Gettysburg Dime Museum
One of the great merits of the Gettysburg Dime Museum is its economy. You could spend years crisscrossing the country to see a fish with a human face, or a Thalidomide baby in a jar, or the tongue of a hobo found stuck to a frozen fireplug -- and maybe never succeed. Or you could just go here.
The museum is the collection of curator Mark Kosh, inspired by the dime museums of the 19th century, which charged people a dime to peep at novelties similar to those that Mark exhibits now, such as a flesh-eating toad with fangs; a human head, stuffed with tea, in a box; and a two-headed duck. The goal then, as now, was to give people what they would pay to see. It's nice to know that our 21st century tastes and those of the average 19th century American mesh so well.
Mark appears normal: no facial tattoos or ritual scarring. In fact, he's an Air Force veteran and retired Pennsylvania state trooper. He told us he spent decades gathering strange things for his museum, which opened in 2016. "I always collected with the goal to share it with other people," he said. "If I was sitting in my basement drinking beer, staring at all this stuff, then I'd be a little weird."
Some of the exhibits are blackened relics with yellowed labels, such as a viney mass removed from a teenager who ate too many seeds, and "the best example of a mummified pygmy ever exhibited in the United States." Others are more modern, such as the Sony Walkman once owned by serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Not everything is real (which was also true in 19th century dime museums). Mark showed us "The Suicide Bride" exhibit, a stained wedding dress with an accompanying tale of a woman, jilted at the altar, who ran from the church and threw herself in front of a car -- which turned out to have the groom as a passenger (His car had broken down). Mark said that a visitor who claimed to be psychic was very upset about the bride. "I said, 'Don't feel too bad for her. I made that story up.'"
The most asked-for item at the Dime Museum is Abraham Lincoln's last bowel movement, supposedly removed from a chamber pot at Ford's Theatre and sealed under glass along with a faded, handwritten note asserting its authenticity. The "human coprolite" has been loudly criticized by some in Gettysburg, but most of the museum's visitors are fascinated by this intimate extrusion of the Great Emancipator. Mark said that his wife once overheard an elderly visitor tell her husband, "C'mon, honey, get my picture under the turd!"
Mark said that Gettysburg is a good place of a for 19th-century-inspired dime museum. It's a popular destination for ghost-hunters ("They're already in the mood for something weird," he said) and history-minded tourists welcome the museum as a change of pace ("You can only look at battlefield monuments and cannons for so long"). Mark's only gripe is with visitors who breeze through the museum in ten minutes, then tell him how great it was. "How do they know?" he asked us. "They didn't take the time to read anything. That's more than half the entertainment!"
Mark is always on the hunt for worthy items, and told us that he still wants to find a two-faced lamb he saw in Niagara Falls when he was 15. One visitor, inspired by the museum, asked if he could make a donation -- which turned out to be a portrait of Marie Antoinette that he'd painted in human blood. The portrait now hangs between "skull of a Hellhound" and a strip of tattooed flesh in a jar, just one more wonder in Mark's museum of his favorite disturbing things.
"If I was 9 or 10 years old," said Mark with a laugh, "I would've lived in this place."