Like a phoenix that rose from the ashes, the National Corvette Museum (www.corvettemuseum.org) took what could have been a business-ending tragedy and turned it into one of their most popular draws. On February 12, 2014 the Skydome section of this Kentucky museum collapsed into a giant sinkhole. Fortunately this disaster happened after hours and nobody was injured or killed. Two years later the Skydome reopened with exhibits about the disaster, the recovery and the lost cars. Today visitors flock to this popular Bowling Green museum not only to have a gander at some cool Vettes, but to also learn about the aftermath of this well publicized natural disaster.
Opened in 1984, the National Corvette Museum is located down the street from the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant, where the cars have been assembled since 1981. Billed as “an educational tribute to America’s sports car”, the museum features good wheelchair-access, with plenty of accessible parking in front, and barrier-free access throughout the buildings. Accessible restrooms are located near the entrance, and a loaner wheelchair is available at the front desk.
The exhibits begin at the Corvette Gateway which includes interactive Corvette quizzes; after which visitors move on to the theater for a film about the history of the Corvette and the museum. And then there are the cars. Unlike most museums, the National Corvette Museum is considered a “living” museum, as the cars are constantly rotated. Many of the cars on display are owned — and generously loaned to the facility — by museum members who are avid collectors. The result is an evolving museum — one that’s definitely worthy of repeat visits.
The main gallery houses the bulk of the cars, which are displayed chronologically around a Main Street mock-up, which includes a garage, a barber shop, and of course a car dealership. To get the most of your visit be sure and download the free audio tour (www.corvettemuseum.org/audiotour/) that includes fun facts about the cars as well as a bit of history about their development. The remaining exhibits focus on Corvette engineering, design, and concept cars; and near the end a fun lifestyle gallery includes memorabilia from members, car clubs and other organizations.
The Sinkhole Experience
The architectural crown jewel of the museum is the Skydome, which features a 140-foot diameter gallery, cocooned by a yellow conical roof topped with a 12-story red spire. The sleek lines of the building were inspired by the car it honors, and the building itself is a work of art.
A good portion of Skydome space is dedicated to the popular Corvette Cave In: The Skydome Sinkhole Experience exhibit. The display begins with security camera footage of the actual event, followed by media reports of the aftermath. The sinkhole was created when the Skydome collapsed on an underground cavern, part of which is visible through a manhole covered by an acrylic floor. There’s also an outline of the sinkhole on the floor, for perspective on the massive collapse. Other exhibits detail the recovery process, and illustrate how pop culture catapulted the collapse to the top of the news cycle.
Miraculously, only eight cars were damaged in the collapse; but unfortunately five of them were damaged beyond repair. The remaining three have been lovingly restored and are on display in the Skydome, next to the five totaled models. All in all it’s a well done exhibit, and if you want a little Skydome souvenir, sinkhole dirt is available for purchase in the gift shop.
The Skydome — with its 100-foot high glass ceiling — is also home to a rotating collection of Corvettes. The cars include production models from private collectors, famous cars, and even a test model or two. The cars are grouped by their generations so visitors can see the changes over the years. Additionally there’s a small Skydome display about some of the rare production colors.
The Corvette Hall of Fame is also located in the Skydome. New members are added to this elite circle yearly, in recognition of their contribution to the development of the Corvette. Inductees include GM employees, race car drivers and even enthusiasts.
Additionally, the museum includes some rotating exhibits in the Exhibit Hall. These displays are usually geared towards families and children; and it’s the only place in the museum that you’ll find cars that are not Corvettes.
Don’t forget to stop at the 4,600-square-foot gift shop, which offers a good selection of Corvette apparel, collectables and gift items. And if seeing all those cars worked up your appetite, then stop by the Corvette Cafe for a bite to eat. This 50s-themed diner features level access and serves up a nice variety of soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches and some pretty tasty desserts. It’s the perfect way to top off a visit to the National Corvette Museum.