Noah's Ark, Dillinger's Jail Cell, Things Swallowed
The Allen County Museum is one of those community attics that shelters all kinds of odd local artifacts in its galleries. Where else can you see a room-size model of Mt. Vernon, George Washington's plantation home (built by a couple from Warren), then slide over to a display of buttons, pins, and dentures swallowed by people (and retrieved by local G.P. Dr. Yingling)?
It's useful to have a knowledgeable guide in a place like this, and ours is a living library of museum facts. He shows us photos of Allen County greats, such as the guy who played center on Roger Staubach's college football team. The guide wears a George and Laura Bush pin. He informs us that partial-birth abortion is murder.
"I'll tell you a cute little story," he says as he shows us the Mt. Vernon model. He points to the arcade between the slave kitchen and the Big House, which he tells us was named "whistling walk." George Washington was convinced that his slaves were eating his strawberries, our guide tells us, so he told his slaves, "From now on, when you come along this walk, you whistle."
We walk past the Conestoga wagon and Model T Roadster to a much smaller room on the main floor. In here are the fanciful dead animal dioramas of James E. GrosJean, formerly-coin-operated. GrosJean was a Lima undertaker who switched careers in 1902 and opened a shoe store.
Along with the shoes, GrosJean's store had four large, dark wood cabinets with glass fronts -- now in this museum -- each populated with stuffed dead animals. One is filled with posed albinos, some slowly spinning. In another, birds ride on a big Ferris wheel. One is Noah's Ark.
If a kid bought a pair of shoes, he got to see Noah's Ark.
Our guide turns it on for us. Gears creak, invisible motors whir, feeble light bulbs glow. Behind the glass, a mechanical dove jerks on a wire, painfully slowly, out of the ark and then back again, turning to reveal an olive branch in its mouth. Then the ark opens and out come a procession of hundred-year-old dead stuffed animals, two by two, glued onto an endless rubber belt. The contraption appears to have been modified in recent years -- it now has a recorded narration and background music. Cute toy stuffed animals have replaced some of the missing real stuffed animals.
Our guide is oblivious to it. "GrosJean," he says reflectively. "I thought he was Jewish, but he organized the Market St. Presbyterian Church -- the elite Presbyterian church."
Next we head downstairs, to the Sheriff Sarber exhibit.
In 1933 John Dillinger robbed the Citizen's National Bank of Bluffton, Ohio, of $2,100. He was caught two months later and brought to Lima, the county seat, for trial. Before he reached the courtroom, three members of Dillinger's gang broke into the Allen County Jail, shot and killed Sheriff Jess Sarber, freed Dillinger, and locked the Sheriff's wife and deputy in Dillinger's cell.
That cell, along with wax dummies representing Dillinger and the sheriff -- seated at his desk of death -- were moved here from the jail in 2000. "The death of Sheriff Sarber," explains a sign, "led the FBI to name Dillinger as Public Enemy No. 1." "Did you know," our guide adds, "that John Dillinger and Sheriff Sarber had the same birthday?"
Our guide walks us past the dinosaur egg, the wall of pistols and rifles, the iron lung. We spot a sign chronicling the life of the ever-busy James E. GrosJean. Two of his freak-shaped violins are on display, rated "not satisfactory" and "interesting" by professional musicians. "Another of his inventions, rubber-tipped humane horse shoes, failed due to the increasing popularity of the automobile."