Elephant Foot Trash Can.

Museum with Elephant Foot Trash Cans

Field review by the editors.

Reno, Nevada

Wilbur May was born rich. He was the youngest son of the owner of the world's largest department store chain. Dad wanted him to manage his stores, and Wilbur tried to, occasionally. But then he'd vanish for months, off on pleasure trips to China or South America.

That's what he really liked to do.

When dad died, Wilbur left on a year-long safari and had the dumb luck to cash in all of his company stock for government bonds. The stock market crashed while Wilbur was away, and when he returned he was able to buy 20 times more stock than he'd had when he'd left.

Reconstructed living room with big game trophies.

Wilbur took his new millions and moved to Nevada to escape California's personal income tax. He bought a multi-thousand-acre ranch south of Reno. He kept traveling and killing things. When he died in 1982, the stuff that he'd collected and killed became the Wilbur D. May Museum.

Wilbur had a bottomless appetite for souvenirs. Cases in the museum are crammed with Navajo rugs, Eskimo scrimshaw, African spears, Japanese swords. "Many artifacts that he collected resulted from trades with native people," reads one sign. "Often, payment was an object that he possessed which the natives coveted." A quick glance at Wilbur's booty -- Egyptian scarabs, New Guinean masks, T'ang Dynasty pottery -- shows who got the better end of those deals.

Shrunken human head.

Wilbur's prize collectible has to be his human shrunken head, a handsome specimen from Ecuador, "used in elaborate cannibalistic rites" according to its sign. Wilbur reportedly paid his ranch foreman an extra $5.00 a month to keep the head's long hair neatly brushed.

Several rooms from Wilbur's home have been recreated in the museum. The trophy room displays a zoo's worth of dead animals on its walls: tigers, hippos, rhinos, lions. Ashtrays are made of animal parts, trash cans from elephant's feet, rifle racks from the upturned legs of gazelles. The furniture is upholstered in zebra, the lamps in giraffe, with bases made of elephant feet and shades probably made of something we'd rather not think about.

"Hunters on safari in Africa were welcomed," a sign explains, "because the trophies that they collected provided food for hundreds of people."

Wilbur the Sportsman.

The walls of Wilbur's rebuilt living room showcase his attempts at oil painting, his honorary awards from the Boy Scouts, and a plaque from the staff at one of the May stores, telling Wilbur what a great boss he was. A video about his life loops continually.

On the baby grand piano's music rack is Wilbur's proudest creative achievement, the lyrics for "Pass a Piece of Pizza Please," a 1948 novelty song. A recording of it by Jerry Colonna plays on the room's old floor model radio:

I don't want salami, or red meat pastrami
But please won't you pass a piece of pizza...

Photos on the wall shows bug-eyed Jerry wearing a chef's hat, hamming it up for the camera with Wilbur.

Wilbur D. May was married four times. Unlike his father, he had no sons to disappoint him. We'd guess, from his museum, that he died a happy man.

Museum with Elephant Foot Trash Cans

Wilbur D. May Museum

Address:
1595 N. Sierra St., Reno, NV
Directions:
Wilbur D. May Museum. North of downtown. I-80 exit 13. Drive north on US Hwy 395/Virginia St. for five blocks. Turn left onto College Drive. Drive to the end, then turn right onto Washington St., which goes into Rancho San Rafael Regional Park and the parking lot for the Museum.
Hours:
W-Sa 10 am - 4 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
775-785-5961
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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