The museum in my hometown is crammed to the gills with history, including First Nations artefacts and shipping, mining and logging exhibits. And, yet, of the 5 500 different holdings on display, the most famous item in the museum is a deformed piglet with 3 eyes, 3 tongues, 2 tails and 8 legs that has been preserved in a pickle jar since 1906. Keeping in that spirit, have a glance at some strange museums from around the globe. And don’t read this while eating.
Meguro Parasitological Museum: In the rather exclusive Tokyo neighbourhood of Meguro is this museum dedicated entirely to organisms that feed off of other animals. 45 000 different parasites are preserved on display, and numerous photographs and exhibits will show you the damaging effects various parasites have on host organisms.Perhaps the ‘highlight’ attraction of the museum is the world’s longest tapeworm, measuring 8.8 m (28.9 ft) in length (did you just throw up in your mouth a little reading that sentence? Because I did typing it.). And while technically your body is already carrying home untold numbers of parasitic souvenirs already, like any good museum, the MPM has a gift shop for you to purchase parasite-themed T-shirts, greeting cards and key chains with actual tapeworms sealed inside of them. Stunningly, admission is free.
Le musée des égouts de Paris (The Paris Sewers Museum): Not only do the City of Light’s 160-year-old sanitary sewers play host to water, waste, and sludge, they also take in visitors from around the world. As early as 1892, tourists toured the sewer tunnels, first by cart, then carriage, and then by boat. Today, a museum occupies an abandoned section of tunnel still connected to the main system (as you’ll smell). The museum not only has displays demonstrating how waste treatment in the city is performed, exhibits tracing the history of Paris’ sewage treatment dating back to the year 1370, and viewports where you can see drain water coming down from the streets and sewage making its way through the tunnels, but also has on display a large amount of memorabilia and old maintenance equipment (perhaps most disturbingly, stuffed sewer rats).
Giant wooden balls like this one on display at Le musée des égouts are occasionally sent down into tunnels to scour the walls clean as they roll through. Source: filip, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boule_musee_egout_Paris1.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.
Gopher Hole Museum: In the little farming village of Torrington, Alberta, someone took it upon themselves to open a museum that would reflect the history and lifestyles of the townspeople in a set of dioramas. Here‘s the kicker: the actors in the diorama scenes are all taxidermied gophers. Adorable, cute, dressed-up dead gophers (Richardson’s ground squirrels, technically). As with many places on the prairies, gophers can be quite the pests for farmers here. Often, their fate is to simply be shot and discarded. But for a few dozen rodent denizens of south-central Alberta, their ultimate fate is much different. Caddyshack fans may enjoy the various scenes such as gophers playing in a band, gopher firefighters tripping over hoses, gophers at a cookout, and gophers with healthy senses of meta-humour. All told, 40 different scenes are played out, each contained within their own specially-painted viewing box (all done professionally; some of these dioramas are rather ornate given their size). In 1996, when the museum opened, PETA came calling to protest the displays, which only served to further promote the new museum. Today, visitors from around the world come to Torrington to visit the Gopher Hole, and the village has fully adopted the gopher theme. All 11 village fire hydrants are painted like gophers, and a statue of the village mascot, Clem T. GoFur, greets you on the main highway. For a rather comprehensive photo gallery of the various Gopher Hole dioramas, click here.
The protests against using stuffed rodents for a museum have also been commemorated at the Gopher Hole. Source: C. Smith, http://www.flickr.com/photos/smithco/23139203/in/set-533006. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.
Hið Íslenzka Reðasafn (Icelandic Phallological Museum): Where other than an Icelandic fishing village of 2 300 people would you find the world’s only museum devoted to nothing but penises (go figure)? It turns out that the original home of this museum was the capital of Reykjavik, opened in 1997 by Sigurður Hjartarson, a historian and educator with a background in Spanish language studies and Latin American history. As a young high school principal in the 1970s, Hjartarson received as a gift a bull penis similar to one he used as a child to whip animals with while farming. The quaint gift was a source of amusement for some of his teachers, who proceeded to bring back whale penises from a whaling station they were working at during the off-season. Though the gifts were initially meant as a joke, Hjartarson’s interest became more scientific over time, and over the years he acquired phalluses from nearly every mammal that lives in Iceland are on display here. Finally in 1997, he put the collection on display in a small museum in Reykjavik. After renting the museum space in Reykjavik became too costly, Hjartarson moved the facility to the northern town of Húsavík. The space contains 276 units from 46 species ranging from just 2 mm (a hamster) to 170 cm (the tip of a blue whale). There’s also a section dedicated to mythological members, showing off examples from elves, trolls and sea monsters. Next year, Hjartarson will hand over the museum to his son, who hopes to relocate it back to the capital one day.
