Museum Month: Cockroach Hall Of Fame & Museum, Plano, Texas


We’ve covered some pretty weird museums this month here on Gadling. One that may take the prize for the weirdest is the Cockroach Hall Of Fame & Museum in Plano, Texas.

Museum curator and professional exterminator Michael Bohdan opened the museum so he could educate people about a bug that’s got a serious knack for survival. As Bohdan points out, cockroaches have been around more than 350 million years and survived a lot of Earth’s upheavals that have killed off lesser species, so we might be able to learn something from them.

Wearing his roach-lined fedora, Bohdan takes visitors around the displays, showing off little dressed up bugs such as Marilyn Monroach and Ross Peroach. There’s even a Liberoachie that plays the piano. More serious displays tell about roach biology and the amazing ways they’ve adapted to a wide range of habitats.

For more strange educational experiences, check out more of our articles on weird museums!

Torture Museums Look At The Dark Side Of History

Torture Museum
Ah, the Good Old Days, when everyone lived in a perpetual Renaissance Festival quaffing ale and shouting “Huzzah!” It must have been wonderful.

Not!

People died young, the cities were filled with rats and open sewers, and God help you if you ever got arrested. You’d be taken to a torture chamber in order to “confess” while being subjected to various imaginative torture devices, like the rack shown here in a photo courtesy Jan Mehlich. It’s from the torture exhibit in the Lubuska Land Museum in Zielona Góra, Poland. A victim would be tied to it and stretched until his limbs popped out of their sockets. The spikes on the cylinder would add an extra level of agony. This museum stands out among torture museums in that many of its objects were used in the local area.

Germany was a pretty rough place back in the Bad Old Days, and this has spawned several good torture museums in the country. The biggest is the Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg, with 2,000 square meters of displays on torture, execution and medieval law. Nuremberg has a preserved torture chamber underneath city hall.

Italy was a rough place too, and you can find out more at the Criminal Museum in Rome, the Museo della Tortura housed in the Devil’s Tower in San Gimignano and the Museum of Criminal Anthropology in Turin. The latter museum is interesting because it reflects the 19th century belief that a person’s physical features, especially the shape of the skull, could show criminal proclivities. Hundreds of skulls, brains and death masks from executed criminals are on display, as well as the weapons they used in their crimes and the instruments of their demise.

%Gallery-155223%Many torture museums are found inside castles. The Tower of London has some nasty instruments on display, as does Gravensteen in Ghent, Belgium. Like Poland’s Land Museum, most of the items are locally sourced in a kind of Slow Torture Movement. Check out my post on Muider Castle, which offers a peek at a medieval dungeon that’s an easy day trip from Amsterdam.

If you’re in Amsterdam and don’t feel like a day trip, check out the cheesy yet interesting Torture Museum. Also in The Netherlands is the Prison Gate Museum in The Hague, which may be the world’s oldest torture museum, having opened in 1882. It offers glimpses of such fearsome places as the Jailer’s Quarters, the Interrogation Room and the Judge Chambers. One interesting detail they tell you on the tour is that imprisonment was not considered a punishment, just a way to take a criminal out of circulation until the trial. To really punish an evildoer, they had to be tortured, publicly humiliated, or executed.

In Lima, Peru, you can visit the underground prison and torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition Museum is a sobering look at what happens when a single religion gets to dominate society.

As you can see, most of these museums display the horrors of the past. One museum that doesn’t shy away from more recent crimes against humanity is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which shows what the Khmer Rouge did to systematically destroy Cambodian society. Gadling blogger Jessica Marati said it’s “one of the most maddening, saddening, and intense places you’ll ever visit in your life.” When visiting torture museums, it’s good to remember that these barbarous practices are still used by many governments today.

The International UFO Museum And Research Center At Roswell, New Mexico

UFO
Something strange happened in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

Rancher William Brazel found a bunch of debris in the desert that he couldn’t identify. He described it in the July 9, 1947, issue of the Roswell Daily Record as a “large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks.”

The paper reported that Brazel estimated that all together the debris “weighed maybe five pounds. There was no sign of any metal in the area, which might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil. There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction.”

Not sure what he had, he contacted the Roswell Army Air Field, which sent two men out to gather the material. The local base commander then released a statement that a “flying disk” had been found. This gained national publicity. America was in the midst of its first wave of flying saucer sightings and this fit the bill. The next day, General Ramey of the Eighth Air Force made an official statement that it was a downed weather balloon.

%Gallery-155021%The incident was soon forgotten, even by most Ufologists, until in 1978 a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft. Accounts of alien bodies and a massive cover up also came to light. The stories snowballed and Roswell became the world’s most famous UFO crash.

The International UFO Museum and Research Center is dedicated to studying the UFO phenomenon in general and the Roswell crash in particular. It was founded by Walter Haut, who was the press officer at the air field when the crash occurred, and Glenn Dennis, who claims to have seen alien bodies taken from the crash. The museum displays a huge collection of photos, documents, and eyewitness accounts related to the Roswell incident and other sightings.

The result is a detailed history of the UFO craze from its beginnings up to the present day, told in newspaper stories, photos and eyewitness accounts. You can spend a lot of time here studying the various sightings, and you’ll come away with the realization that an awful lot of people think they’ve seen something strange in the sky.

