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"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": The cyclops

"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.

From Australia's McLeay Natural History Museum at Sydney University comes ... dun dun dun ... the Cyclops!

Sorry. I've got a bit of THE TRIUMPH OF MAN stuck in my head. Actually, this skull belonged to a foal, says Justin Cahill, who sent in the photos. It's part of a long, natural history museum tradition of exhibiting the weird and often grotesque, preserving them as examples of how the natural way isn't always ideal. The same forces that shape evolution can also seriously screw you up. So much of what we call "normal" is based on chance.

Nobody ever actually saw this foal alive, by the way. The skull was found in the Hawkesbury River in 1841. But there have been attempts to reconstruct what the horse might have looked like during it's brief time alive. You can see that photo after the cut:

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"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Recreating an exhibit that no longer exists

"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.

Not every museum exhibit will survive untouched from your childhood to your grandchildrens'. Over time, historic and scientific accuracy, changing mores and aesthetics, and improvements in design will force some exhibits off the main stage and into the dusty storage room of memory.

But you can still love them from afar.

On this, the last day of "My Favorite Museum Exhibit" week, I'd like to include one man's tribute to a long-dismantled museum exhibit. Tom Luthman writes:

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I'd go to the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio (COSI). COSI opened in 1964, in the old Franklin County Memorial Hall, built in 1906. It closed in 1999, or rather, it moved to a new location, and most of the old exhibits didn't make the move.

One of the exhibits was THE TRIUMPH OF MAN, a leftover exhibit from the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, built by the Travelers Insurance Companies. You'd walk down a darkened corridor, and off in alcoves were 14 paper-mache scenes depicting the history of humanity. All accompanied by a recorded narration from the World's Fair. It was also sold in the gift shop as a 33-1/3 record, which we had.

Now, Luthman has put that recording to good use, incorporating it into a Flash-based recreation of THE TRIUMPH OF MAN* that will live online, long after the physical exhibit has decomposed in a landfill somewhere.

This is a really neat project and worth checking out, even if you don't have the emotional connection to THE TRIUMPH OF MAN that Luthman does. Just make sure you're someplace where you can crank up the sound and enjoy that sweet, sweet mid-20th-century triumphalism in stereo.

A virtual recreation of The TRIUMPH OF MAN

*Of course it's in all caps every time. It's THE TRIUMPH OF MAN, for god's sake.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Butterflies eating a piranha

"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.

You've seen a lot of good taxidermy this week, but nothing quite like this. Renee Mertz sent me this photo of a diorama at Vienna's Naturhistorisches Museum, which depicts a group of butterflies greedily feeding off the carcass of a dead piranha.

This is not a spot of whimsy, people. This kind of thing really does happen. In fact, you can watch a real-life example (with a less-threatening fish substituted in for the piranha) in a video taken in Alabama's Bankhead National Forest.

The good news: The butterflies are not really carnivorous, per se. The bad news: What they're actually doing is still pretty damn creepy.

It's called "puddling" or "mud-puddling". The basic idea works like this: Butterflies get most of their diet in the form of nectar. They're pollinators. But nectar doesn't have all the nutrients and minerals butterflies need to survive, so they have to dip their probosces into some other food sources, as well. Depending on the species of butterfly, those other sources can include: Mineral-rich water in a shallow mud puddle, animal poop, and (yes) carrion.

When butterflies puddle over a dead fish, though, they aren't biting off chunks. Instead, they're essentially licking the dead fish—going after salt and minerals that seep out of the dead animal as it decomposes. Bonus: Some butterflies also like to lick the sweat off of humans. And a few species of moth have been documented sucking blood and tears for living animals, including humans.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Awesome DIY transportation

"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.

I don't have much information on this piece. I don't know who made it, or when. But I do know that it is a hand-made wooden bicycle, produced by a clearly incredible everyday artisan somewhere on the continent of Africa. It's also Mike Lynd's favorite exhibit at the Birmingham, England, Thinktank Science Museum, where the bicycle is part of a larger section dedicated to transportation innovations.

A quick Google search tells me that a tradition of hand-made bikes with wooden parts exists in lots of African countries. I found a video of a man in Malawi riding a bike he built from recycled metal tires attached to a 2-by-4 frame; cart-like wooden bikes built in Rwanda and in the Congo to carry goods and belongings over long distances; and some stories on Jules Bassong, a wood sculptor who toured his native Cameroon on a wooden bicycle he made in 2008.

"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.

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"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": The relics of a scientific saint

"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.

Most Americans probably associate the collecting of relics with the Catholic Church, and particularly with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—a time when shards of saints' bones and pieces of the true cross were big business, basically creating the West's first tourism industry.*

But hoarding and gawking at pieces of dead heroes is a human hobby with far older roots and a much broader appeal. It's been done all over the world, certainly since antiquity if not before, and it's not even exclusively associated with religion. This is one of those weird urges that just seems to be somehow intrinsically linked to how humans do culture.

