gulf Shores Fried Chicken

  • 1 chicken, cut into eight pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper or Binky’s Seasoning (recipe following)
  • Solid Crisco or oil for frying

Place enough Crisco in an electric frying pan set at 350 to 375 degrees to come up the sides about ¼ of an inch. Since temperatures may vary on fry pans, be careful not to let the oil burn. Mix flour with seasonings. Coat chicken with seasoned flour and shake off excess. Brown chicken on each side, then cover and cook until juices run clear (about 20 minutes).


Binky’s Seasoning

Mix two parts salt, 1 part onion powder, 1 part garlic powder, 1 part black pepper, 1 part paprika, 1 part chili powder, ½ part cayenne pepper, ½ part crushed oregano and ½ part crushed rosemary.

(Add more salt and mix in water until dissolved and you have a good brine.)

Clyde Helmer, Baldwin EMC


Garden Salad

  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped radishes
  • 1 cup chopped onion (red onions add color)
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • ½ cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1 ½ cups chopped broccoli
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 pound hickory smoked bacon
  • 4 cups elbow macaroni
  • Salt and pepper

Fry bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. When cool, crumble into small pieces and set aside. Cook macaroni until tender. Don’t overcook or the noodles will fall apart when mixed with other ingredients. Drain macaroni and let cool. In a large bowl, combine all chopped raw vegetables and crumbled bacon. Mix well, gently add macaroni and mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Gently mix all ingredients until well coated with mayonnaise. Chill overnight.

Mary Ann Johnson, North Alabama EC


Recipe Themes and Deadlines:

Aug. Canning June 8
Sept. Muscadines July 8
Oct. Campfire Cooking Aug. 8

Sweet Treats To-Go: Serving single portions of these easy-to-make palate pleasers in Mason jars makes them also easy to transport and easy to eat. Plus, they look really pretty!

Strawberry Delight

PICNIC_Strawberries

Fresh strawberries, washed and quartered

  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 15-ounce jar of marshmallow cream
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Blend the cream cheese, marshmallow cream and nutmeg with a hand mixer or with a whisk. starting with the cream mixture, layer it and strawberries in a Mason jar and seal tight. Keep in a cooler until ready to serve.

Lights, camera, Alabama!

Movie productions find a home here

By Allison Griffin

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Alabama is fortunate to have a diversity of environments – mountains, marshes and wetlands, beaches, quaint small towns and historically significant metro areas – that are appealing to producers and filmmakers. In whole or in part, Alabama has been the location for several big-screen and made-for-TV movies over the years:

  • Actress Kate Bosworth gave the town of Fairhope some love on social media when she was there in late 2013 shooting “Before I Wake,” a horror/thriller that hasn’t yet been released in the U.S. Among her tweets: “Truly there is nothing like Southern charm.”
  •  Also filmed in Fairhope was “Coffee Shop,” the 2014 romantic comedy/drama by Birmingham filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin. (Alabama Living featured the Erwin brothers in the October 2015 issue when their movie, “Woodlawn,” about the racial tensions in a 1970s Birmingham high school, was released.)
  •  The Erwin brothers were also behind “Moms’ Night Out,” the 2014 comedy starring Patricia Heaton and Sean Astin, which was filmed in Birmingham.
  •  Fairhope and Mobile were also the locations for the horror/mystery film “Oculus,” released in 2014.
  •  Greenville served as the location for 2007’s “Honeydripper,” starring Danny Glover.
  •  The 2006 adventure/fantasy film “Big Fish,” starring Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney, was filmed in Montgomery, Elmore and Autauga counties. (See story on the fictional town of Spectre HERE.)

