Marvin Carr's One of a Kind in the World Museum (Gone)
Marvin Carr passed away suddenly in November 2013, age 86. The contents of his museum were auctioned off in January 2014.
The name of Marvin Carr's museum should be taken literally. While there may be, somewhere on earth, another water-cooled World War I German machine gun or the top third of a stuffed 16-foot-tall giraffe, nowhere else will you see both in the same room. Just here. "I like the unusual and the magnificent and the beautiful," Marvin explained to us. "I kind of mix everything up."
Marvin was born in 1927. He worked as a railroad switchman, got injured, retired, invested, made money. At age 70 he cashed in his stocks and decided to open a museum. In a genuinely one-of-a-kind approach (at least in our experience), he bought the museum building first -- an unfinished Spokane warehouse -- and only then began buying things to fill it.
Marvin's kept busy filling it. He bought fancy cars owned by Elvis, JFK, and Jackie Gleason, and allows museum visitors to sit in whichever one they like. The chance to share the same posterior depression as Elvis is reason enough for The King's fans to visit Marvin's museum. Because Marvin charges so little and spends so much ("I'm the world's worst businessman," he admits) he sold the JFK car in 2008 and made enough money to keep the museum open until 2014. The museum doesn't suffer from its absence; it's not as if it was a death car.
Next to Gleason's limousine sits a custom-built Jackie Gleason dummy in an oversized cane chair. He holds a shot glass in one hand, a cigarette in the other, Pool cues lean against his legs. Gleason lived (and died) in Florida, so Marvin uses the roof of Gleason's car to display a stuffed alligator.
Marvin is a great admirer of Gleason, whose dummy is flanked by two topless silver-skinned lady mannequins. "I got them from a place downtown," Marvin said. "And I thought, 'Jackie Gleason loved the women.'"
(Marvin also said that he's found someone to drill out all of the painted eyes on his mannequins and replace them with glass eyes. "To me, the eyes are very, very important.")
Marvin gives every visitor a personal tour of his collection, which ranges from exotic treasures to gag gifts usually found in bars in the 1950s. "Living death masks" of old Hollywood stars hang on one wall, next to a matador costume and two stuffed squirrels riding a tiny fire engine. "Hurry: Nuts On Fire," reads their sign, which Marvin made himself. He walked us past the "world's largest World War II destroyer model" (13 feet long), and a slightly smaller replica of a 17th century French warship, made of 27,500 matchsticks. He flicked a switch to make a stuffed Chokie Lion ("the largest ever shot") growl, and showed us one of his more recent purchases, the largest stuffed black bear in the world.
"Even Cabela's doesn't have that," he said, proudly. "I had to pay an arm and a leg for it, but it's neat, it's wonderful."
Some of the more memorable items in Marvin's museum were built by Marvin himself, out of junk.
He turned on the music and light show that accompanies his hand-made cathedral, standing in the shadows and watching our reaction. Next to that is a larger display, "Sir Guy's Frog Band," set on an elevated platform. Marvin pulled aside a metallic gold sheet, dimmed the museum lights, and the five frogs jiggled frantically into motorized action to a scratchy recording of Frankie and Johnny, a tale of a spurned woman and her murderous revenge. It's an odd choice for the insanely kinetic quintet. "I tell all males to come close, to listen to the words very carefully," Marvin said.
Next was the "Room of Dazzle." The exhibits in the "Room of Dazzle" are not all that different from what fills the rest of museum, but once we passed under a svelte mannequin temptress and through the bead curtain, we ready for dazzle. There are various dolls, framed displays, a miniature circus, and "Drum Smoke." This is a tiny stage with a wind-up Indian banging a drum, a battery-powered bear smoking a pipe, and Marvin's comparatively giant hand reaching in through a hole in the wall behind the stage to keep its two stars from falling over.
Adjacent to the Room of Dazzle, Marvin had more treasures in glass cases: an opium pipe pulled from the rubble of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, an ash tray into which a little boy was pissing, and another stuffed squirrel -- this one riding a miniature motorcycle (titled "Putt Putt Looking For Nuts" by Marvin).
Nearby stood a life-size Spiderman dummy in chains behind a stuffed polar bear, a replica of King Tut's sarcophagus (made by Marvin), and a pile of shoes next to a floor lamp made from the lower half of a woman's torso wrapped in a mini-skirt. "She's wearing shoes, too," Marvin explained. On a facing wall, Marvin pointed to the 13-foot-long skin of "Fritz," a boa constrictor who lived beneath a couch and died when he chewed through a stereo wire. "I don't think any other museum has a boa constrictor that electrocuted himself," Marvin said (Fritz is one of a tiny fraternity of self-fried celebrity animals).
There's no need to deconstruct Marvin Carr's museum beyond the obvious: it's filled with things that Marvin likes and that he wants others to like, too. Marvin also writes adventure novels, which he sells at the museum ("Nobody buys them," he cracked), and seems happy to spend his money and entertain whoever stops by. "You can't get people to come in here," he told us, "but I really don't care that much. I want them to come, but I'm also having one hell of a wonderful time."