Which brings us to these fingers. They belong not to a Catholic saint, but to Galileo Galilei, father of astronomy and (at the time of his death) condemned Catholic heretic. Because of the whole heresy thing, Galileo had to be buried in a back corner of the basilica where his family graves were. But, a hundred years later, after his reputation had considerably improved, fans disinterred his body and reburied it in a much more prominent spot. And, while they were at it, they cut off three fingers and removed a tooth. And started displaying all four bits in reliquaries like this.

Previously, Pesco told you about how two of the fingers actually went missing for 100 years, before turning up in 2009 when an anonymous donor turned them over to the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy. Today, you can see all the relics of this secular saint on display there.

Thanks to Lauren Kinsman and Karen Ackroff who both submitted this exhibit separately. The photo I've used here, showing two of the fingers, was taken by Lauren Kinsman.

*In regards to true cross relics, there's a great John Calvin quote about there being enough pieces of the true cross in circulation that, if you brought them all together, you could build Noah's Ark. This is probably the only time John Calvin was ever funny. And I'm sure he felt bad about it.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": John Lennon's Rolls Royce

"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.

This car sits in the lobby of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia. It once belonged to John Lennon, hence the paint job. But that's not the only customization. Inside, apparently, there is a fold-out bed, a portable refrigerator, and a record player. There also used to be a TV. Bear in mind, all these changes were made in the mid-to-late 1960s, when the whole refrigerator-and-TV-in-a-car thing were much more impressive feats of technology.

Sean Rodman works at the Royal BC Museum and sent in this photo, along with a request for assistance. On the roof of the car is a symbol that is, ostensibly, the sign for Libra. Except that it doesn't really resemble the sign for Libra. The Royal BC Museum is confused. Maybe you guys know what this is:

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": A great big chunk of ancient Assyria

"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.

Allan Berry sent in this photo from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum. That giant winged-bull-man-thing is a lammasu—ancient Mesopotamia's answer to the sphynx and possibly one of the greatest-looking monsters ever designed.

This one is part of a set that once flanked the doorway to the throne room of Sargon II, whose name really just goes perfectly with the aesthetic of the lamassu. Berry thought this might be a part of ancient Babylon, but from the spot of research I did this morning, Sargon II (and the lamassu) actually hailed from a place called Dur-Sharrukin, or, fittingly, "The Fortress of Sargon." Today, it's a village in northern Iraq, near Mosul.

Also: If you're looking for random ways to procrastinate today, I suggest reading the Wikipedia entry on the University of Chicago Persian Antiquities Crisis. Apparently, the Oriental Institute Museum has a lot of Persian tablets in its collection that are technically owned by the country of Iran. A few years ago, the U.S. Justice Department went after those artifacts, hoping to sell them off to raise money to pay to victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism. It's a weird little bit of legal/political history.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Tesla's death mask

"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.

Spend enough time in a museum and the space starts to take on a personality. From knowing the exhibits—and thinking about what is included and what isn't—you start to feel like you have some insight into "who" the museum is supposed to be, and, perhaps, a peek into the minds that shaped the place.

And sometimes, what you learn is kind of funny.

Andy Tanguay lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not far from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Here's his take on what you'll learn about Henry Ford if you visit the museum often enough.

When you go through The Henry Ford as many times as I have, you start to assemble a portrait of a borderline-creepy affection for Thomas Edison by Henry Ford. There's industrialist BFFs ... and then there's Ford and Edison. I've never seen any notebooks with Edison's name and little hearts around it, but whole thing feels rather odd.

So I think it's very telling that there's just one tiny case related to Tesla — arguably Edison's 'Apollo Creed' to Tesla's 'Rocky' — and it mainly houses his death mask almost like a trophy.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Urine facts

"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.

Tom Ruginis took this photo in a men's restroom at the Science Museum Oklahoma. I spent an inordinate amount of time at this museum as a preteen, back when it was called the Omniplex (it shares a complex with an air and space museum, botanical gardens, a photography museum, and for some reason I was never able to fully understand ... a gymnastics hall of fame).

In case you can't read the sign, it says, "During your lifetime, you will make approximately 10,000 gallons of urine."

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": An Archaeopteryx in Wyoming

"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.

For children of a certain nerdy persuasion, "archaeopteryx" is liable to be the first five-syllable word they ever pronounce. That's because archaeopteryx was a dinosaur with feathers, and wings. The first specimen was uncovered in 1861, and most of us probably grew up being told that archaeopteryx was the first bird. That isn't exactly true. Today, most paleontologists say it wasn't the ancestor of the birds we know, but rather a relative of that ancestor—a lower branch of the bird family tree that died away. That said, archaeopertyx is still incredibly important to our understanding of what the earliest birds might have been like, and archaeopteryx specimens are still incredibly rare, coveted things.

There are only 11 archaeopteryx specimens in the entire world, all hailing from one region of Germany. Most of them are in museums in Europe. But one archaeopteryx—in fact, one of the best-preserved of the bunch—resides in a tiny museum in Thermopolis, Wyoming. For the artistically inclined: Imagine running across a second, legit version of the Mona Lisa in a small museum in Wyoming with no crowds and no lines. In 2007, reader Mark Ryan and his brother got to see the Thermopolis archaeopteryx and took the photo of it posted here.