The sign that welcomes visitors to the museum. Source: W. Grey, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Iceland_–_2008-08-08_13-39-41.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.
Piccolo Museo Del Purgatorio (Little Purgatory Museum): And by little, they mean ‘little’. In a small hallway inside the Chiesa Sacro Cuore del Suffragio in Rome is a glass case filled with various items said to have been singed by the hands of people’s souls trapped in purgatory. It is told that the deceased have marked these items in order to reach out to their loved ones in hopes that their prayers will hasten their release from purgatory into heaven. The items on display include bibles, clothing, table tops, prayer books, and even a banknote; all of which feature charred fingerprints and/or handprints.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum: As one of the southeastern United States’ major vacation resorts, Gatlinburg, Tennessee is full of tourist attractions, theme parks, and sights to see. Inside of a strip mall along the main thoroughfare through town lies perhaps the oddest attraction of them all. I doubt most people find salt and pepper shakers very exciting, but it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by 20 000 different pairs of shakers, all part of the collection of Belgian-American archaeologist Andrea Ludden, whose collection began in 1984 when she was simply looking for a pepper mill. Soon, it became a way for Ludden to trace the evolution of culture across the decades. Not to mention the investment potential: rare one-of-a-kind shakers can sell for as much as US$30 000 at auction.
Museum of Questionable Medical Devices: Bob McCoy was a humanist minister, abortion clinic director (the first to legally run a clinic in Minnesota after Roe v. Wade), and skeptic whose life’s mission was to debunk pseudo-science, most notably medical fraud and quack doctors. Over the years, he acquired a fair number of strange medical machines, 600 in total, ranging from phrenology machines designed to assess your health by reading the bumps on your head to foot-operated breast enlargers to radium-laced water said to cure mental illness and retardation (the radium fad ended in the 1930s when former US Amateur golf champion Eben Byers, a famous proponent of radium-water, became so poisoned his jaw had to be removed – he died soon afterward). McCoy even demonstrated some of the weird items in person on the television talk shows of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien. In 2002, McCoy donated his collection to the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul, where items from his museum remain on display. McCoy passed away in 2010, but his museum’s website remains intact and is quite a fun read.
Mütter Museum and Songran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum: Keeping with the medical sciences, this morbid tandem of museums represents man’s curiosity for the macabre. The former is the museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; the latter is one of the six museums operated by the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. The Mütter displays medical oddities and anatomical exhibits ranging from the weird (the conjoined liver of Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker) to the curious (a slice of John Wilkes Booth’ thorax; cross-sections of the human head) to the disturbing (a nine-foot long colon with 40 pounds of fecal matter). And, to quote a 2005 New York Times article:
There are jars of preserved human kidneys and livers, and a man’s skull so eaten away by tertiary syphilis that it looks like pounded rock. There are dried severed hands shiny as lacquered wood, showing their veins like leaves; a distended ovary larger than a soccer ball; spines and leg bones so twisted by rickets they’re painful just to see; the skeleton of a dwarf who stood 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 m) small, next to that of a giant who towered seven and a half feet. And “Jim and Joe,” the green-tinted corpse of a two-headed baby, sleeping in a bath of formaldehyde.
While the Mütter definitely uses shock value in its public relations in order to lure visitors, the purpose is ultimately scientific, educating visitors and medical students alike on the ravages of disease and mutation. Bangkok’s Forensic Museum is geared even more specifically toward cautionary tales, with displays of skulls punctured by bullet holes, blackened lungs of smokers, and, most infamously, the preserved corpse of Si Ouey Sae Urng, a cannibalistic serial killer of the 1950s.
SPAM Museum: And, finally, yes, there is an entire museum dedicated to Spam.16 500 sq ft of Spam trivia, vintage Spam advertising, history lessons on how Spam was used to feed US troops in World War II, and a radio station (KSPAM).There’s even an interactive zone where you can can your own processed meat. The ‘undisputed king of mystery meat’ that cooks in its own can has a major cult following around the world; one so large that it necessitated the manufacturer, Hormel, to construct a rather large museum in Austin, Minnesota, 2002 just to meet popular demand.
Yes, Floyd and Flossie, one day you too could be processed into industrial-grade reconstituted meat packs. Source: E. Kennedy, http://www.flickr.com/photos/elviskennedy/5492308570/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.
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Meguro Parasitological Museum (2007). Meguro Parasitological Museum. Available at http://kiseichu.org/english.aspx. Accessed 1 August 2011.
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