A few months before I moved up here, I learned that there’s a statue and memorial to Muppet Creator and alumnus Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog at the University of Maryland. Jim created so much of my childhood that I knew I had to go see it when I had a chance. I made a note and tucked it away in my geographic to-do list until I could go to UMD.
Flash forward to last weekend- the weather was really nice, sunny and clear, so I decided to make the pilgrimage to Maryland. Even with the heavy traffic into DC for people celebrating Biden/Harris winning the presidential election, it only took me about half an hour to get onto campus.
I had the foresight to check a map for visitor parking before I left, and I was able to find a parking spot right across from the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, easy as you please. From the parking lot, it was a short walk back around to the front of the building, where the Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden is located. It’s really quite easy to find, not hidden away at all. You can see the sculpture as you approach.
A small plaque is visible on the low wall to the left of the sculpture. The memorial and garden were the idea of the class of 1998, after the 1997 event, “The Muppets Take Maryland” which featured an exhibit and workshops with Cheryl Henson. Some of the other classes from the 1990s helped with funding for the memorial, and the statue and garden were dedicated on September 24, 2003, on what would have been Jim Henson’s 67th birthday. There’s a great deal of making-of photos on the Muppet Wiki’s page about this sculpture.
The bronze statue is 450 pounds of bronze attached to a red granite bench. It was created by Jay Hall Carpenter after a national contest to select an artist and a design.
Here’s a closer look at the detail on the sculpture. It looks like Jim and Kermit are deep in conversation. I think this is just wonderful- I like to think of Jim still having these deep conversations even after his passing beyond the rim. Kermit touching Jim’s wrist is a really nice touch.
Here’s a little bit more of the detail… check out the frog belt buckle on Jim!
Of course since the sculpture is set on a bench, the whole place invites you to sit and join them for a little bit. Please excuse the mask hanging off of my ear; I should have just taken it all the way off for this photograph. (Or asked someone else to take the picture. I’m used to doing it selfie-style.)
Kermit is one of my favorites. I love his optimism in the face of unbridled chaos.
It’s a wonderful tribute to Jim Henson.
Since I was already at the front door of the student union, I decided to peek inside. Their Terrapin mascot is masked but their food court is open. The stadium was visible just past my parking lot, but I was there a few hours before their game against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Have you ever been to the Jim Henson statue at UMD? Who’s your favorite Muppet?
Labyrinth, the musical fantasy epic from Jim Henson and Brian Froud, has long been one of my favorite movies. I loved it the first time I saw it in 1986, and I love it now. A few months ago, Fathom Events brought Labyrinth back to movie theaters for a few days. While I was enjoying a new viewing on the big screen, I started thinking about the life lessons encoded in Henson’s Bowie-filled masterpiece.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic premise for the start of the movie- Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who clings to the fantasy life and toys of her childhood. As the film opens, she is late to babysit her brother Toby, and she’s a whiny brat about it. She complains about having to babysit to her Stepmother and father, “It’s not fair!” Once they go out, she is frustrated by Toby’s constant crying, and she super dramatically wishes for the Goblin King to take the baby away from her. Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) appears, and takes the baby as she requested.
When she says that she wants him back, he gives her thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City. This is where the story really kicks in- and the lessons.
Pretty isn’t always good, and monstrous isn’t always bad.
When Sarah first meets Hoggle outside the Labyrinth, he’s cheerfully killing faeries with a pump-spray filled with of some sort of pesticide. She picks one up, thinking it’s a poor abused thing, and it promptly bites her. Later, she first encounters Ludo suspended upside-down and being tormented by goblins with biting-sticks. Ludo looks and sounds like a ferocious beast at first, but it’s an illusion. Once he’s right side up, his fierce expression turns out to be sweet and friendly.
The idea that pretty things can be dangerous and that helpful or good-natured things might be hiding behind ferocity is repeated throughout the Labyrinth, and that leads us to…
Take nothing for granted.
Early in the film, Sarah is following an outer track of the maze but she struggles to find an entrance to the Labyrinth. When she slumps against the wall in frustration, she meets an adorable worm who invites her in for a cup of tea, and to meet the missus.
Sarah is too preoccupied with getting through the maze to stop, and she says as much to the worm. He tells her not to take anything for granted, and points her to a place that looks like solid wall. She realizes after a moment that it’s an illusion, and that there are openings all over, and rushes off.
Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the important things.
The worm isn’t done with the lessons there, either. At the end of their exchange, the worm tells her not to go in the first direction she chose. She doesn’t question it, thanks him, and races off in the other direction. Once she’s out of earshot, the worm says, “If she’d have kept on goin’ down that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”
If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have gotten to the castle much faster. and the movie would have been considerably shorter.
Life isn’t always fair.
Throughout the movie, Jareth sends obstacles to keep Sarah from reaching the castle to reclaim her brother. When he speeds up the clock and changes the conditions of her challenge, she impetuously complains that it isn’t fair. Jareth’s dry retort is one of my favorite lines in any movie: “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”
It’s important to have perspective about the problems in your life- fairness rarely enters into it. Whining about how things haven’t been fair to you will accomplish nothing at all.
You can get used to any bullshit if you spend too much time around it.
