Hideous Objects Become Museum Art

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Ode to the Banana How far will people come to look at unidentified animal droppings and Coleman's other treasures? Can his museum gain any recognition?

It's not impossible. Across America there are hundreds of museums — some of them private and run out people's homes — where you'll find such esoteric treasures as George Washington's dentures and the ambulance that gave Lee Harvey Oswald his final ride.

"There's always been a tradition of people opening their homes and showing their 'cabinet of curiosities' to the public," says Saul Rubin, author of Offbeat Museums (Santa Monica Press).

"In fact, many museum collections began as private collections that seemed downright peculiar, especially at the time."

It's amazing how devoted some people can be. Karen Bannister's International Banana Museum in Altadena, Calif., boasts some 17,000 artifacts, including a petrified banana and a banana Muppet designed by Jim Henson.

Rubin details how some of the strangest private collections have received accolades. Unbelievably, researchers from Washington's Smithsonian Institution have visited and even praised the man from Maryland who started the Museum of Menstruation.

Likewise, the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, once run from the private office of a man in Minneapolis, is now a popular display in a major St. Paul museum.

"These museums have been around since colonial times, and they do now what they did then," says Rubin.

"They amaze us and educate us. That's the whole point of a museum."

Here's a look at some of America's strangest collections. Among other things, they prove there's hope for Coleman's Cryptozoology Museum, even if that neurotic loner Bigfoot never shows his face.

Odd Museum Gallery

Pathological Pleasures at the Mütter: Looking for the preserved body parts of major historical figures? How about a presidential tumor?

The Mütter Museum boasts a cancerous growth secretly removed from Grover Cleveland's chin in 1893, during his second term in office.

The tumor, given to the Mütter after Cleveland's death, now floats in preservative, not far from bladder stones removed from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and a tissue specimen of John Wilkes Booth.