Some moviemakers want an Alabama location for specific scenes and backdrops:

  •  “Failure to Launch,” the 2006 film starring Matthew McConaughey, featured Cherokee Rock Village near Leesburg in northeast Alabama for many of the outdoor scenes.
  •  Some scenes in the 2006 movie “Heavens Fall,” based on the story of the Scottsboro Boys, were filmed in Monroeville.
  •  Rickwood Field, the historic ballpark in Birmingham, has served as a location for several movies, including the Jackie Robinson story “42,” the 1994 film “Cobb” with Tommy Lee Jones, and the 1996 TV movie “Soul of the Game,” about Negro League players Robinson, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.
  •  The USS Alabama and Fairhope were used for some scenes of 1992’s “Under Siege,” starring Steven Seagal.
  •  Selma’s history has long attracted filmmakers. In addition to the Oscar-nominated “Selma,” released in 2014 and directed by Ava Duvernay, the 1994 movie “Blue Sky” with Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones had scenes shot in Selma and at its now-closed Craig Field. “Body Snatchers,” a 1993 film adaptation of “The Body Snatchers” directed by Abel Ferrara, was also filmed at Craig Field.
  •  The Talladega Superspeedway was featured in 1983’s “Stroker Ace,” starring Burt Reynolds as a NASCAR driver, as well as 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” starring Will Ferrell.
  •  Burt Reynolds dazzled fans in 1978’s “Hooper,” part of which was filmed in Tuscaloosa on the grounds of the Northington General Hospital, a World War II military hospital near the University of Alabama. The hospital buildings and two smokestacks were exploded or demolished as part of the film and the University Mall occupies the space today.
  •  Arnold Schwarzenegger won a Golden Globe for his role as a bodybuilder in the 1976 movie, “Stay Hungry,” filmed in Birmingham.

Spectre

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Mythical movie town of Spectre enjoys resurgence

Story and photos by David Haynes

Not far from the state capital, on a teardrop-shaped island just off the Alabama River’s main channel, a mythical town where no one ever actually lived and that never really existed is today enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

The idyllic town of Spectre was constructed among live oaks draped in Spanish moss on Jackson Lake Island near Millbrook as a movie set for Tim Burton’s 2003 fantasy film “Big Fish.”

The film’s theme of reconciliation between a father and his estranged son, and Burton’s unique storytelling style that included an enchanted forest, the surreal town of Spectre, giants and witches, has made it a beloved tale for thousands of fans.

Today, 13 years after the film crews left the island, the remnants of Spectre’s buildings are slowly being reclaimed by nature and some have already had to be taken down due to safety concerns. But now more and more people are making pilgrimages from around the country and around the world to this 60-acre island to see Spectre before it’s gone.

Jackson Lake Island wasn’t even an island before the Robert F. Henry Lock and Dam was built in the mid-1970s more than 80 miles downstream. The resulting Bob Woodruff Lake elevated the Alabama River’s level to allow passage through an inlet from the river to Jackson Lake, simultaneously creating the island.

Lynn and Bobby Bright now own the island that Lynn’s parents originally purchased in the early 1970s. Her father, Leon Clardy, built the causeway that connects the island to the mainland and began offering memberships to those wanting to fish, boat or otherwise use the island for recreation shortly thereafter.

In 2002 when Burton was looking for a location for the fictional town in his movie, it was already on an Alabama Film Commission’s list of sites, and they reached an agreement to lease his production company the island for the duration of the movie shoot.

A ‘magical experience’

Construction of the town, “Jenny’s House” and an enchanted forest used for the movie took about six months, according to Lynn Bright, before shooting began. She said their family all marveled at the transformation of the sleepy little island into a busy movie set and at the attention to detail in every aspect of the project, from the “motorized tree limbs” in the mystical forest to the selections of authentic period products to be displayed in the town’s storefront windows.

“We were invited to be there the evening they filmed the scene when everyone was dancing on the street, and it was truly a magical experience,” she says.

After the filming wrapped up, the original intent was for the production crew to return the island to its original state, but after more consideration the family decided to have the temporarily-built sets remain, as a curiosity.

For the first few years there was little interest in the former movie set, but as social media increased in popularity so did the number of visitors coming to see the Big Fish set, Lynn Bright says.

MOV_Old House

Today’s visitors are a mix of local fishermen, kayakers and campers, photographers taking engagement, senior or prom portraits and curious out-of-towners who’ve heard about the place on Facebook or other social media and want to visit the town before it fades back into the landscape. The island has also become an event destination and hosts several weddings and other events each year. There are even a few semi-fulltime residents who live in RVs at one end of the island year-round.