When our intrepid heroes reach the Bog of Eternal Stench, they meet Sir Didymus, the stalwart defender of… a tiny rickety bridge across the bog. While we never find out why Sir Didymus has pledged himself to defend this bridge, we do realize that he must have been in the Bog for quite some time. Everyone else in the group is recoiling with disgust at the stench, but Sir Didymus doesn’t notice at all. Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.
This is also true in real life- if you have a terrible job or a bad relationship or a friendship that is withering on the vine, it’s easy to get used to it. Inertia is sometimes difficult to break through and we often let a less-than-ideal situation go on for far longer than we should because it’s what we’re used to.
Sometimes you just need a new quest to get out of the Bog.
Your stuff is just stuff.
During the requisite drugged-peach hallucinatory trip segment of the movie, Sarah finds herself in a junkyard with no memory of what she was doing. She encounters a Junk Lady with all of her possessions on her back. There’s a moment where Sarah returns to what she thinks is her room, surrounded by all the things she loves – her old games and books and toys and stuffed animals.
The Junk Lady starts to hand her the things she loves, and begins stacking them up on her back- after a moment, Sarah starts to have an improbable stack of her things resting above her shoulders, just like the Junk Lady. She realizes after a few minutes that her things are all just junk- the belongings aren’t that important, and she quickly resumes her quest to reach Toby before the clock runs out.
This is a recurring theme in many of my favorite movies- the things you own often wind up owning you. They can pull you down, and weigh heavily on you. And at the end of the journey, it’s really all just junk- the important thing is the people you meet along the way.
Love can be a subtle control.
In one of the most subtly nasty moments in the entire film, Jareth says a thing which summarizes the tricky control of many a psychologically abusive relationship. Gaslighting, in a nutshell: “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”
In a way, this is the same lesson as most of the others- you can get used to any situation, no matter how bad. The things you love can control you. Pretty things are often bad for you.
The way out is to remember your own strength, as Sarah did when she stopped playing Jareth’s Goblin games at the end of the movie: “You have no power over me.”
This is the fourth of seven Los Angeles posts, so we’re halfway done! This is also the most touristy of all the posts, because everything in Hollywood is geared toward tourism.
Even the Metro station at Hollywood and Vine is kind of glitzy, with movie reels lining the ceiling, and old projectors and cameras on display.
Here’s a close-up of the movie reel ceiling.
During our walk around Hollywood, we ducked into a place for lunch and a cool drink. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the restaurant, but this amazing photograph was just hanging out casually near the bathroom.
Before this trip, I always thought that the Walk of Fame with all the stars was in one concentrated section of Hollywood. Now that I’ve been there, I realize that it’s much bigger than that. The Walk of Fame stars are spread out over fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and a few blocks of Vine. There are more than 2,600 stars, and I took more than a hundred photos of individual stars. I’m only going to post two, though, because a few dozen of these would get old real fast.
Mickey was the first animated character to get a star, in 1978.
This was just a few days after the passing of Adam West, and people were stopping by his star to leave playing cards and flowers. ::sniff:: His star is a relatively recent addition, only being placed there in 2012. I was pleased to see that it was right next to Bob Kane‘s star, though.
We also saw this on our walk. The place is enormous. And terrifying.
The only thing better than this guy’s leggings are Wendy’s reaction to him.
This is when we started to get close to the major touristy stuff. You can see the peak of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre here. More on that further down this post.
I quite liked the Metro in LA. It went to most of the places we wanted to be. (Not La Brea, though. Alas.)
More tourism to scope out.
I was underneath the archway of the Dolby Theatre before I even knew it. The Dolby (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre) is where they host the Academy Awards, among other things. In the daytime in the middle of June, though, it’s just another big sign.
When you get a little closer to the Chinese Theatre, you can see the construction is actually very beautiful.
This is where the concrete hand and footprints are so famously imprinted. One of the first tiles we saw was this one, with the entire original Star Trek cast present.
I didn’t take pictures of too many of these, but I liked seeing Jimmy Stewart.
Mel Brooks, Christopher Nolan, Christopher Plummer, and Tim Burton, who I mistakenly read at first as “Tim Butt.”
The three leads of the Harry Potter film franchise, hanging out right near Clooney. And there was a giant panel off to the side with the cast of Twilight.
The staff of the Chinese Theatre sells a map to where each celebrity has made their mark, but if you ask nicely they will help you find a single tile. I was specifically looking for the Droids, and they kindly pointed me toward the front, where they made their mark along with a certain Sith-lord.
The last picture in this post was not from the same day as the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre. This picture was taken on the same day as our visit to La Brea. On our way back, we had the Lyft driver pull over so that I could get a picture of the gates to the Jim Henson Company Lot.
This was originally built in 1917 by Charlie Chaplin. It was Charlie Chaplin Studios first, which is why the twelve-foot Kermit statue on the gate is dressed as The Tramp. The property was sold by Charlie in 1953, and it went through some other identities, including the filming location for The Adventures of Superman in the late 1950s and the headquarters of A&M Records in the 1990s. It was acquired by Jim Henson’s children in 2000 to be their new headquarters, and was even seen as the abandoned Muppet Studios in the 2011 Muppets movie.
You can’t really just visit the Jim Henson Company as a tourist, but I couldn’t resist taking a minute to stop and look at the front gate.