Saturday, January 16, 2021

12 Offbeat American Museums

Museums…we've all been to them whether in our home town or on our travels. And there are all types of museums housing and displaying treasures depicting so many different themes. There are art museums presenting all types of art from the paintings of the old masters to modern art and all varieties in between, museums dedicated to specific historical events and times, living history museums including live demonstrations and presenters in period costumes, museums of cultural relevance, and museums such as those of the Smithsonian that cover just about everything from fossils millions of years old to space travel.

I came across a couple of lists for offbeat and weird museum that I've combined into one list of 12 offbeat museums, presented here in no particular order. I checked and all of these have valid websites.

Tenement Museum

Located in the heart of New York City's Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum pays homage to New York's immigrants. It traces the history of a single tenement building constructed in 1863 and located at 97 Orchard Street. From the outside it doesn't look any different from any other building in the area, but inside is the story of the waves of immigrants arriving in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. The building was condemned in 1935, which is where the museum's focus ends.

National Museum of Funeral History

This Houston, Texas, museum was founded in 1992 and claims that "any day above ground is a good one." The museum's mission is to preserve the heritage of the funeral industry. They offer exhibits such as a full-scale replica of Pope John Paul II's crypt, a 1900s casket factory, and a Civil War embalming diorama.

Leila's Hair Museum

This Independence, Missouri, museum is dedicated to…you guessed it…hair. According to the museum, in Victorian times it was popular to make wreaths, jewelry and other ornamentations out of human hair and Leila's Hair Museum keeps the tradition alive. Visitors can see many wreaths and over 2000 pieces of jewelry containing or made of human hair that dates back before 1900.

Mutter Museum

This Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, museum is probably the best known of those on this list. I've seen it in show segments in the Mysteries At The Museum series on the Travel Channel. It's a museum of medical oddities and specimens such as Grover Cleveland's tumor, a conjoined liver from Siamese twins, a slide of a murderer's brain, a woman who turned to wax after death.

SPAM Museum

And I'm not talking about unwanted email. This Austin, Minnesota, museum is dedicated to SPAM, often heralded as America's favorite canned meat. The Hormel company created SPAM in 1937. Museum visitors can practice canning SPAM and brush up on SPAM trivia including its role in World War II.

The Museum Of Bad Art

Good art can be found anywhere, but bad art? That's a whole different thing. This museum, founded in 1993, has three Massachusetts locations—Dedham, Somerville, and Brookline and is "dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory."

Devil's Rope Museum

This McLean, Texas, museum was founded in 1991 and is the largest barbed wire museum in the world. Appropriately nicknamed devil's rope, the barbed wire museum gives the history of barbed wire, shows artifacts, the significance of the invention, and the impact on the development of the Old West.

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment

Located in Washington D.C. and opened in 2008, the museum contains artifacts and interactive exhibits including an FBI shooting range, high speed police chase simulator, and various forensics techniques. There are also historical exhibits, forensics workshops, and CSI summer camps for teens.

There are several museums dedicated to this topic. Our fascination with crime and forensics is obvious. Just check out the number of television shows—both entertainment programs and documentaries—that deal with solving crime using forensics, all the cold cases that have been solved, and wrongly convicted people released from prison since DNA testing became part of our reality.

Spark Museum Of Electrical Invention

Located in Bellingham, Washington, the museum has been around in various stages since 1985 and moved to its current home in 2001. You'll find lots of gadgets and complicated objects that look like they came out of a steam punk scenario but in reality changed the course of history and modern life, items paying tribute to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Enrico Marconi and Nikola Tesla.

Their website currently shows the museum as temporarily closed.

The Neon Museum

Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the museum houses the neon signs no longer being used by casinos, chapels, restaurants, and other businesses. Vegas' iconic art used to be sent to the scrap yard. In 1996, the non-profit Neon Museum began preserving the city's legacy in a three acre lot referred to as Neon Boneyard. The museum has assembled an outdoor gallery along the east end of Fremont Street and is available free to the public 24 hours a day.

American Visionary Art Museum

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, this innovative museum houses such oddities as an enormous ball made out of more than 18,000 bras, a replica of the ill-fated Lusitania constructed of nearly 200,000 toothpicks, a floor mat created out of hundreds of toothbrushes, an extensive Pez collection, and sculptures made from Styrofoam cups. In the spring the museum hosts the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race where entrants create wacky sculptures that travel on both land and sea.

