When a seven-year-old Minneapolis boy named Earl Bakken saw the movie Frankenstein in 1931, it inspired him to pursue a career in electrical engineering. This might sound as plausible as Platoon ’s making you want to join the Army, but Bakken went on to a very distinguished career in the field. His most important and lucrative invention even had Frankensteinian overtones: the portable, battery-powered cardiac pacemaker, which uses electrical impulses to regulate the human heartbeat.
In 1975 the inventor-entrepreneur opened the Bakken Library and Museum (“A Museum of Electricity in Life,” as it is officially described) in a Tudor-style mansion overlooking Lake Calhoun in his hometown. Its collection includes more than ten thousand books, manuscripts, instruments, and machines relating to the history of electricity and magnetism and their use in medicine. This fall the museum returns to its origins with an exhibit on Frankenstein itself—the myriad forms the story has taken since Mary Shelley published it as a novel in 1818 and what it has meant to us through the years. Displays will include a first edition of Shelley’s work; a seventeenth-century edition of a book by the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus, whom Shelley cited as one of Victor Frankenstein’s influences; apparatus used by Galvani, Volta, and other scientists whose work inspired Shelley; antique and modern electromedical devices; and Frankenstein movie posters and comic books.
“‘It’s Alive!’: The Science and Myth of Frankenstein” will be at the Bakken Library and Museum, 3537 Zenith Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55416 (612-927-6508) through August 1996. The Bakken is open by appointment Monday through Friday from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Admission is three dollars for adults and two dollars for students and senior citizens.