"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Controversial history

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

Daniel Schneider wrote in to tell me about a series of exhibits at the Ohio Historical Society that force people to confront the uncomfortable bits of history.

The Ohio Historical Society had an exhibit titled "Controversy" last year. They included items form Ohio's past that were objects of controversy of one time or another. The exhibit included KKK robes and Ohio's electric chair & control panel. 2 of the stranger items were an 1860's condom (found in an accountants notebook?!!?) and a adult crib bed\prison from an asylum in Cincinnati. The are having a new Controversy exhibit this year.

It feels weird/wrong to say that exhibits like this are fascinating, but there's definitely a lot of value in bringing modern museum goers face-to-face with things we might prefer to collectively forget.

The condom, obviously, is pictured above. It's worth noting that, at this point in history, condoms were meant to be reusable. Daniel also sent me a photo of the "crib-bed", which is really more of a cage, but it is disturbing in a way the condom shot is not and I'm choosing to put it under a cut here.


  1. that “crib-bed” is indeed disturbing. That is to secure sleep as a guillotine is to shaving a bit off the top.

    1.  Disturbing it may be, but better than the alternative. I used to work in a psychiatry ward in Slovakia in 2001. They used crib beds (not like the exhibit, it looked more like this: http://i.pravda.sk/08/012/skcl/P2320760a_klietkaV.jpg). They are discouraged and even banned for children (thanks  to J.K.Rowling). The reason? They are “inhuman”. But consider this: they were only used in geriatric patients that tend to wander aimlessly at night or fall off the bed. Never as a deterrent to possible violence. The alternative is drugging the people full with diazepam, until they resemble zombies more than people.

    1. Thank you for that, works for Google.

      I’ve seen a modern version, made of polished steel and lexan, in a children’s hospital.  It had a mechanism to lift the top half from the bottom.  The ones I saw were for children who were too young to understand that their highly contagious diseases meant they must be isolated from the other children.

  2. Is it wrong that the first thing I thought of was that there must have been some subset of people who were into using both the condom and crib/cage simultaneously?

  3. It seems like the punch line of a comedy skit – Monroe Ayers shoves his condom into an old  account book and forgets about it. Flash forward 150 years and the condom is in a museum with his name attached to it.

    1. One of the stories in the 1,001 Nights is about a guy whose loud fart becomes a matter of local history.

  4. I don’t find the bed disturbing. What I find disturbing about some of these types of artifacts, is the care  and beautiful craftsmanship that went into some of them, like ornate Auschwitz oven doors; now that would something to write a sociology article on.  As a side note. I was walking through a horrible run down neighborhood here in Phoenix Arizona, the sewer  manhole covers were gorgeous though! 

  5. The Cairo Museum has (had? heaven knows the state of the collection now) one of Tutanhkamen’s condoms.  One priest’s sole job was to make them, custom sized for the boy king.  I was unable to determine the logistics on that process.  Apparently there are some gaps in the formal training of Egyptologists.

    Reusable, but only up to a point, hence the need for an ongoing supply.

    1. 60s? We were still using them in 2000 when I left the hospital. Not much else you can do with someone who’s determined to rip their abdominal wound open.

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