Peter Excho welcomes you to the 19th century.
Peter Excho welcomes you to the 19th century.

Pexcho's American Dime Museum

Field review by the editors.

Augusta, Georgia

For the freak-seeking traveler on a budget, Pexcho's American Dime Museum has much to offer. You could spend years criss-crossing the country to see a dolphin boy, or a unicorn skull, or a two-headed mummy from Peru -- and maybe never succeed.

A swimmers' nightmare: the toothy Manfish.
A swimmers' nightmare: the toothy Manfish.

Or you could just go here.

Pexcho (Peter Excho) opened his museum in June 2019, in a former auto parts store in downtown Augusta. The city is known mostly for golf and James Brown, but Peter chose Augusta because of its many tattoo parlors. "That to me was key," Peter said. "It means you'll have a giant crowd of strange and weird folks. We couldn't have picked a town of nicer people."

The museum's name, a tribute to dime museums of the past, can be confusing. "People will come in and ask, 'How many dimes do you have?'" Peter said. In fact, "dime museum" was a name coined in the 19th century for exhibits of natural wonders and the bizarre. The admission price was one dime, and because dime museums only made money if they made visitors satisfied, they had to keep their collections amazing and exciting. Shrunken heads, two-faced lambs, and desiccated mermen were familiar, crowd-pleasing horrors.

Under glass: things you should probably never touch anyway.
Under glass: things you should probably never touch anyway.

"None of it is made up or fake," Peter said of his museum collection (Frankly, we wouldn't care if it was). "A lot of people will ask, 'Is that a real head?' And I'll say, 'Oh, absolutely!'"

Although hipster freakatorium shops have popped up in many cities, Peter's museum aspires to be the real 19th century deal. It may be America's only museum that's a re-creation of a museum. Visitors find themselves back in the 1850s, walking through galleries of subdued lighting, dark drapery, and a mix of animals under glass domes; mysterious medical devices; oak showcases filled with who-knows-what; and dead things in bottles. Peter himself is part of the Victorian vibe -- a memorable presence in a silk ascot, vest, and stick of South African blood wood through his nose -- leading the tours and explaining the exhibits. "To me, it adds more to be told the stories," he said. "If you don't do that, you'd see a bunch of stuff that was cool but you wouldn't understand the facts."

Art or evolutionary dead end? Opinions differ about Lobster Boy.
Art or evolutionary dead end? Opinions differ about Lobster Boy.

"Facts," like everything in a dime museum, are open to interpretation. "The flesh-eating toad," said Peter -- referring to a frog with devil horns -- "hunts in packs of 10 to 15, and can consume a human in less than five minutes. We also have a Jar of Death; we let our visitors smell death." Peter said that this part of the tour is particularly popular with his young daughter. "She'll run over when we're there just so she can hold the jar under people's noses." He described the smell as "absolutely rotten; horrible. You open it up, it ruins that part of the room real quick."

Another bottled wonder -- one that is kept sealed -- is a vial of captured gas from Le Petomane, the famous Parisian flatulist and music hall performer of the late 19th century. "At the end of the show he'd put a hose up his butt and fill little containers with farts," said Peter. Although tempted, Peter said he has refused to sniff the fart by opening the bottle, which would destroy the relic.

Showcases filled with shrunken heads.
Showcases filled with shrunken heads.

Peter steers clear of serial killer mementoes and the overtly macabre and gory exhibits sometimes seen in modern freak museums. "Dime museums weren't about that when they began," said Peter, sticking once again to Victorian tradition. "And I'm not a baby-in-a-jar kind of guy. I want kids leaving here smiling and happy."

The Dime Museum displays roughly 600 artifacts at any one time. That's only a fraction of Peter's collection, so the memorable monstrosities shuffle in and out. Your chance to see the cyclops fish, sheep man, leopard chicken, or Abraham Lincoln's last bowel movement (in a tasteful frame), depends on timing and luck, although Peter is such a genial host that he'd probably pull a favorite nightmare-relic out of its storage tub if asked.

The museum also offers its own coffee house, art gallery, lecture room, and a 50-seat theater for plays, burlesque, and sideshow acts. "I want to have as many different things going as possible to keep the museum going," Peter said. He was particularly happy about a recent visit from the Squiddling Brothers. "They eat glass," he said.

Like its 19th century predecessors, Pexcho's American Dime Museum is an Island of Misfit Toys for marvels and oddities ignored by the mainstream, and Peter feels that the public welcomes its inclusiveness. "One guy heard that we were opening, so he tore one of his teeth out of his mouth and mounted it in the center of this sculpture he made. And he brought it to us and said, 'I just wanted you to have this,'" Peter said. "That part is beautiful. Everyone wants to be involved."

Pexcho's American Dime Museum

Address:
216 6th St., Augusta, GA
Directions:
Downtown, on the east side of 6th St. a half-block south of Broad St.
Hours:
Daily 9-4, then 6-9 (Call to verify)
Phone:
706-504-1291
Admission:
Adults $14.28
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

James Brown StatueJames Brown Statue, Augusta, GA - < 1 mi.
Titanic Hero - Butt's BridgeTitanic Hero - Butt's Bridge, Augusta, GA - 1 mi.
Big CupBig Cup, Augusta, GA - 2 mi.
In the region:
Big Egg Water Tower, Newberry, SC - 62 mi.

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