Dime Museum to close by year's end

Lack of money forces end to eclectic display

November 24, 2005|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

Where can you find artwork made from human hair? A two-headed calf? An alligator girl?

At Baltimore's American Dime Museum -- but only for a little more than another month.

The eclectic museum, which opened on Maryland Avenue in 1999, will close at the end of the year, curator Dick Horne announced yesterday.

Pointing to rising operating costs, maintenance problems and a lack of donations, Horne said the museum will close Dec. 31.

Despite its popularity with the general public, Horne said, admission fees alone weren't enough to support the museum.

"The competition for funding museums is so intense," Horne said. "So we just haven't had any luck. So in short, yup, we have financial problems."

The museum operated on a shoe-string budget, relying on a network of volunteers. Even Horne, who ran the museum, never drew a paycheck.

A tribute to the dime museums popular in the 19th century, and celebrating freakish things seen in circus sideshows, the museum reveled in its ability to draw spectators to its wildly bizarre exhibits.

Featured in The New York Times and National Geographic, it was said to be the only museum in the nation that re-created a 19th-century dime museum.

"They were collections of things related to science and the oddities," Horne said. "People were just then beginning to be aware of the world around them. So the museums opened up a whole new world to people."

Over the years, the museum has had an array of strange exhibits. The Giant Bat and the Peruvian Amazon Giantess were mainstays.

This year, it featured a display of mortuary artifacts, including embalming shunts and Victorian-era "animal-claw jewelry," which helped visitors understand the evolution of death and grieving in America.

In an interview in The Sun earlier this year discussing the exhibit, Horne said, "I'm interested in anything obscure and in bad taste."

The museum has faced difficulties in the past. In 2003, Horne's then-business partner, James Taylor, pulled out, taking his portion of the collection with him -- a third of the exhibits. Closure seemed imminent. But Horne persevered, launching a retrospective two months later on the fingerpaintings of Betsy the chimp, a once-favorite attraction at the Baltimore Zoo.

But this time, it doesn't appear there will be a reprieve, Horne said.

"If somebody steps up between now and then with some sort of giving plan, then we could maintain it," Horne said. "But it just doesn't look like it. So you make a decision, and you have to live with it."

The museum will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until its closure. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children 7 to 12, and free for "well-behaved" children under 6, Horne said.

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