The International UFO Museum And Research Center

Located in Roswell, New Mexico (where else?), it is the result of the famous (or infamous) UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. At first identified as a UFO by the Air Force, they quickly recanted and declared it a downed weather balloon thus beginning decades of cover-up accusations. The furor finally died down until 1978 when a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft. From that, the stories expanded and Roswell became the world's most famous UFO crash.

Have you come across any odd or unusual museums in your travels?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

10 Little Known Wars

For every major war that fills our history books and newspapers—the Revolutionary War of the American colonists vs. England, American Civil War with the North vs. the South, World War I, World War II, what were termed police actions such as Korea and Viet Nam (war by any other name), and the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991, a United Nations action) leading up to the current armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—there are dozens of small wars that don't receive any attention in history class.  Some of them were ludicrous and others were very serious.

Here's a list of 10 wars (in no particular order) that you probably never heard about.

1)  The Pig War

This little known conflict dates back to 1859 and had the potential to change the course of American history.  And it all started over a pig.  Both America and Britain claimed possession of and resided on San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state.  The two countries maintained an uneasy truce…until an American farmer shot a British pig he discovered tearing up his potato patch.  This action resulted in the British trying to arrest the farmer who called in the American troops in support of his position.  The two countries squared off on the tiny island.  The British Navy sent 3 warships and over 2,000 men.  The Americans responded with military force of their own.  No shots were fired (beyond the original shot that killed the pig).  San Juan Island was eventually ceded to the Americans as part of the San Juan Islands group.

2)  The Stray Dog War

And speaking of animals being the source of an international conflict, that's also the case with the long-running rivalry between Bulgaria and Greece.  In 1925 a Greek soldier chased his runaway dog across the border and was shot dead by a Bulgarian border guard.  That action set off an immediate retaliation with the Greek army invading the border region of Petrich and routing the Bulgarian army.  The League of Nations ordered Greece to withdraw and pay Bulgaria about $90,000 in damages.

3)  The War Of Jenkins' Ear

There are lots of reasons why wars start, but there's only one known to have started because of a severed ear.  British sea captain Robert Jenkins' boat was boarded by the Spanish in the Caribbean.  The Spanish accused him of piracy and cut off his left ear.  In 1738, Jenkins brought the ear to Parliament and it was enough for Great Britain to declare war on Spain.  After 7 years of conflict, both countries backed off with no major territory changes on either side.

4)  The Moldovan-Transdniestrian War

The breakup of the Soviet Union left several countries looking for something to do and in some cases that something ended up being war.  Moldova had a partisan faction wanting to stay allied with Romania and another wanting to align with Russia.  Nearly a thousand people were killed before hostilities ceased.  The unusual part of the war was the relationship between the soldiers of the opposing sides.  After battling each other during the day, they would socialize in the bars in the disputed zone at night, often apologizing to each other for the events of the day.

5)  The Honey War

In the early days of the United States when the federal government wasn't as strong as it is now, the individual states often became involved in ridiculous squabbles with each other that sometimes escalated into violence.  In 1839, the governor of Missouri decided to redraw his state's border with Iowa because…well, apparently because he felt like it that morning.  And then he sent in his tax collectors to pick up some extra cash from its new citizens.  Needless to say, this didn't go over very well.  The only thing the tax collectors were able to collect consisted of 3 beehives full of honey.  The Missouri militia got into an armed conflict with Iowa citizens who captured a sheriff.  Congress finally drew a permanent border line and told both states to chill out.

6)  Anglo-Zanzibar War

This conflict lasted an awesome 38 minutes making it the world record holder for the shortest war in history.  Khalid vin Bargash, the new Sultan of Zanzibar, came into power in 1896.  He didn't like having his protectorate as a British puppet so he declared war and barricaded himself in the palace.  Less than an hour later, the British had shelled him, removed him from power and installed a new Sultan in his place.

7)  The Football War

This four day war between Honduras and El Salvador was about more than a soccer game.  Hundreds of thousands Salvadorans had been moving to Honduras to find work.  By the late 1970s, tensions between the two countries had reached the breaking point.  The spark that set off the war was the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries.  After each had won one game, the Salvadoran Air Force (passenger planes with bombs strapped to them) attacked Honduran targets.  Neither nation could support an extended war, so a cease-fire was negotiated.  They remained bitter enemies for more than a decade.

