Hideous Objects Become Museum Art

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What now? All that self-improvement makes your husband feel inadequate? There's just the right gizmo for him, too.

Even before the advent of the late-night infomercial, fast-talking salesmen have been hawking dubious products, and you can see the best of them all at Minnesota's Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, or as it's frequently called, "The Quackatorium."

Even in the late 19th century, men sought the all-elusive washboard stomach, and in a Sears catalog, you'd find the Heidelberg Alternating Current Electric Belt, designed to jiggle you to perfection.

Then there's the G-H-R Electric Thermitis, a prostate warmer, which claimed to be able to turn any man into a sexual Schwarzenegger.

Some devices did it all, like the Nemectron, which used magnets and radio waves to rejuvenate glands, cure acne and "normalize" undersized or oversized breasts.

In 1984, retired steel salesman Robert McCoy began showing his little treasures in his office and two years ago, he donated it all to the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Among his favorites: the Spectro-Crome, a device that was said to cure a variety of diseases by shining a 1,000-watt bulb at the patient through different color lenses. According to the directions, red light is good for the heart, while a yellow light, naturally, builds strong bones.

Of course, for the Spectro-Crome to work, the patient had to "sit naked and in the dark in front of the appropriate color of light, facing north, during certain moon phases."

Before McCoy came along, if anyone ever thought a Spectro-Crome would be on display in a museum, he'd probably be accused of having his Electric Thermitis strapped on too tight.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.