Museums of the Absurd

We took the time to stop at various roadside museums on our recent Oregon/ Tahoe/Reno trip, and oh gosh- there's some crazy shit on display out there. Like this diorama at the High Desert Museum near Bend, where we witnessed upclose how turkey vultures eviscerate a car-hit deer. Since we passed a half-dozen real occurences of the exact same event during the car ride to Bend the day prior, we can't say we got much out of their crude educational attempt describing how carrion play an important role in removing road pizza from highway medians. We did feel sorry for the parents with toddlers at the museum: good luck explaining to your crying four-year old what the mean birds are doing to poor Bambi.

The insanity continued when we stopped at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. Here we found Toonces the Mumified Cat mounted to a branch like he was a hunting trophy. The card in the display case read This unfortunate cat was collected in Genoa Nevada many years ago and may be one of the first domestic felines in the state. Well, latee friggin' da. We're overwhelmed with history. It's a dead cat- so why not save us from having to look at the ghastly thing and go dig a hole and bury him and let Toonces rest in peace?

And it continued when we walked the wooden sidewalks of Virginia City, where nearly every saloon or gift shop has a sign advertising some kind of tacky museum. Here at the Museum of the Comstock, we found two bear cubs on display, permanently immortalized as one week olds. Notice the one on the right: barely able to stand with his mouth open and wailing, forever waiting for momma bear to come back with some fresh possum. We've never seen anything so sad and pathetic.

And it continued at the "Red Light Museum", below the Bullette Saloon, admission one dollar. Not much "red light" history here, other than some ribald black and white photographs on the walls. Random junk is a better description: old medical tools, low-end indian artifacts, and this human skull, sitting on velvet in a glass display case. Absent is any historical data about the item, leaving us to wonder why an old skull with a gaping hole is sitting in the musty basement of a bar and not in a ground with the rest of the skeleton.

We finally discovered a museum with a sense of history at the Gambling Hall of Fame in Virginia City, filled with old slot machines dating back to the infancy of gambling in Nevada. Like this Caille Brothers nickel draw poker slotmachine, circa 1902. Now here's some interesting history: Adolph and Arthur Caille were Detroit furniture makers who built coin-operated devices like candy machines and music boxes. Their company, along with the Mills Novelty Company and the Watling Manufacturing Company, pioneered the mass production of slot machines, an invention which has generated untold billions since first introduced in the 1890's. At the peak of their reign, Caille Brothers slot machines could be found in saloons across America and Europe, often with a swiss music box attached to the bottom in an attempt to evade classification as gambling devices.

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