One of those full-time islanders, Kevin Carr, has been living on the island for three years. “It’s just so peaceful here,” he says. “I just couldn’t imagine living anywhere else now.”

Wildlife abounds here as well, with more than 20 species of birds documented, at least one resident fox and a pair of ospreys who built a nest at the top of a dead tree near the causeway. A small herd of goats also roams freely about the island.

Being constructed as a movie set, the structures created for the town were never intended to be permanent. These are really just hollow shells that were decorated in realistic facades for the cameras to record. For example, the “brick” used on the chimneys is actually just a vinyl brick-like veneer and much of the trim is fabricated from styrofoam.

In the years following the film’s 2003 release, much of the town became overgrown as nature began to reclaim the buildings that made up the town of Spectre. By 2011 two storefront facades had become a safety hazard and both have since been removed.

Trying to keep the town as intact as possible

Today the town’s main street has a church at one end and two styrofoam tree trunks at the other end. The view between the trees frames the church, main street and remaining buildings and is a favorite spot for visitors to take photographs. Between the church and the arching trees are the eight remaining buildings in varying states of repair along either side of the street. The owners are doing what they can to repair the inevitable deterioration to keep the town as intact as possible.

Visitors approaching the island today will encounter a gate before the causeway, sometimes manned, sometimes not. Admission is $3 per person. At the electric-powered gate, a sign instructs visitors to fill out a registration envelope, insert payment and call one of three numbers listed for a code to open the gate.

Lynn Bright, a retired Alabama judge, and Bobby Bright, a former mayor of Montgomery and Alabama congressman, have had to do little to promote the island since taking over its operation a few years ago. There is currently a Facebook Page but no dedicated website, though Lynn says that’s likely an addition in the near future.

Bobby said they hope to maintain the island as a safe and convenient destination for families from the local area to picnic, fish and camp and enjoy for the foreseeable future.

For information, visit the Facebook Page (facebook.com/JacksonLakeIsland/) or call 334-430-7963 or 334-324-2000.

Alabama in the movies

AlaMovies_Display

By Emmett Burnett

Judy Perszyk was enjoying the front porch, absorbing a lovely Huntsville day in the summer of 2012, unaware her home was destined for stardom.

“A man walked up, saying he was scouting film project locations,” recalls Judy, a resident of Madison County’s Five Points Historic District. A year later, 100 people are in the house and yard shooting the Hollywood production “Space Warriors,” which was released in 2013 and stars Danny Glover.

Judy’s house was added to an exclusive list: About 146 film locations shot in the Heart of Dixie.

"Space Warriors"
“Space Warriors”

“Often it begins with a knock on the door,” says movie production coordinator Jerilyn Bickford, based in Birmingham. “A movie scout may like a home’s exterior and ask the homeowner’s permission to look inside.” Regardless of the search methods, Tinsel Town loves us.

“Alabama is great,” adds movie actor–producer Kevin Downes, from his Burbank, Calif., office. His film credits include “Mom’s Night Out” and “Woodlawn,” both filmed in Birmingham. “Your state welcomed us with open arms. I would definitely come back.”

Most Alabamians who opened their homes to Hollywood would welcome them back too. But all agree that though movies may be a labor of love, the operative word is “labor.”

“Actors are nice and polite,” Judy says, “but they are here to work. We didn’t bother them, just let them be, studying their lines, rehearsing. You learn fast. They’re here for a job.”

Mobile’s Janine Stebbins agrees about long days of movie making. Her home, Blacksher Hall, was used in “U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” which was set for release in late May and stars Nicolas Cage. Cage did not film scenes at Blacksher, but Janine recalls, “His driver told us, the actor is quiet (while) riding to the Mobile set. He studies the script. But on the trip back, he is all chatty.” She also notes that producers don’t just film in your home. They seize it.

“They take over,” she laughs. Crews removed most of the furniture from her ground floor, replacing it with objects indicative of World War II, including portraits of President Harry Truman.

Blacksher Hall in Mobile is one of the settings for the movie ‘U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage.’
Blacksher Hall in Mobile is one of the settings for the movie ‘U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage.’