I’m an agnostic in all things. Although I’ve investigated all sorts of paranormal occurrences ranging from ghosts to visitations from Purgatory, I generally come down on the side of interested skepticism. While this museum didn’t decrease my skepticism, it was highly entertaining and certainly an excellent resource for anyone interested in the UFO mystery. They get extra points for pointing out some parts of their photographs that aren’t UFOs, and showing how observers can often mistake man-made objects or natural phenomena for extraterrestrial craft.

Besides the museum, several local shops get in on the action selling alien memorabilia and there are numerous UFO tours. Roswell also hosts an annual UFO conference, held this year from June 28-July 1.

The enduring publicity over the Roswell incident, both in New Mexico and around the world, has led to numerous statements by the government that nothing happened. In 1994, the Air Force stated that the debris actually came from a secret project called Project Mogul, which attempted to use strings of high-altitude balloons, or a single giant balloon, to spy on Soviet nuclear activities.

While this prompted some UFO researchers to change their minds and state that no UFO crashed at Roswell, it only encouraged others. If the government didn’t tell the whole truth at first, they reasoned, they could be lying now. Personally, I have a hard time believing that an alien spacecraft (made of tinfoil and sticks, no less) crashed in the New Mexico desert. Sure, considering the vastness of the universe it’s unlikely that we’re alone, but that doesn’t mean aliens are coming here.

I see something more insidious going on with all of this. If the government was lying to divert attention from secret projects, it could be still doing this. Perhaps the Ufologists should stop watching the skies and use their research skills and tenacity to uncover secret activities going on right here on Earth, such as government corruption, secret military operations, support of nasty dictators (Saddam Hussein, for example) and the undermining of civil liberties. By chasing phantoms, the Ufologists are playing into the hands of those have the real power in this world, and who have a lot more sinister things to hide than evidence of extraterrestrials.

[Photo courtesy Kimble Young]

Barbed Wire Museums Take On A Prickly Subject

barbed wire
I’ve always loved museums on obscure subjects because they teach you how overlooked objects can have a big influence. Barbed wire is one of those objects.

While various inventors started experimenting with barbed wire in the 1850s, the founder of barbed wire is generally considered to be Joseph Glidden, whose 1873 design soon stretched across the American West. Before then, it was nearly impossible to enclose the vast rangelands of the West. There were constant fights over whose animals were on whose land. With the advent of barbed wire, land became enclosed, and the fights turned to passage rights and boundary disputes.

It’s often said barbed wire tamed the Old West, and while that’s true it also led to its demise. The West became more organized; freedom of movement suffered, and bigger and bigger ranches began to enclose huge swaths of land. Barbed wire was a boon to some and a curse to others. Many called it “the Devil’s rope” or “the Devil’s hatband.”

There are three major museums devoted to this humble but important invention. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead & Historical Center in DeKalb, Illinois, is devoted to the inventor of barbed wire and his carefully restored home, barn and blacksmith shop. The museum has a blacksmith who gives live demonstrations of his traditional craft including, of course, wire making.

%Gallery-155001%The Devil’s Rope Museum on Route 66 in McLean, Texas, has a huge collection of barbed wire. The original design inspired countless variants and supposed improvements. Also, thefts of barbed wire led manufacturers to design specific wires for large companies and ranches. Hundreds of these variants are on display, as well as art created from barbed wire and a room devoted to the history of Route 66.

Over in LaCrosse, Kansas, there’s the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, which has more than 2,000 varieties of wire as well as wire-making tools and displays of barbed wire being used in peace and at war. It’s the headquarters of the Antique Barbed Wire Society, one of several societies of collectors and historians. Yes, there are collectors for everything, and with so many variants of wire and so much history for each one, the hobby has attracted some devoted followers.

Lots of historical societies and pioneer museums have small displays of barbed wire, so the next time you pass one on the highway, stop by and check it out. Just remember: look, but don’t touch!

[Image courtesy Coyote Grafix via flickr]

Amsterdam’s Torture Museum

torture, Amsterdam, torture museumLike many travelers, I have a soft spot in my heart for tourist traps. Whether it’s the politically incorrect cheesiness of South of the Border or the shabby weirdness of The Thing, nothing brings a smile to my face better than some cheap, gaudy attempt to capture my attention.

Amsterdam’s Torture Museum fits the bill perfectly. Behind a pseudo-spooky facade are reproductions of torture instruments from the Bad Old Days. You’ve got famous nasties such as the rack and the stocks, as well as lesser-known evils like the Flute of Shame. Pictured here is the Inquisition Chair. The victim was strapped in and the weight of his own body caused him to sink onto the spikes. Check out the gallery for more photos and descriptions.

The whole place is lit by weird red, orange, and blue lights and is a maze of stairs and hallways that makes you feel like you’re in a medieval dungeon. Signs in several languages (including English) give basic descriptions of what you’re seeing, and images pulled from old books show the torture instruments in action.

It’s all very garish and exploitative. No attempt is made to be socially redeeming by discussing modern torture. For example, there’s no display about waterboarding, used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Khmer Rouge, and the U.S. government. Of course there shouldn’t be because the U.S. government says waterboarding isn’t torture and they only use it on the guilty anyway. I know they’re speaking the truth because the U.S. government never lies and never makes mistakes.

The Torture Museum’s garish displays and Wikipedia-style descriptions are mere low-brow titillation. It’s when you think of what these objects really mean, and how similar instruments of cruelty are still in common use today, that this horror show becomes truly frightening.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Amsterdam day trip: Van Brederode castle!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.

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