Google the word “museum” and the first definition that comes up is “a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.”
And Deadwood’s Adams Museum certainly has many exhibits and artifacts that fit that definition. However, most museums I have visited, including the Adams, have another category of objects: oddities.
I don’t know if museum curators are interested in focusing any attention on this aspect of their collections, and the category in any case is somewhat fluid. What one visitor regards as an oddity is of serious interest to other visitors.
That’s one of the things that is so great about visiting museums. You never know what you will find and what your reaction will be. In fact, I believe museums should put more emphasis on this unique ability to entertain. Here’s a thought: How about changing the word “museum” to “amuseaum” – because every one I’ve ever visited has a variety of objects that cause me to smile – whether in disbelief, amazement, fascination or just plain silliness.
I visited the Adams Museum several weeks ago, and of course, there are many objects of priceless historical significance and cultural importance. But here’s a few displays that brought a smile to my face:
The nudist colony of Robert Poe: This exhibit of nude woodcarvings by a local folk artist named Robert Poe caused a smile of recognition. Not because Robert Poe was a friend of mine, but because amateur depictions of nudes was the bane of my childhood. My dad was an amateur painter, and Eden-like landscapes with nude ladies and gentlemen was a favorite subject. Won’t go into the awestruck reactions of my playmates, but my bet is that I could totally relate to bemused family members of Robert Poe. Today, no doubt, Robert Poe’s descendants are proud and pleased that his nudist colony is on public display.
The Pahasapasaurus: I always smile at words that sound funny, and after saying this one to myself several times, it made the cut. This fossil, discovered near Fruitdale in 1934, is the only one of its kind. A short description of the Pahasapasaurus as “an early polycotylid plesiosaur from the Cenomanian of South Dakota” didn’t really clarify things for me. But, for visitors more interested in paleontology than in goofy word lists, this is an intriguing exhibit.
Tootsie the Coyote: When you see an exhibit showing a coyote smiling, you have to smile back. Tootsie must have played a major role in South Dakota’s decision to designate the coyote as the official state animal in 1949. Deadwood area native Freddie Borsch, an interesting man of many talents, adopted and trained the abandoned pup and the two became regional celebrities. With an album, “South Dakota Tootsie” and a 10-state tour, Tootsie made appearances around the area as the state’s mascot. It’s a funny legislative practice in my mind, but joining Tootsie in the state’s designated flora and fauna roster are the Ring-necked pheasant (state bird), American Pasque (state flower), Black Hills spruce (state tree), walleye (state fish), Western honey bee (state insect.), Western Wheat Grass (state grass) and Triceratops (state fossil).
The Adams is just one of our many fine area museums with meaningful and important stories to tell. But the best part for me, and maybe for you? The oddities – the quirky, the peculiar and the bizarre – that speak to individual idiosyncrasies and tell you something amusing – something you maybe didn’t even know – about yourself.