Esoterica writ large

There have always been oddballs (and lest anyone reading this take offense, rest assured we count ourselves among the oddest of balls) who have devoted their time and energy to amassing collections of esoteric items.

Prior to the ascent of the internet, these devoted few were limited to sharing their collections with the people whose lives intersected with their own—unless, that is, they resorted to mounting some sort of small museum in which to share their amassed “treasures” with the world at large.

In 1992, we devoted four months to a cross-country excursion, setting foot in all 48 contiguous states and traveling the entire length of the Mother Road, Route 66. Our focus the entire way was the sort of roadside attractions that then and now were ever-dwindling: mom-and-pop eateries, drive-in movie theatres, and the sort of tourist traps that we found irresistible then and still can’t pass up, among which we include these odd little “museums,” which are really more a testament to one man’s (or woman’s) particular obsession than the sort of scholarly, edifying institution to which we generally ascribe the tag “museum.”

For instance, on Day 2 of the aforementioned odyssey, we paid a visit to Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum in Orrtanna, Pennsylvania (which is still going strong today, nearly twenty years later, we’re happy to report).

Mr. Ed (who is apparently not a talking horse, although we didn’t meet face-to-face) turned a life-long passion into a going proposition. He has, in addition to his collection of miniature elephants, which are housed in locked glass cases, a gift and candy shop, which also sells freshly roasted peanuts.

Most of us know someone who collects small plaster, ceramic and glass replicas of their favorite animals: frogs, giraffes, penguins, owls. If you have such a friend or acquaintance (or are yourself such a collector), you might consider following in Mr. Ed’s footsteps. Because, believe us, there was nothing educational about Mr. Ed’s Museum—he merely displays his collection of miniature elephants and makes his dough from the proceeds of the gift shop.

Nowadays, those unwilling to devote their perhaps meagre savings to opening a roadside “museum” can share their collections with the public at large on the internet, and while we don’t know the individual who gathered the labels for this extensive Flickr collection devoted to bread labels of the 1940s and ’50s, we’re willing to bet he or she has considered opening a small roadside museum at one time or another.

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