cover image Haunting Museums: The Strange and Uncanny Stories Behind the Most Mysterious Exhibits

Haunting Museums: The Strange and Uncanny Stories Behind the Most Mysterious Exhibits

John Schuster, Author Forge $14.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2292-0

No ghost story, this collection of museum curiosities is devoted to demystifying legendary exhibits like the 19th century Cardiff Giant and the worldwide array of shrunken heads. For many obscure subjects, Schuster's explanations provide an extensive history. Most of the second half of the book features niche museums covering everything from murder to medicine-including the ""Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast and Museum"" of Fall River, Mass. (""guests are treated to a breakfast similar to the one the Bordens ate on the morning of the murders"") and Philadelphia's Mütter Museum of medical anomalies, which houses a tumor taken from Grover Cleveland's mouth and a post-autopsy plaster cast of famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng. More familiar topics, such as the Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart exhibits at The National Air and Space Museum, get lengthy histories but little fresh insight; further, the first piece (on paleontologists' original reconstruction of the Brontosaurus) sets a rigorous academic standard that's never recaptured. As a guide to some obscure exhibits and venues, this is an amusing and informative read, but readers will likely find Schuster an inadequate curator for better-known subjects like the Smithsonian and New York's American Museum of National History.