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Where to Donate That Spare Sarcophagus

April 05, 1998|A. Grey Le Cuyer

In 1926, intrepid explorer A. F. Futterer--rumored to be the real-life inspiration behind filmdom's Indiana Jones--headed out to Jordan to hunt for the fabled Ark of the Covenant. Unlike his fictional counterpart, Futterer never found the legendary relic; he did, however, found the Holyland Exhibition, a one-room "museum" nestled in a quiet Silver Lake neighborhood overlooking the Glendale Freeway that's filled with archeological artifacts and antiquities gathered along his travels.

In conjunction with the Bible Knowledge Society that Futterer established in '24, Holyland eventually spread throughout five full rooms, with bits and pieces that make up terribly cool collections representing Egypt, Palestine, Damascus, Babylon, Cyprus and other lands generally held to be, well, holy. There's centuries-old handmade furniture inlaid with mother of pearl; ivory and silver Middle Eastern jewelry; tapestries; ancient oil lamps; and more than 300 individually colored glass slides depicting a smorgasbord of biblical icons, from Adam in Eden to Paul in Rome. When Egypt didn't feel like packing up its 1933 Chicago World's Fair display, which included a 2,600-year-old sarcophagus, it offered the exhibit to Futterer.

Old Hollywood found its way to Holyland's doors, and Futterer loaned portions of his finds as props to the likes of Samuel Goldwyn to help "authenticate" some early exotic epics, including "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." In 1951, Futterer died at 80 on the island of Cyprus, but he left behind Holyland. It remains today an unintentionally well-kept but absolutely accessible secret, open 365 days a year (by reservation) with a modest $2.50 donation fee, which includes complimentary fruit drink and bread.

"We're like a cafeteria here," explains Betty Shepard, the guide who showed me around Holyland and let me try my unsuccessful hand at blowing a shofar, the ceremonial ram's horn sounded to usher in the Jewish New Year. "We offer up all the religious choices and backgrounds and doctrines and let people pick and choose whatever they'd like to believe."

Although Futterer was a supremely devout man, the focus of Holyland, as per his wishes, is the Bible's nondenominational historical aspects. "The Bible is, after all," Shepard enthusiastically proclaims, "the greatest history book of them all."

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