A collection of memorable museums

10 small sites offer big rewards to the curious

Cover Story

January 09, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When you stop to think about it, a museum is just a collection of neat stuff that's on display for people to see.

This region has plenty of prominent large museums bursting with important artwork and ancient artifacts. But there's also a good deal of small museums, with quirky, fun collections.

Two years ago, LIVE! published an article on "10 Museums You Never Heard Of," which featured such off-the-beaten-track gems as the Black Fashion Museum in Washington and the Maryland State Police Museum in Pikesville.

Of course, back then we couldn't include every museum that deserved attention. So we've put together a second list, of "10 More Museums You Never Heard Of."

One museum has nothing but elephant statues. Another is filled with doll houses. A third is dedicated to beads.

All 10 are within a few hours' drive. Many are free.

Mister Ed's Elephant Museum

No, there are no live elephants at this Orrtanna, Pa., museum. Items on display include a hair dryer shaped like an elephant, cookie jars shaped like elephants and about 6,000 other elephant-shaped items, both large and small.

Owner Ed Gotwalt first developed an interest in elephants more than 30 years ago when he received a small ceramic elephant statue as a wedding gift. Since then, he has traveled the world adding to his collection. He opened the museum in 1975.

Visitors are greeted by a life-sized fiberglass elephant that moves its eyes and ears while delivering three-minute speeches. There is also a candy store and a gift shop on the site.

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas, New Year's Day and Thanksgiving. 6019 Chambersburg Road, Orrtanna, Pa. 717-352-3792, www.mister eds.com. Free.

Waterman's Museum

This small museum, in three rooms of the Haven Harbour Marina in Rock Hall, showcases the lives of the watermen who make their living harvesting the edible sea creatures of the Chesapeake Bay.

One room has photographs dating to the '30s and '40s of watermen at work, one has boats and equipment used by watermen and the third has a reproduction of an oyster-shucking house and a shanty like the ones used by watermen during extended harvesting expeditions.

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day in the summer, weekends in the winter. 20880 Rock Hall Ave., Rock Hall. 410-778-6697, www.havenharbour.com/hhwatmus.htm. Free.

Bead Museum of Washington, D.C.

An entire museum devoted to beads? Why not? These decorative little baubles "are among mankind's earliest, most universal and most enduring creative achievements," according to museum literature.

Though the museum's bead collection goes back 10,000 years, beads have been around for as long as 90,000 years and can be found in every culture, says Christine O'Donnell, the museum's community-relations director.

The museum, founded by the Bead Society of Greater Washington, features a 35-foot bead time line with more than 2,000 beads placed to show the relationship between beads and culture throughout the history of the world.

Because beads have been used for currency, social status and decoration, "We like to say that the beads tell the story of man throughout history," O'Donnell says.

There are two changing exhibits a year at the museum, as well as demonstrations, seminars, lectures and bead-study groups. The current exhibition, Silver Speaks, which showcases jewelry from Middle Eastern countries, will be on display until May.

Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. The Jenifer Building, 400 Seventh St. N.W., Washington. 202-624-4500, www.thebeadmuseum.org. Free.

Mutter Museum

Among the exhibits at this gross but fascinating museum in Philadelphia are sliced sections of the human head, which were created in 1910 to show the internal anatomy of the head, brain and neck.

The museum, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, once was popular only with doctors, but in recent years it has attracted thousands of visitors from the general public.

Of the 20,000 items in this mad-scientist's lab of a place, more than 900 are body parts, including bones that have been ravaged by syphilis and organs floating in preservative-filled jars and bottles. Skeletons and models showcase birth defects. And there is even a plaster cast of the Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker.

Other exhibits feature medical instruments, some more than 250 years old; slides, pictures and models of medical oddities; and memorabilia from famous scientists and doctors.

Recent exhibits have been on conjoined twins and infectious diseases. The next exhibit, called One Man Died: Medical Adventures on the Lewis and Clark Trail, will open Feb. 19.

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 19 S. 22nd St. 215-563-3737. Admission is $8 for adults; $5 for children 6 to 18.

Washington Dolls' House and Toy Museum

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