Stuffed Passenger Pigeon at the Woodman Museum.
Stuffed Passenger Pigeon; now they're all extinct.

Woodman Museum: Quirky Relics

Field review by the editors.

Dover, New Hampshire

In 1915 Annie Woodman, widow of a wealthy banker, gave the city of Dover $100,000 to build a museum. Thousands of items formerly in attics and cellars flowed in as donations, either found, owned, or shot by the citizens of New Hampshire.

Saddle ridden by Lincoln days before he was assassinated.
Saddle ridden by President Lincoln days before he was assassinated.

"These people in some cases had the chance to travel, hauled stuff home, and now what do you do with it?" said Elizabeth Fischer, director of the Woodman Museum. "Someone passed on, and whoever was left with it said, 'Get it out of here!' And so it would be given to the Woodman Museum.

"Because," Elizabeth added, "not everyone wants a four-legged chicken."

When the museum opened in July 1916, a four-legged chicken was among its original exhibits. The chicken was stuffed by the museum's first curator, and remains its most asked-for artifact.

Last mountain lion killed in New Hampshire.
The last mountain lion killed in New Hampshire.

"He's a strange little guy, but people love him," said Elizabeth of the chicken. "As long as he's standing, he'll be on display."

The Woodman Museum has received so many donations since its opening -- "A couple million items," according to Elizabeth -- that its artifacts now fill four buildings. One of those buildings was the home of Lucy Hale, who dated Abraham Lincoln's son before changing her mind and becoming secretly engaged to John Wilkes Booth. By an odd coincidence, one of the donated items in the museum is a saddle ridden by Lincoln only days before Booth assassinated him.

Four-legged chick at the Woodman Museum.
Four-legged chicken is the museum's most popular exhibit.

Aside from the four-legged chicken, the museum is known for its natural history oddities. There's a 27-pound lobster caught off the New Hampshire coast (estimated to be over 100 years old), a stuffed Passenger Pigeon, a giant "man eating clam," the last mountain lion killed in New Hampshire (1853), a two-headed snake, and a polar bear and manatee that were already dead when they were brought to New Hampshire. There's also a mysterious five-foot-long tropical iguana, found as roadkill just north of town in 1937.

Glass grenades.
Perfume bottles? No, glass hand grenades.

Other items worthy of attention include several hand grenades made of glass (they were hurled into fires in Dover's textile mills to blow them out), and a blackjack that killed a New Hampshire bank teller in 1897. Its accompanying sign notes that the murderer, Joseph Kelly, was later captured in a brothel wearing a dress.

Elizabeth said that the museum has no plans to retire its curiosities -- certainly not its displays of Boy Scout uniforms or snakes in jars -- and takes pride in its diversity as a "museum's museum." Unsolicited donations continue to arrive, even after over 100 years. "At least once a week we open a mystery box," said Elizabeth, clearly charmed, although she said that if people want to give something to the museum, "we really prefer that they call first."

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Woodman Museum: Quirky Relics

Address:
182 Central Ave., Dover, NH
Directions:
South side of town, on the west side of Hwy 108/Central Ave. just south of Hwy 9/Silver St.
Hours:
April-Dec. W-Su 10-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
603-742-1038
Admission:
Adults $13.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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September 26, 2017

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