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Dayton museum's collection is 'Beyond Bizarre'

August 21, 2004|James Hannah | Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio — A tattered leather shoe blown off a woman's foot after she was struck by lightning. A lightbulb still filled with water from the 1913 flood. A gas meter speared by a stick of wood from a tornado in 1974.

Curious? The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is counting on it.

For an exhibition that has helped boost museum attendance, the executive director of the Montgomery County Historical Society and some graduate students in a public history class he teaches hit the storerooms of historical societies and museums in search of the bizarre.

"The fact is people just like seeing strange and interesting stuff," said Brian Hackett, who teaches at Wright State University. "We're competing with television. We're competing with Disney World. Don't lose your education leanings, but you still need to make it fun for people to come."

The Boonshoft added John Dillinger's Colt .38, in its first public viewing, for "Curious Collections: An Exhibit Beyond Bizarre." The 70-plus display draws from 10 historical societies and museums around Ohio and Indiana.

Among the other finds of Hackett's 13 students:

* A photograph taken inside the Marietta Library about 1900 that appears to show a ghost standing between two windows.

* The trap door of a gallows dubbed "the door of no return." It was used to hang people in downtown Dayton in 1876 and 1877.

* The pants of John Van Cleve, a founding father of Dayton who weighed 300 pounds and had a 77-inch waist.

* Blown-up photos from NCR Corp. showing a chimpanzee and a horse operating the company's cash registers to show how simple they were to use.

* Three skulls all purported to be those of William Hewitt, a hermit who lived in a cave south of Chillicothe and helped wagon trains cross the hills in the early 1800s.

Hackett's students found the artifacts over five weeks and built the displays for the museum.

"This is just weird stuff that ends up in museums' collections," Hackett said. "Every museum's got things that they are kind of embarrassed to show or let people know that they have because it doesn't fit the academic or history approach. So we thought let's dust it off and let people see what we don't want them to see."

The exhibit, which is to run through the end of the year, has helped attendance, museum officials said.

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