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End of an Era for Baltimore's Curiosity Museum

A half-girl, half-gator creative taxidermy by the museum's co-founder, Richard Horne.
Melody Kramer, NPR
A half-girl, half-gator creative taxidermy by the museum's co-founder, Richard Horne.

The final chapter has come to a close for a curiosity museum in Baltimore. Earlier this year, The American Dime Museum was forced to close its doors due to financial troubles. The museum's collection was liquidated at auction Monday evening.

The Maryland museum was a throwback to an earlier age of entertainment, when displays of oddities such as two-headed ducks and Amazonian "mummies" held audiences spellbound.

Around 200 bidders with a sense of the bizarre came to bid on shrunken heads, giant nickels, and other artifacts from the era of sideshows and quack doctors.

Many amateur collectors were outbid by dealers in a frenzy over the oddities.

The museum followed a tradition dating back to the cabinets of wonder in the 19th century, says Peter Excho, a museum volunteer. Curiosity items were originally displayed in the homes of the wealthy, but were later turned into mass entertainment.

"[The museum] was for the public and it's going back into wealthy people's homes," Excho says. "That's the horrible part about it."

In the end, the American Dime Museum ran out of money. Richard Horne, who co-founded the museum and created many of the exhibits, admits he wasn't very successful at fundraising.

Bidders left the auction yesterday with pieces of the museum — a pleather jacket fringed with human hair, a miniature statehouse made entirely of matchsticks.

They lamented the loss of a quirky Baltimore landmark that allowed visitors to glimpse a peculiar era of American history.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.
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