Obligatory celebrity death notices - both Eugene McCarthy and Richard Pryor died yesterday. I'm not surprised that Pryor got more press, given our culture always pays more attention to entertainment than to politics. To be fair, McCarthy was a mid-grade politician (e.g. he ran for President, but didn't win), while Pryor was in the top ranks of comedians.
Anyway, today was a rather exhausting day. I'd been meaning to get to the American Dime Museum in Baltimore for some time now. A couple of weeks ago, I read that they're closing at the end of the year, so I thought I should get off my duff and go. I was wise enough to take the train, which is much less stressful than driving. The museum was a fairly short walk from the station and was easy to find, particularly since there's surprisingly good signage.
The museum has four rooms. The three on the main floor are more or less a reproduction of a 19th century dime musuem, i.e. a collection of curiousities. Downstairs, there's a room that's more focused on carnival sideshow type stuff. All in all, it's pretty much what I expected. I guess I've been to enough of these quirky sorts of places that I'm hard to surprise. For example, there's a cabinet of jewelry and art made from hair. All well and good, but I've been to an entire museum of that sort of thing (in Independence, Missouri, should you want to see for yourself). Still, it was decently entertaining and worth an hour and a half or so. My favorite exhibits were the wooden bullet used by American soliders to kill vampires during World War II, the saber toothed duck, and George Washington's eyelashes.
I walked down Charles Street to the Walters Art Museum, which is much higher brow fare. They had a special exhibit of Italian illuminated manuscripts, which I wanted to see, and I had enough time to browse through the 15-16th century galleries. I also made a point of checking out the Cabinets of Wonder exhibit, which fitted in nicely with the earlier part of the day. You see, rich collectors tended to acquire all sorts of oddities, both natural and man-made. In 17th-18th century Europe, they even had special cabinets with compartments and drawers to keep their odds and ends in. All of that evolved into the modern concept of museums.
So, here in my living room, I have a spirit painting from New Guinea, a Buryat angam (a sort of shamanistic figure), a reproduction of an Azeri petroglyph, a small ceramic whistle in the shape of an ox from Vietnam, and a Bermuda Onion doll, among other things. Is this the modern equivalent of a Cabinet of Wonders? Am I doomed to end up running Miriam's Museum of Travel Kitsch?
Copyright 2005 Miriam H. Nadel