Auman Museum of Radio and TV
Larry Auman was born just as television was debuting at the 1939 New York World's Fair. He went to electronics school during the heyday of I Love Lucy, and opened his own repair shop the same year that Gilligan's Island and The Munsters premiered.
So although Larry likes radio, too, don't be misled by the name of his museum. It's TV that gets most of the attention.
Larry moved his burgeoning collection of machines and ephemera into an old bank in 2001. It's an ideal space. The front of the building is muted, and you enter a small waiting area thinking, "Is this all there is?" Then Larry theatrically pulls aside a curtain to reveal the rest of the museum: windowless, womblike, as isolated as the inside of a time capsule. TVs are piled high along the walls, a real department store experience circa 1949.
Two of the sets continuously play clips of old shows and commercials. Larry has restored most of his hundreds of TVs to working condition, but he only turns on a couple at a time for safety reasons, and to lower his electric bill.
"People always ask me, 'How many sets you got?'" said Larry. "And I say, 'No, they got me.'"
Larry showed us an experimental mechanical TV from the 1920s and the boldly-identified "First Television Set in the Auman Family," a 1948 model with a 10-inch screen. His favorites are the pre-1950 vintage sets, but he also showcases overdesigned failures such as the 1972 JVC "Videospehere" that was supposed to resemble a space helmet, and the futuristic 1958 Philco "Predicta," loved by modern collectors but loathed by 1950s shoppers. "I always ask the ladies, 'Would you want that in your living room?'" said Larry. "'No way!' It was too far-out."
Larry's museum is designed to appeal to more than just electronic gearheads. "I didn't want to just show the TV sets," he said. Pop culture and accessory products thrived in the rich mulch of America's most important invention, and Larry has lots of them: TV-themed toys, comic books, salt and pepper shakers, a novelty apron emblazoned, "No TV Until You Help Me."
There are lamps and clocks designed to sit atop TVs that look like TVs, and a plastic statue of St. Clair, the patron saint of television. "When she got too sick to attend Mass," reads its display, "the Holy Spirit illuminated her cell wall and allowed her to watch Mass in the comfort of her bed."
A lineup of TV show board games stretches down both sides of the museum's center aisle, leaving us to wonder how, exactly, they recreate the lovable chaos of McHale's Navy or the Hanna-Barbara awesomeness of The Jetsons.
Larry exhibits props such as TV western guns and a bottle from I Dream of Jeannie, and odd customer-loyalty premiums like a hand puppet of Teddy Snow Crop, the polar bear TV mascot of a frozen food company ("I got that when I was a kid.").
At the back of the museum is a prominently-labeled "haunted TV camera case" (used only at accidents and disasters) and -- our only mention of radio here -- the actual broadcasting studio used by Alan Freed, the disc jockey "Father of Rock 'n' Roll," from his early 1950s heyday at WJW in Cleveland.
Larry draws an arbitrary line like any collector, and his love of TV wanes long before the advent of TiVo or digital streaming. Still, he respects TV's durability, and pointed out a quote that he had enlarged for the museum from 1940s Hollywood mogul Darryl F. Zanuck:
"People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."
"You'd be surprised," said Larry.