The fattest lady in the land
A pickled prehistoric hand
A strand of Pocahontas' hair
Crow and Sioux
Who're going to
Be showing you
Some rowing through
A model of the rapids on the Delaware...
Snakes and other fauna
Got no bearded lady but we're get'na
When you duck out
Take another buck out
Run around the block
And see a new show start." Museum Song: Barnum
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Cabinet of Curiosities, the blog carnival the celebrates the stories behind the notable stuff that clutters up our lives and living spaces, and most especially those oddities of natural history, relics of bygone days, mementos, talismans, specimens and ephemera that you and I have kept for all these years. It's just an old jar of sand unless you know that it came from Utah Beach, so here is your opportunity to say why it matters - at the very least why it never made it into a dumpster long ago.
The name of this carnival comes from the Curiosity Cabinets of Renaissance Europe, back when there were many wonders unknown to science whose boundaries had yet to be defined. Aristocratic accumulations filled entire rooms with natural (and supernatural) history specimens and later formed the basis of many a prized museum collection. Some were actual pieces of furniture with many shelves and drawers containing items both fabulous and bizarre. These collections offered opportunities for comparative analysis across what we now would think of as many academic disciplines: ethnography, geology, natural history, archeology, botany, art history, and many others.
Of course, there is an element of P.T. Barnum here, along with serious inquiry into the nature of all things. Submissions to Cabinet of Curiosities are not limited to those wonders we have in our own collections but the fantastic and unusual we have encountered elsewhere and that are suitable for a virtual wunderkammer. P.T. Barnum's Museum functioned this way, as in latter years did Ripley's. My Aunt Peggy got inspired and sent me this:
"What comes first to my mind today is the gravestone riding around in the back of our handyman's pick-up. He did some work recently for a fellow moving on from his farmhouse to a long term care facility. The farmhouse is to be rented, and our friend John couldn't help but mention to his employer that every time they stepped off the front porch they landed on someone's headstone, being used as part of the front walk." Oh God yes," was the response." We can't rent the house with that thing there. Throw it in the woods." John decided instead to try to find out about it's rightful owner. He thinks it is a stone provided by the military. It reads as follows:
In John's opinion this was the stone of a black man, hence the Depot Brigade, as African Americans were not allowed into the regular army in the first world war. It is in good condition, and shows no sign of being hit by tractor or plow, as can happen around the Eastern Shore of Maryland. John's got a military buddy looking into the matter, and someone else who might look on the Net. Until he comes up with some more information, John will take care of it, keeping it near, in the back of his truck."
Apple's Tree features a remarkable assemblage of chronometers as the proprietor asks; " "What time is it?" The point of Apple's post is that these are not timepieces in the usual sense but touchstones to other times and people and even though most of them don't work she can't bear to part with them. She writes; "I have actually worn both of the ladies pendant's. The older, smaller one belonged to my great-grandmother, Charlotte Hollington Berry Sanders. She was always called Lottie. This watch is very special to me because I was named for her." I had a Great Aunt Lottie myself, and know just how she feels about this sort of stuff.
Denise Olson at Moultrie Creek has a gem of a post which in true wunderkammer fashion manages tocombine elements of the fantastic and the mundane with this post about the alien signal receptor the blog administrator has constructed from a collection of antique glass; a bottle tree. "Glass insulators originated before the Civil War with the advent of the telegraph. Something was needed to keep the wire from grounding out against the wooden poles and glass was the answer. There were all kinds of insulators developed over the years. Although there is a large community of collectors, most varieties are a dime a dozen these days - including all of mine. I still love them - the shapes and colors add interest to a displayed collection of bottles and a touch of nostalgia." Nature and art combine to transform a "dime a dozen collection" into something marvelously strange!
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi is curiosity central, and Terry Thornton had many possibilities to blog about for this carnival, ultimately settling on Mola and Voodoo and my cat Hattie. The pillow is not what it appears to be. Says Terry; "My friend was told by members of his family that the image on the mola was no doubt voodoo --- that it honored black magic --- that it was probably devil worship! Their objections were so strong that my friend moved the mola from place to place and finally decided to be rid of the object causing his family so much concern --- so he brought the mola and presented it to my wife and me."
There is a reputed gateway to Hell in Stull Kansas, according to Blue Skelton Productions. Evidently not to be missed on your next cross country roadtrip. "These days, I would not recommend sneaking into the Stull cemetery. Without the Church, there really isn't anything that exciting to see. Plus the Sherrif will toss you in the clink if they catch you. They used to be pretty cool about the whole thing and would let you off with a fine and a couple days served but I'm not sure I'd risk it these days...the cemetery is located off the highway, you can't miss it."
David Gregg at Rhode Island Natural History Survey had an epiphany when contemplating the fiendish form of the invasive water chestnut seed. He suddenly realized afunny thing about trapa natans: a seed pod had successfully invaded a museum collection he had once encountered wired into a display of native American arrowpoints. "Now you can just imagine the person, around 1920, probably some handyman on the Haffenreffer farm, who was charged with wiring up an appropriate museum display out of a shoebox full of arrowheads and other stuff. Using the idiom of the day he dutifully imposed the expected scientific orderliness on the points, scrapers, awls, and knives. But he was certainly stumped by the water chestnut seed he found among them. Like many, many archaeologists before and since, he punted and wired it up in the top middle of the board, where it is undoubtedly displayed as a “ritual object,” central to the otherwise comprehensible material world arrayed around it, but to outsiders fundamentally mysterious."
"We're frightfully House and Garden
At Number Seven B,
The walls are patterned with shrunken heads,
Ever so very Contemporary!"
At any rate, these are the submissions I received before the carnival deadline and I am delighted by the response. The next Cabinet of Curiosities will be the 17th of December here at Walking the Berkshires and subsequent carnivals will appear on the third Monday of the month. Anyone with an interest in hosting a future edition is more than welcome to contact me. Now it's time to run around the block and see a new show start. This way for the Egress!