"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside
There behind a glass stands a real blade of grass
Be careful as you pass, move along, move along."
It's Cabinet of Curiosities (1st Impression, part 2 version), the blog carnival that celebrates the sideshow barker in all of us. Who better to raise the curtain on this installment than Charles Wilson Peale, whose 1822 self-portrait "The Artist in his Museum" appears at left (courtesy collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)? The Peale Museum was a wunderkammer of the first order, and its famous mastodon skeleton can be seen looming in the shadows behind the curtain. Peale financed scientific expeditions to collect natural history specimens for his marvelous museum, which was eventually sold to P.T. Barnum and fellow showman Moses Kimbell, who had previously collaborated to exploit "a curiosity supposed to be a mermaid" but which was in fact a clever fake.
Still, it's all just pheasants under glass and other odd meaningless bits without storytellers to animate and give them significance, as The Human Imprint notes in this post about a museum display on Native American storytelling. She muses; "So who are our storytellers today? Who will pass our heritage from generation to generation? We may not get others to gather around us literally any more, but can we do it virtually?" That's as good a raison d'être for why I blog and for this carnival as any I can think of.
The objects in a curiosity cabinet often defy easy categorization while inviting viewers to make what associations they may among seemingly unrelated things. Janice of the blog Cow Hampshire shares the strange story of a an early nineteenth century court case "relative to the question whether a whale is a fish" and the disdain that the New-Hampshire Gazette heaped upon the verdict that a whale is not, but its oil is. One wonders if the learned men who investigated this vexing taxonomic conundrum in 1819 might have taken a page or two from the wise Sir Bedevere: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Scene 5:
VILLAGER #1: We have found a witch. May we burn her?
CROWD: Burn her! Burn! Burn her! Burn her!
BEDEVERE: How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER #2: She looks like one.
CROWD: Right! Yeah! Yeah!
BEDEVERE: Bring her forward.
WITCH: I'm not a witch. I'm not a witch.
BEDEVERE: Uh, but you are dressed as one.
WITCH: They dressed me up like this.
CROWD: Augh, we didn't! We didn't...
WITCH: And this isn't my nose. It's a false one.
VILLAGER #1: Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEVERE: The nose?
VILLAGER #1: And the hat, but she is a witch!
VILLAGER #2: Yeah!
CROWD: We burn her! Right! Yeaaah! Yeaah!
"A cabinet of wondrous curios
A delightful collection
Lying, seeming unconnected
Next to each other
Permitting the mind to
Wander to faraway places..."
Meanwhile, Bioephemera, a connoisseur of curiosity cabinetry, points the way to purveyors of winged cats and other vintage taxidermy ephemera. No jackalopes need apply. This blog may well be the mother load of wonder cabinets, with a whole archive dedicated to the subject. Rather than plucking posts from this trove for successive carnivals, why not indulge yourselves now?
"I didn't always have a love of dolls, especially the female type, but those in the picture...have special meaning to me. They are six of the over 100 dolls my mother had at her house in New York. I remember, not fondly however, sleeping in my former bedroom, which had become the guest room and more akin to It's A Small World, and it was downright creepy. Imagine falling asleep with over 200 eyes staring down at you, waiting, waiting . . ."
Matt Andrade of Jerub-Baal Blog sends along a post from this December 8th offering a fabulous look at his own curiosity cabinet, and describes its evolution over time and the significance of each wondrous relic.
"On the upper shelf, you can see on the left a glass jar with the finger-bones of a coyote, which I found along with its skull and much of it's skeleton in the woods. The skull is to the right (on top of the remains of a pull toy that had belonged to my mom, and may be from the 20's or before). On the second shelf, on the right, is a small jar of knucklebones from the same unfortunate beast, and one of its thigh bones is on top of a cast metal level that has passed down through the family from my great uncle. The books on the second shelf are all antiques from the library of the house I grew up in."
At 100 Years in America, Lisa offers A Ring, Yellow Roses & a Flying Cloud, saying "I don't have the Flying Cloud in my possession, but I hope it qualifies as a curiosity with a good story behind it." It most certainly does, and any virtual curiosity cabinet would be proud to have it. Speeding along with the top down takes me to the local oddities served up daily at Roadside America - "your on-line guide to offbeat tourist attractions" - where your concrete teepee awaits, along with Cordele, Georgia's Confederate Nuclear Missile and the largest ball of string, not twine.
From Ghana, Koranteng Ofusu-Amaah unveils the latest in his "timepieces of shame": a campaign watch supporting "that suffocating, murderous and dictatorial rogue, General Sani Abacha — late, unlamented and so forth." Koranteng writes;
"I'm a avid collector of this kind of historical artifact and you'll sometimes find me bidding for a mint copy of the Franco sings for Mobutu album, to take a recent example and different rogue (quite a good album actually). The Abacha watch, while in the mode of praise singers and sycophants, is not your standard piece dictator chic, it's much more functional and thus perhaps more insidious... For the record, the battery never worked."
Jason Mueller has a cautionary tale from the Belgrade Zoo concerning three killer "Bs": Beer, Bear and Body Bag. I'm not sure quite which drawer in the CofC to place this post, but the odd fact that a half eaten naked man's clothes were found intact inside the bear cage might qualify them as curiosities. Tenuous relevance established.
"Several years ago while my wife was into gourd painting, I tried making a bust from the top of a large gourd that had fallen off the workbench and hit the concrete floor and broke. When I cut away the broken bottom, the remaining piece reminded me of a folk art bust I'd seen. So I started painting a figure --- and pictured here is the result."
"Being the first season - and the 400th anniversary - no expense was spared in producing this spectacular drama. We were Indian maidens - at a whopping $15 a week salary. For two young girls, this was a huge amount of money - and our days were still free to spend at the beach! It was a great summer job with some unexpected benefits. National Geographic magazine covered the actual birthday celebration (see Fiesta!) at the end of the summer and included a couple of photos of the cast - including us - in their article. Another is this special treasure - a copy of the original season’s brochure autographed by many of the original cast members. "
Be sure to read Buttonhook of Rebecca Catherine (Snook) Westaby to find out the significance of this item. Miriam Robbins Midkiff of AnceStories: the Stories of My Ancestors laces up a grand family tale with allusions to "Little House" and a link to The Buttonhook Society for those in need of more information about this most useful, obsolete household item.
Finally, I reveal the story behind The Here Lies Stool, a gorgeous piece in our home fashioned from a cherry round and gouged with amateur precision with an unfinished epitaph.
As I wrap up this carnival, I am struck by how much the Christmas Tree across the room from where I type is its own curiosity cabinet. Perhaps some of you will find things on the branches of your own to post to the next Cabinet of Curiosities on January 21st (submission deadline Jan 19th). Feel free to use the handy submission form or e-mail me directly, and as always I welcome offers to host future editions.
"Performing on a stool we've a sight to make you drool
Seven virgins and a mule, keep it cool, keep it cool
We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown
Were exclusively our own, all our own, all our own
Come and see the show, come and see the show
Come and see the show
See the show."