Offbeat Museums: The Collections and Curators of America's Most Unusual Museums, by Saul Rubin
"Curiouser and curiouser!" Alice once exclaimed in Wonderland. She wasn't reading Offbeat Museums: The Collections and Curators of America's Most Unusual Museums, but she could have been. Each page reveals something more enthrallingly peculiar than whatever preceded it. In all, author Saul Rubin profiles fifty idiosyncratic institutions, including one that has no fixed address. He visited galleries displaying cockroaches, G-strings, decorated cakes, UFOs, body parts in jars, and a mesmerizing variety of other oddities. Whether the book makes you want to follow in his footsteps or stay away from the places he describes, one thing's sure. You'll keep turning the pages.
While the collections themselves are fascinating, they are often eclipsed by the personalities that created them. Take, for example, Harry Finley, the Pentagon employee who cultivates the Museum of Menstruation in his Maryland basement. His family stays away, but Finley gives tours every weekend. At the other side of the continent, Dixie Lee Evans reveals the history of striptease at Exotic World Burlesque Hall of Fame. And if you can track him down somewhere in the heartland, John "Grandpa Moses" Urbaszewski will show you his traveling museum of remarkably detailed architectural models made out of components like old fruitcake containers, curtain rods, and medicine cups.
In his introduction, Saul Rubin outlines the history of the modern museum, including the trend toward seriousness and educational value that began with the twentieth century. The institutions he has included in Offbeat Museums owe their origins to the seventeenth-century "cabinets of curiosities" that had no compunction about being anything but enchantingly fascinating.
In fact, what Rubin has created in Offbeat Museums is a cabinet of curiosities in book form. Whether you use it to guide you to the places he describes or keep it on your coffee table to delight and entertain, it will take you on a journey to a wonderland you never knew existed.