Blacksher’s library became an Army general’s office. The scene called for a tobacco-hazy room. “Technicians set up a fog machine,” says Janine, “but smoke was supplemented by off-camera workers, smoking and puffing cigar smoke into the scene.”

Unlike Blacksher Hall’s movie, Huntsville’s “Space Warriors” used mostly existing furnishings. “It is fun watching a film showing characters using my telephone,” Judy laughs. “Family pictures on the walls, chairs, even cups, plates in kitchen table scenes are my cups and plates, on my kitchen table.”

Transforming homes and city blocks

Transforming home sweet home into household Hollywood is daunting, but turning entire buildings, city blocks, and stadiums into make-believe is epic. In 1970s Mobile, a Brookley Field airplane hangar held the largest sound stage ever created for a movie, for 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” written and directed by Steven Spielberg. The mothership’s return to earth scene was filmed in it.

In Montgomery, technicians poured rocks over Cobb Street and parked dozens of 1954 automobiles for a gravel road scene in 1989’s “The Long Walk Home,” which starred Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg.

And in the late 1970s, Twentieth Century Fox rented the Opelika Manufacturing Corporation and used the Golden Cherry Motel for “Norma Rae,” starring Sally Field, Beau Bridges and Auburn University students who were hired as extras.

“Many cast members actually stayed at the hotel the movie was filmed in,” says Pam Powers-Smith, director of the community organization, Opelika Main Street. “They didn’t get out a lot, and had food delivered to the motel.”

The Golden Cherry Motel – which will never be confused with the Waldorf Astoria – still operates. Room 130, used in the film, is no different than any of the other motel’s rooms, except it helped Sally Field win an Oscar.

“She was a lovely lady,” says Warner Williams, who was active with the Opelika Chamber of Commerce during the filming of “Norma Rae.” “Days before filming, she wore old ragged clothes and hung around the mill, psyching up for her character.”

Speaking of characters, Birmingham may hold an Alabama movie record for a cast of thousands – however, not all were human, or real.

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The Magic City’s Rickwood Field was chosen for “42,” the baseball story of Jackie Robinson. “The 2012 movie depicts a stadium of 6,000 fans,” says Friends of Rickwood Field executive director David Brewer. “But the people in upper levels are inflatables.”

About 2,000 recruited Birmingham extras, dressed in period clothing, were in the lower, close-up bleachers. But for the upper levels, balloons shaped like people were blown up, with facial hair, toupees, baseball caps and clothes added. From a distance, you can’t tell the fans in the high-rise stands are balloons.

The Birmingham baseball center portrayed three stadiums of Robinson’s career: In addition to Rickwood, it was dressed as Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and Roosevelt Stadium in Droyer’s Point, N.J. “The sets were layered with fake walls,” recalls Brewer. “Each wall was filmed for one of the three stadium scenes it represented. When the shot was completed, the wall was removed, revealing the next ‘stadium wall’, and then the last one. Workers added billboards, scoreboards, colors, props and paint jobs to Rickwood, indicative of the stadium it represented.”

One of the state’s first major movies, 1949’s war drama “Twelve O’Clock High” starring Gregory Peck, was filmed in Ft. Rucker. From then on, Hollywood has sought Alabama locations for film settings. Many sites are famous in their own right, like the Edmund Pettus Bridge, prominent in the 2014 Oscar-nominated movie, “Selma.”

Others exist only in film, like Baldwin County’s stab-and-slash horror house in “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.” It burned to the ground in the movie’s final scene. That’s show biz.

Something to ‘Sea’ in Mobile!

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Photos by Mark Stephenson

Museum highlights Gulf Coast nautical history and heritage

By John Felsher

Heading north on the Mobile Ship Channel, one might spot what looks like a large ship docked at the old cruise terminal – only this “ship” sits on land and contains another “ship” inside of it.

More than a museum, the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico opened at 155 South Water St. in Mobile in September 2015. Built to look like a ship docked on the Mobile River, the facility highlights the vibrant sea life, culture, maritime history and industry along the entire Gulf of Mexico.