8)  The Watermelon War

Yet another war that started over a trivial matter and quickly escalated out of control.  The United States occupation of Panama to build the canal displaced much of the nation's white-collar workforce, leaving a great many natives unemployed.  A boat carrying 1,000 American workers landed in Panama City making the matter even worse.  One of those passengers, an American named Jack Oliver, took a piece of watermelon from a Panamanian vendor and refused to pay for it.  The vendor pulled a knife.  Oliver pulled a gun.  And both sides were battling it out with each sustaining casualties.  Eventually a railroad car of riflemen arrived on the scene and brokered a peace.  The brief war, however, laid the groundwork for the later American occupation of Panama.

9)  The Emu War

Unlike earlier mentioned wars started because of animals, this one was a war against animals.  In 1932, Australia found itself overrun by emus, a large flightless bird that looks like an ostrich.  More than 20,000 emus were destroying crops so the government declared all out war on the birds.  They sent soldiers armed with machine guns and orders to shoot emus on sight.  The birds proved to be tougher than estimated and after a week the commanding officer gave up.  They had killed barely 10 percent of their target.

10)  The Chaco War

This was a South American conflict that started over a postage stamp.  The Chaco region is on the border between Bolivia and Paraguay with both countries believing the region was rich in oil (which it wasn't).  Bolivia issued a postage stamp in 1932 featuring a map of their country including the Chaco region.  Not to be outdone, Paraguay struck back by issuing their own stamp with their map including the Chaco region.  Hostilities erupted in the region with both sides buying arms from the U.S. and from Europe.  When it was over, Paraguay was the winner and new owner of a completely useless piece of land.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries

Welcome to 2021. Here's looking at a much better year than 2020 was.

A while back I saw a list titled 9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries.  The items listed…well, some were a surprise that they made an All Time list and I was curious about some that were left off the list.  This list consisted only of places and things with no mention of specific people.  I guess that explains why the mystery of Jack The Ripper's identity (actually, he was identified by a DNA match a few years ago), what happened to Amelia Earhart, and exactly who took that axe and gave Lizzie Borden's parents all those whacks didn't make the list.

Two of the items on the list were new to me—the Chase Vault and the Taos Hum.  I've been to Taos…didn't hear about this mystery and didn't hear the hum.

 So, confusion in hand about what made the list and what didn't, I present—in no particular order—9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries.

9)  ATLANTIS—location unknown

Myth or reality?  The lost continent from ancient times [rather than the current Caribbean resort :) ] is one of the world's favorite legends.  Most of what we know about Atlantis comes from the Greek philosopher Plato who wrote about it approximately 2000 years ago although the story of the ancient civilization places its time at 9000 years prior to that.  He described Atlantis as a huge island where brave and virtuous people…a highly advanced civilization…lived in a kind of paradise.  He placed its location west of the Pillars of Hercules, known today as the Straits of Gibraltar.  The story claims that the physical disappearance of the actual island came as a result of a massive earthquake or volcanic eruption that caused it to sink into the ocean.  To this day debate continues about whether Atlantis was real or myth and people continue to literally search all over the world for the remains of the lost continent with several diverse and wide spread locations declared to be Atlantis.

8)  ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM—Greece

Discovered in October 1900 in a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, this machine contains the oldest known complex gear mechanism…sometimes referred to as the world's first analog computer.  It's estimated to have been made in the first century B.C. and appears to have been constructed on theories of astronomy and mathematics.  The device is believed to be made from a bronze alloy of 95% copper and 5% tin, but its advanced state of corrosion from having been in the ocean for almost 2000 years has made it impossible to perform an accurate analysis.  It's precise functions have not been scientifically confirmed.

7)  THE CHASE VAULT—Barbados

This mystery begins in 1808 in Barbados when the wealthy Chase family purchased an 80 year old vault to inter their dead relatives.  At the time they acquired the used vault, it contained only one occupant—Thomasina Goddard.  Col. Thomas Chase made the decision not to disturb Goddard, so she was not moved to another vault.  Shortly after that, young Mary-Anne Maria's body was added to the vault.  Then 4 years after that, the vault was opened to inter her sister's body.  Only a month after that, Col. Thomas himself passed away.  And that's when the legend takes hold.  Coffins had moved, some were standing on end.  Vandals were blamed.  Everything was returned to its original position and the vault once again closed and sealed.  From then on, every time the vault was opened to admit another coffin, the vault's contents would be in disarray, including Col. Thomas' heavy casket which took 8 men to lift.  No seals had been broken, no evidence of illegal entry into the vault, no evidence inside the vault of anyone being there as the sandy floor was undisturbed with no signs of flooding or earthquake.  The Chase family bodies were eventually moved to other burial sites in the cemetery and all incidents stopped.

