Monday, May 16, 2011

This is a new game called "RMSC Exhibits: Cool or Creepy?"

The creepiest museum experience I ever had was in the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. Do not let the name fool you; it was no place for children. I had gone to Scotland with a friend, who had left early so as not to miss a lecture in York. I spent the extra day by myself in Edinburgh, which was quite a success until I entered the Museum of Childhood. All I can remember now is wandering around the fourth floor of this dilapidated old building that smelled of ancient dust and decaying linen. It was shortly before closing and the building was entirely deserted except for me and the person issuing tickets downstairs. I found myself alone, in utter silence, surrounded by cases and cases of dead-eyed dolls. After a while it's inevitable that you think Wouldn't it be terrible if I saw one blink? And then of course you can't be absolutely certain you haven't. It's one thing to see a single creepy old doll and try to process the fact that the child who played with it already grew up and died a hundred years ago, but to be surrounded by such a concentration of mortality was too much for me and I hightailed it out of there as quickly as if the dolls were actually chasing me, to pull me into the other side of the glass case and make me one of them.

This subsequently became one of my favorite memories of Edinburgh. There's nothing like being scared to death by dolls whilst alone in a foreign country! Except for being scared to death by life-sized human replicas in your local science museum when you are a young child! Actually, I don't ever remember being scared to death in the RMSC, but the creepiness-potential is very high there. Whenever you combine low lights, a low budget, and the smell of old stuff in a bizarre, rambling structure, you have the ideal conditions for creepiness. Some things are outright creepy, like ceremonial masks with four-foot-long noses, and some things possess a more subtle creepiness that accumulates with time: simply the age of certain exhibits creep me out because they are clearly old, and since I remember them from when I was quite young, I can only conclude that I am aging.

Then there are some things that are just inexplicable, like the amount of taxidermy. My friends and I were forced to assume that the driving force behind the founding of this museum was the necessity of housing someone's taxidermy collection. All the exhibits incorporate taxidermy whether or not it is entirely appropriate. The natural history section? Fine. The brief display on hunting in the Native American section? Smacks of "What shall we do with this extra beaver?" but tolerably logical. The raccoon in the rafters in the Underground Railroad cabin? Someone was definitely trying to stow that sucker where no one would notice. And then there are the squirrels. Oh, the squirrels.

This squirrel lives in the tundra. It is being hunted by a pack of the slavering zombie musk oxen that were prevalent in these parts following the last ice age.

This squirrel lives in a northern hardwood forest. It has been here for eight thousand years. It has spent this period evolving a second sense for popping out of garbage cans just as you are passing by, to make you jump. It has also evolved the ability to laugh at you silently.

This squirrel lives in an orange box, where it is ALWAYS WATCHING.

Were there other animals, you ask? Why, yes; the RMSC is a veritable zoo of death! Among my favorites, there is this beaver

who looks as though he would happily invite you over for a spot of tea and a nibble of something because he is feeling a bit eleven o'clockish, and by the way have you seen Mrs. Tiggywinkle yet today only his waistcoat needs starching before dear old Toad gives his soiree this evening. In all sincerity, I really don't believe beavers were anatomically intended to lean in quite that way, as if they are having a chat with the neighbor.

Then there is this lovely specimen, whom I accused of having no beak, but in fact they all look like this; their beak is sort of hidden in their feathers. What you may think is its beak is a twig in the background. To all appearances it really is beakless, which is quite unsettling.

Oh, I just realized we are supposed to be playing a game. Squirrels: creepy, creepy, creepy. Beaver: more hinky than creepy. Parrot: creepy. Underwater organisims?

Totally cool. However, assortment of old shoes in the local history section?

Creepy. Old shoes come in a close second after two-hundred year old dolls on the scale of creepy things. When they are two-hundred-year-old children's shoes, they're tied. (HAHAHAHA.)

The Native American exhibit is creepy because of its uncanny familiarity, like all things that surface from way, way back in the mists of your childhood. This is a replica of Tadodaho, Onondaga chieftan, who was physically twisted and had crazy hair, and was believed by his people to be a sorcerer. He stood in the way of Hiawatha's attempts to negotiate peace between all the Iroquois tribes; every time Hiawatha held a council, one of his daughters died. Eventually, Hiawatha combed the snakes out of Tadodaho's hair and untwisted his body, and he became a great leader. The leader of the six nations of the Iroquois is still called Tadodaho.

Exhibit: creepy through no fault of its own. Tadodaho: cool.

You may think the next one deserves to be categorized as creepy, but that would be a mistake. It is undoubtedly cool.

It is a tooth-studded belt made by Alaskan Eskimos. Let's have a close-up:

Before we jump to any horrified conclusions, I'm pretty sure these are baby teeth. But they must be the baby teeth of the entire community collected over many years, because it is a rather long belt.

Most everything else was cool, which is why I will save it all for another post. I do have two last creepy things to share before I go, however. This actually goes beyond creepy and, in my opinion, beyond horrible:

This is an orange flavored HotLix "with cricket." Second ingredient: "cricket." Why would you buy this? Why would you sell this? Why would you make this? These are the questions we asked ourselves, except for Matt, who has apparently always wanted to eat a chocolate-covered grasshopper. The second creepy thing is of course Matt:

This was a temporary exhibit. Nobody knows of what.

Curiously, what I remember finding genuinely creepy in the RMSC did not creep me out at all this time. The local history section is full of life-sized figures set up as if they are going about their day. A lady is buying something at the general store; a dentist is yanking a boy's tooth, much to his distress; Hiram Sibley is sitting in his telegraph office growing an ill-advised beard. There is nothing creepy about it, which makes me wonder why, in my memory, this exhibit is completely different. I remember wandering through a large, deserted room at the end of a long hallway -- not unlike being on the fourth floor of that Chucky museum -- and passing by all these caged figures, who would move in the corner of your eye. Then again, I also remember them being mannequins, which they clearly were not. I'm beginning to think I prefer museums to be creepy, and will create creepiness when I find it lacking in reality.

That having been said, there were several witnesses to the fact that if you shut yourself in the closet of the Underground Railroad cabin, you could hear a telltale heart thudding all around you. RMSC: Creepy.


Pandora said...

"RMSC: Creepy" should be their new tagline. Also, they should consider putting Matt on permanent display. Other people should get a chance to see that exact pose in person. They could add some squirrels for effect. But they should definitely feed him.

Simon said...

Matt on permanent display would be GREAT. I bet it would be fun, too. He's interactive. AND! He could eat the squirrels for nourishment. Perfect.