MOBILE_Elderly couple

“The Board of Trustees determined that the museum would have a much larger draw if it was a regional museum rather than just focus on Mobile,” says Tony Zodrow, GulfQuest executive director. “That prompted the board to expand the mission to encompass the entire Gulf of Mexico, not just the United States part. Our mission is to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to understand and appreciate the Gulf Coast’s rich maritime heritage through exhibits, programs and activities. There’s nothing like this anywhere in the Gulf Region.”

The city of Mobile put up $28 million of the $43 million needed just to build the unique 120,000-square-foot structure, with the rest coming from federal grants to the city. The architecture itself incorporates a maritime image. Hemmed in by the river and railroad, the designers flared the building outward as it rises, just like a ship, to create more space. Even the fire escapes resemble lifeboats.

With the building complete, the museum staff packed it with $20 million worth of interactive exhibits in 90 themes that run the gamut of topics such as nature, exploration and settlement, shipping and shipbuilding and energy exploration, among others. Visitors can explore exhibits on five decks resembling a life-size container ship and three levels inside containers. Each exhibit, with more planned for the future, might contain several hundred parts, offering such varied “hands on” interactive experiences as navigating a ship with a sextant, exploring the depths or loading cargo containers with a crane.

“We’re more than a museum,” says Diana Brewer, GulfQuest director of marketing and public relations. “We’re really an education center. Our exhibits are multi-sensory with a lot of technology. People often learn by doing. When people hear ‘interactive,’ they automatically think ‘children’s museum.’ We’re kid friendly, but we are not a children’s museum. It’s almost like a ‘land of make believe’ for adults.”

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Each interactive exhibit tries to re-create the real experience as completely as possible without actually doing it. For example, in the “bridge,” or pilothouse, of the building, mariners of all ages can drive a tugboat pushing barges, a speedy U.S. Coast Guard patrol vessel or other ships on the Mobile River in the “Take the Helm” exhibit. Just like in a real channel pilot simulator, the helmsman must navigate through traffic, day or night in all kinds of weather. People familiar with the actual river would spot many landmarks in the simulator screens, such as the building housing GulfQuest.

Although children can “pilot” a vessel at the helm simulator, the museum also offers some interactive exhibits just for the little ones. Children can learn while they play. Anna Nameniuk, a school nurse from Mobile, brought her children, ages 11 and 12, to GulfQuest.

“We loved the first-floor exhibits because it has lots of hands-on experiments for the kids to try,” Nameniuk says. “They really enjoyed it. I had them try some of the things having to do with navigating by the stars. We lay in the yard at home and look at the stars at night. We also loved the movie. It was very informational.”

Even “Treasures,” the museum gift shop, reminds people of the sea. For a class project, senior Auburn University industrial design students divided into teams. Each team designed part of Treasures. The museum staff used the students’ designs, complete with a floor resembling an ocean bottom littered with pirate treasure and seashells. Large wooden “ship ribs” hold merchandise shelves.

“We wanted to design a compelling store that people would want to go in and explore,” Zodrow says. “The students designed the store to look and feel like a sunken Spanish galleon. The contractors built it exactly as the students designed it.”

People can enter the gift shop or dine in the Galley, the riverfront restaurant at museum, without paying the admission fee. With a spectacular view of the Mobile River, GulfQuest also hosts weddings, corporate functions and other special events.

Maureen and Frank Bianchi of Detroit, Mich., enjoyed the view on the deck one day. Frank, a retired research engineer, and Maureen, a retired kindergarten teacher, spend their winters in Orange Beach.

“The museum was awesome,” Frank says. “I came because I’m interested in submarines and they have an excellent display on the Hunley, the Confederate submarine that was the first in history to sink a warship. I didn’t realize that Mobile had such a boat-building industry.”

“I think it’s great,” Maureen adds. “The museum exceeded my expectations. I especially liked the interactive displays.”

Don’t leave without watching the multi-media presentation in the GulfQuest Theater. The video documents the nature, maritime history and culture of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay from its earliest days to the present. The museum opens seven days a week. People can buy various levels of memberships so they can visit frequently. ¢

Admission is $18 for adults, $16 for ages 13-17, $14 for ages 5-12 and $16 for seniors and active military. Children under 5 are free. Groups qualify for discounted prices. For more information, call 251-436-8901 or see www.gulfquest.org.