6)  NAZCA LINES--Peru

The Nazca Lines were discovered by accident when a small airplane flew over the arid Peruvian coastal plains in 1927.  More lines were discovered nearby at the end of the 1980s.  The lines depict animals and geometric forms, many of them several kilometers in length with some of them only recognizable from an airplane.  The most outstanding shapes depict the figures of a spider, monkey, dog, small lizard, hummingbird, condor, and what appears to be an astronaut.  The lines were scratched into the desert between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D.  They are believed to have had ritual astronomical functions.  Others believe they were meant as sign posts for ancient extraterrestrials.  UNESCO named the Nazca Lines an Archaeological World Heritage Site in 1994.

5)  EASTER ISLAND—Chile (South Pacific)

Roughly 64 square miles in area and located in the South Pacific approximately 2,300 miles from Chile, Easter Island was named by Dutch explorers in honor of the day they discovered it in 1722.  It was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century.  The mystery of Easter Island centers around the almost 900 giant stone figures that are centuries old and are distinctive from other stone sculptures found in various Polynesian cultures.  The purpose of the statues, how they were constructed and transported is still a matter of speculation.  Today, Easter Island's economy is based on tourism.

 4)  TUNGUSKA EXPLOSION—Siberia

June 30, 1908, a mighty explosion occurred in this remote area of Siberia.  It was 1927 before a scientific expedition investigated the site.  They found 800 square miles of remote forest ripped apart, 80 million trees on their sides in a radial pattern.  They acted as markers pointing directly away from the blast's epicenter.  When the members of the expedition arrived at ground zero, they found the trees standing upright but all the limbs and bark had been stripped away, resembling a forest of telephone poles.  This phenomenon was seen again 37 years later at another massive explosion in Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.  More than a century after the Tunguska Explosion there is still debate over the cause, but the generally agreed upon theory is that a space rock approximately 120 feet across entered the atmosphere above Siberia at about 33,500 miles per hour, heated the surrounding air to 44,500 degrees Fahrenheit and self-exploded at an altitude of about 28,000 feet producing a fireball and releasing energy equivalent to 185 Hiroshima atomic bombs.  The majority of the asteroid was consumed by the explosion so there was no impact crater.


3)  PIRI REIS MAP—circa 1513

The Piri Reis Map is often cited as proof that civilization on Earth was once very advanced then for unknown reasons disappeared with man only now gaining any understanding of this mysterious cultural decline.  In addition to the map's historical interest, it contains details that no European could have known in the early 1500s.  The Sumerians in Mesopotamia are the earliest known civilization and appeared on the scene apparently from out of nowhere around 4000 B.C. but had no nautical or maritime cultural heritage.  Piri Reis' own commentary indicates some of his source maps in creating his map were from the time of Alexander The Great (332 B.C.).  The map shows that the makers knew the accurate circumference of the Earth to within 50 miles.  The depicted coastline and island shown in Antarctica are as they were prior to 4000 B.C. when they were ice free.  Debate continues with no clear answers of how Piri Reis could have created such an accurate map at that time.

2)  TAOS HUM—New Mexico

The Taos Hum is a low-pitched mechanical buzzing sound often heard in Taos, New Mexico.  Not everyone can hear it, but those who do say it's driving them crazy.  Apparently it begins suddenly as if someone had turned on a switch, never abates, interferes with their sleep, and is more noticeable inside the house than outside.  In 1993 residents requested that Congress carry out an investigation into the source of the hum, but no specific causes were uncovered.  In 1997, Congress asked various scientists from several elite research institutes to look into it.  So far, no concrete facts have been uncovered to prove exactly what is causing the hum or what it is that allows some people to hear it and others to not hear it.  I've been to Taos and did not hear any hum/mechanical buzzing sound.

1)  SHROUD OF TURIN—Italy

There is intense debate among scientists, theologians, historians, and researchers about the origins of the shroud and its image.  The shroud is housed in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.  It is a linen cloth showing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma of the type consistent with crucifixion.  This image is commonly associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial.  In 1988 a multi-national scientific group did a radiocarbon dating test on small samples of the shroud and concluded that the samples they tested dated from the Middle Ages, between 1260 A.D. and 1390 A.D.  Since 2005, at least four articles have appeared in scholarly publications stating the cloth samples used were not representative of the whole shroud.  To this day, the shroud continues to be a much studied and controversial artifact.

Are there any unsolved mysteries of place or thing that you think should have been on this list?