My brother and I had scheduled one of our regular "geo trips" out west and learned that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, a cool museum in Thermopolis, Wyoming, had somehow acquired an Archaeopteryx specimen (one of only 10 in the world) and would be placing it on display starting the week we were going to be in Wyoming. Thermopolis is located about 2 hours southeast of Yellowstone National Park, but that didn't stop us from driving the 5 hours from Laramie just to see it. It was fantastic! They had the actual fossil on display (I've heard that most of the big museums only display casts of the Archaeopteryx specimens they own). There were no crowds, no lines, no special exhibit fees, just the "Thermopolis specimen" in a small window display in a hallway leading to the main exhibit hall.

According to Wikipedia, Thermopolis got its archaeopteryx as a donation from a Swiss collector who'd previously owned the specimen. It's also worth noting that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center seems to loan out its archaeopteryx to other museums quite frequently. So, if you're in the area, and you want to see an archaeopteryx, you should probably check with the museum before you get your hopes up.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Minding the beeswax

"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.

This is a 300-year-old chunk of beeswax, housed at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum in Tillamook, Oregon. That part alone is pretty nifty, but it's the background that really makes this specimen sing. According to Roger Peet, who sent me this photo, the beeswax comes from the wreck of a Spanish galleon that washed ashore north of Tillamook long before any other European settlers had ever visited the area—probably around 1700 or so. Pollen analysis indicates that the beeswax actually came from the Philippines. How cool is that?

Here's an excerpt from an archaeological report on the wreck that Peet sent along with the photo:

Native oral histories and the earliest accounts of Euro-American settlers on the Northwest Coast refer to a wrecked vessel (or several wrecked vessels) at the beach of Nehalem, as being the source of an abundant supply of beeswax that the local Indians used and traded prior to and after the time of Euro-American settlement. The first written accounts of the wreck come from Astoria fur trader Alexander Henry in 1813, who reported that great quantities of beeswax were dug out of the sand at the spit and that the Indians brought the wax to Astoria to trade. As the 19th century progressed, numerous accounts of the presence of both beeswax and teak lumber at Nehalem and reports of intact pieces of wreckage appeared in various newspapers and books, and such reports continued into the early 20th century.

The wax and its origin were widely discussed throughout the 19th century, both locally in Oregon and in newspapers from California, the Midwest, and even New York. Beeswax was found in such abundance that, for a brief time, some non-residents were convinced it was actually a petroleum product that indicated large oil deposits were in the area (Chicago Daily Tribune 1891; Christian Science Monitor 1909), and a short lived oil boom occurred despite the Indian accounts of the wreck and the presence of candles and wax blocks with carved symbols on them.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": A 13-pound gold nugget

"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.

It's a little funny to think of something that weighs 13.8 pounds being described as a "nugget", but the Fricot Nugget is, in fact, exactly that. "Nugget" in this case, refers to a naturally occurring piece of gold—a precious metal found in its natural habitat. The Fricot Nugget, at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, is the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold from 19th century California. That's a lot of qualifiers, but it's still a big deal. Larger nuggets than this have been found. Heck, larger nuggets than this have been found in California. But most of them ended up melted down. Given the fact that the Fricot Nugget was found in 1865, during the Gold Rush, it's kind of a wonder, in and of itself, that the thing survived intact.

Reader Edie Howe took this photo, and sent me several other photos of the nugget, as well. In one, you can read part of the museum signage that goes with the nugget. Turns out, a big part of why the Fricot Nugget is still with us today is that it was misplaced for several decades, forgotten about in a safe-deposit box.

Image: Credit Edie Howe. Used with permission.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": The Poulton Elk

"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.

What lived in your neighborhood before your neighborhood existed? When did human beings first live on the land you think of as home? Those are the questions that make an old elk skeleton something extraordinary for reader Ant Mercer.

The Poulton Elk hails from the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, England. It's part of an exhibition aimed at telling the story of Preston—or, rather, of the site that eventually became Preston. Here's Ant Mercer's explanation of why this elk is so meaningful:

I should point out that we don't have many exciting, ferocious and big animals naturally living in our habitats and this massive Elk stands out all the more for that. We don't have Elks in the UK anymore and, well, to this day I don't think I've seen one with it's skin on.

The Poulton Elk is a complete skeleton of a prehistoric elk that died in Lancashire around 13,000 years ago. The skeleton was found in 1970 by chance during the excavations for a house in Poulton le Fylde.

The discovery of the elk was of major importance as it had with it evidence of have been hunted by humans. Two bone points from weapons were found associated with it making the elk the earliest evidence of human habitation in this area.

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": A collection of beloved collections

Full list of posts updated Monday, February 6. This is the final update.

Last week, I asked BoingBoing readers to send me images and stories about your favorite museum exhibits—beloved displays and collections squirreled away in museums that might not have a big profile outside your state or region.

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