Bob McCoy.

Museum of Questionable Medical Devices - Closed

Field review by the editors.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices was once prominently situated in a waterfront mall in downtown Minneapolis. Proprietor/curator Bob McCoy, in return for a free rent agreement, would entertain shoppers with skull-readings on one of the phrenology machines or a quick jolt of sinusoidal current. The museum has moved to new digs, but Bob is up to his usual tricks. He's a snake oil salesman whose message is clear -- don't believe anything.

Bob cheerfully gives a tutorial to children on therapeutic uses of electricity by linking them to a current device. "Now all of you hold hands and I'll just turn this knob . . . " RZZZZ! Bob smiles as kids grimace or yell at the weakling who broke the chain.

The kids move on, leaving Bob to show off his more adult devices. One of his current favorites is the "Timely Warning," a barbed metal ring that sufferers of nocturnal emissions can wear on their penises to suppress unwanted episodes. It can "help break a bad habit of the nervous system."

Some electric current for the kids.
Electric current for the kids...

Bob has a polished spiel for every crackpot gadget in the museum. He tells us about the Ruth Drown radio therapy machine, which analyzes saliva and emits healing rays. Ruth got thousands to subscribe to this service in the 1960s. The Spectra-Chrome claims to break down the curative rays of the sun. He yanks out old ads and printed information on electronic voodoo machines and insane therapies.

The museum got its start as a "phrenology parlor" in the early '80s. Bob and a friend salvaged a dozen phrenology machines that had been in storage since the 1930s. He set up shop in the mall and began reading cranial lumps for a few bucks a head. The machine looked like a cross between a dental and an electric chair, hooked to a ticker tape printer. Its noisy diagnostics and smeary paper printout were immediate hits with both smooth and lumpy-headed shoppers.

Bob is constantly acquiring more machines from garage sales and other collectors -- in fact, some of the museum's pieces are on loan from the St. Louis Science Center, current storage depository for items from St. Lou's defunct Medical Quackery Museum.

The MacGregor Rejuvenator, which looks like an iron lung, was invented by a Seattle man in the 1930s to reverse the aging process. The patient was bombarded with radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet and magnetic fields. MacGregor apparently didn't remember to rejuvenate himself, so he's not around to defend the device's medical claims. Bob shakes his head and laughs.

Collection Highlights:

The G-H-R Electric Thermitis Dilator, a "Prostate warmer" that plugs into a light socket and stimulates the "abdominal brain"(restoring lost sex drive and virility).

The Nemectron Machine uses different sized metal rings to "normalize" breasts by enlarging or reducing them

An Ultraviolet comb (with penile and anal attachments).

Acu-Dots, magnetized Band-Aids that magnetize iron in the blood, effective on rheumatism.

Scariest is the revelation that quackery devices and treatments are still sold today to the gullible and the desperate. Acu-Dots were marketed in 1983, and the Toftness device in 1988. When it comes to medical quackery, the collecting never ends . . .

November 2010: Bob McCoy passed away on May 23, 2010. January 2002: The museum has closed and Bob has retired. Some of the collection can still be viewed at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

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