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November 1, 2009

When the Christian Science Monitor commissioned Chester Lizzy Churchill to create a visual of the world for its building, the architect faced a dilemma. He knew that flat maps and atlases distort the world – failing to capture the countries’ true scale and relation to each other.

At the New York Daily News, Churchill found inspiration in a 12-foot diameter bronze globe inside the building’s lobby. Still, he didn’t like how visitors had to stand around the globe, never able to view the world as a whole.

More than 70 years later, patrons of the Mary Baker Eddy Library and Museum see Churchill’s final product, a 30-foot diameter stained glass globe called the Mapparium. Though Churchill built it in 1935 as an emblem of the Christian Science Monitor’s international coverage and readership, today the Mapparium serves to give locals and tourists an experience they cannot get anywhere else. The three-story walk-through globe – the museum’s most popular permanent exhibit – gives spectators a seemingly impossible image: a 360-degree view of the world from the inside out.

“Imagine looking at a globe, a regular globe, and being put inside it,” says Colleen Sheridan, 19, a first-time Mapparium visitor. Sheridan came to the Boston from New Jersey to visit her older sister.

“She knew about it from friends and thought it would be a really cool thing to try out,” she says. Though she and her family perused the museum’s other exhibits, the Mapparium was her favorite part. “That whole presentation was very interesting, and it wasn’t just the architectural part of it. There’s also educational value from it too.”

Six hundred and eighty individually stained glass panels, each about an inch and a half thick, structure the enormous globe. A bronze framework holds the glass in place, and also serves as the map’s longitude and latitude lines.

Shades of topaz glass encircle much of the Mapparium room, as water covers 70 percent of the earth. Boldly colored countries coat the rest of the to-scale glass exhibit. It shows the world as it was when Churchill designed it – he used a 1934 Rand McNally map as a template. The globe cost $35,000 to construct in 1935. Adjusted for inflation, it would cost more than half a million dollars today.

Churchill intended for the Christian Science Publishing Society to keep the map current as time went on. He made each panel removable so that updates would be easy. However, shortly after the Mapparium’s completion, World War II broke out. German boundaries changed so frequently the group decided to table updates for later. When they reevaluated in the 1960s, they decided to save costs and leave the map forever one of 1935 – as a work of art, a window to another world, says Mapparium tour guide Mary Bergman.

“I’m very happy they made that decision,” she says. “We can see what they saw then.”

On the Mapparium wall, France is a deep teal-green, as is French West Africa. In 1935, 80 percent of the world was colonized, Africa included. Churchill showed such relationships by color-matching colonies with their mother country.

A team fired the colors for each country individually on a kiln – each at a different temperature, for a different length of time, according to Bergman. Italy is an orangey-red color, Spain a deep purple. The panel with Italy and the former Czechoslovakia took the longest to make, as it has the most colors.

“I like to see when older people come to visit,” says Bergman. “They say to me after the tour that they were alive when the map looked like this.”

Bergman and other Mapparium tour guides run fifteen-minute tours of the exhibit. The tour includes a multimedia presentation on how the world has changed since the Mapparium’s conception. For example, in 1935 only one-fifth of the world’s countries could vote; today, three-quarters do. Visitors can visualize the change as the democratic countries light up red.

The Mapparium has an addition effect, an unintentional, but spectator-awing sound quality. The all-glass walls cause sound to reflect back at visitors, instead of getting absorbed as in a normal space. When visitors stand at the center of the bridge, beneath the North Pole, their voices amplify loudly. If two people stand at opposite ends of the bridge and whisper, they hear as if standing right beside each other – the sound travels around the room into the listener’s ear.

The map used to be open to the public, as part of the Christian Science Monitor’s lobby, now the Mary Baker Eddy Library and Museum. Eddy founded the Library in 1908, at the age of 87. Though still the headquarters of the publication, the museum is a non-profit organization outside of the Christian Science Church.

According to Visitor Services Manager Katie Kimble, hundreds of people visit the museum on an average day. She did not have access to exact numbers.

Other museum exhibits include the Hall of Ideas and Quest Gallery where visitors can learn about the life of founder Mary Baker Eddy and other influential figures from history.

“The Mapparium is definitely the most popular exhibit. That’s what most people come here to see,” she says. “They end up going to our other spaces, but hear about us because of the Mapparium.”

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