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End of an Era for Baltimore's Curiosity Museum

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End of an Era for Baltimore's Curiosity Museum

End of an Era for Baltimore's Curiosity Museum

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Dime dropped yesterday evening outside of Baltimore. The American Dime Museum liquidated its collection at an auction. The Maryland museum was a throwback to an earlier age of entertainment, when displays like oddities like Amazon mummies and vampire ducks held audiences spellbound.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY: What would any self-respecting Dime Museum be without a giant ball of string?

Unidentified Man: Lot number one, on the giant ball of string. And I do have $100 - 125. And want me to go 125, and do I get 125...

ULABY: Around 200 bidders with the sense of the bizarre had a chance to load up on shrunken heads, giant nickels and other artifacts in the era of sideshows and quack doctors.

Unidentified Woman: I wanted to get that medical torso. She's like this beautiful, doll-like porcelain woman with this blond hair. And then, you look below, and she's got these organs just spilling out of her. They thought she'd go to 50 to $75, but she went from 750.

ULABY: Robin Bliss(ph) was among the amateur collectors outbid by dealers in a frenzy over, among other things, a miniature statehouse made entirely of matchsticks. Kelly Kindle(ph) got it for $325.

Mr. KELLY KINDLE: I would have paid four times that much.

ULABY: So, do you collect things made out of matchsticks?

Mr. KINDLE: No. I'm going to try to sell it.

ULABY: Kindle says his antique shop should make a healthy profit. Museum volunteer Peter Excho says it was impossible to figure out how high to start the bids.

Mr. PETER EXCHO (Volunteer, Dime Museum): There isn't a catalogue of vampire ducks or Peruvian Amazons, saying, oh, I'm only going to pay $50 because the catalogue says it.

Unidentified Man: It's a great Peruvian Amazon mummy. Anybody who has $2,000 to start at?

ULABY: That genuine, fake mummy, was priced by Richard Horne, who co-founded the American Dime Museum. He says it was made in the early 20th century by a factory that supplied mummies to sideshows.

Mr. RICHARD HORNE (Co-founder, American Dime Museum): And they were all peculiar. They made two-headed mummies, Chinese giants, Peruvian Amazons. At that time, real mummies - mummified humans - were very easy to obtain. They were almost like souvenirs. So if you were Dime Museum, you wanted a really exciting mummy.

ULABY: Who doesn't? Horne himself created many of the other exhibits, following in a tradition dating back to the Cabinets of Wonder of the 19th century. Peter Excho says those were displayed in the homes of the wealthy before entrepreneurs turned them into mass entertainment.

Mr. EXCHO: And it was for the public. And now it's going back into wealthy people's home. That's, I think, the horrible part about it.

ULABY: The American Dime Museum ran out of money. Richard Horne admits he wasn't good at fundraising. Laura Heim(ph) was at the auction. She's sorry to see the museum go.

Ms. LAURA HEIM (Auction Bidder, American Dime Museum): I'm really, really, really sorry to it go.

ULABY: Heim wanted a piece of the museum, and she got one: a pleather jacket fringed with human hair.

Unidentified Man: I got $40 from the young lady. Don't worry, I'm not done yet. It looks good on you.

ULABY: What are you going to do with a jacket trimmed with human hair?

Ms. HEIM: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. But I'm a coveter. I covet.

ULABY: Heim does plan to wear the jacket. She said it's a good conversation piece.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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