Museums: A Touch of Aristotle, A Dash of Barnum

When Lenox Riley Lohr resigned as president of NBC to take charge of Chicago's faltering Museum of Science and Industry in 1940, outraged scientists warned that showmanship would trample scholarship. "A tragedy has occurred in the cultural life of our city," mourned the University of Chicago's Nobel-prizewinning physicist, Arthur Holly Compton.

It is true that Lohr, an elfin man who at 73 still runs the museum, shamelessly believes in the old showman's rule of "Ya gotta get 'em in the tent." Every exhibit clamors for the attention of the passing public—and then goes...

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