Unusual Museums

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. Come along with us this week as we visit some unusual museums in the United States.

A nineteen-sixteen Packard funeral bus. The Mercedes that carried the body of Princess Grace of Monaco in nineteen-eighty-two. A copy of the sarcophagus container that held the body of King Tutankhamen of Egypt. These are some of what visitors find at the National Museum of Funeral History, near Houston, Texas.

Some people like traditional collections of artwork and other objects in a museum. Millions visit the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., for example. But other people like smaller museums that collect one kind of object.

Museum goers can learn about funerals, foods, the lives of actors, the history of radio ... even teeth.

Most people would not consider a visit to a dentist their idea of a good time. But the Doctor Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry does not drill or pull teeth. Instead, it just tells about them.

The museum is at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. The first college to train dentists began there. A man named G.V. Black helped launch the profession in the eighteen-hundreds. When Doctor Black treated patients, he had no electric light. Most dental offices in those early times had big windows instead. Chairs for patients faced south to help dentists work by sunlight.

Looking at devices once used to remove infected teeth should pleases visitors. They should be happy that dentists no longer use them.

One set of false teeth in the museum is of special interest. It is made of animal bone. America’s first president, George Washington, wore these false teeth. They look as though they might have hurt.

The museum also has a huge toothbrush in an exhibit called “Plaque Attackers.” Visitors can use the toothbrush on a huge mouth. The mouth shows how plaque bacteria can damage the teeth. Children learn how to keep their teeth clean.

Another museum collects devices that help people hear. Some are old, and some are new. The Kenneth W. Berger Hearing Aid Museum is at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The museum has more than three-thousand hearing aids from around the world. Some hearing aids were designed to look like other objects. These devices were for people who did not want anyone to know they were wearing a hearing aid.

Here is how this museum got started. In nineteen-sixty-six, a professor at Kent State answered some questions for a publication now called Hearing Journal. Professor Kenneth Berger told the editor that he would like to show some hearing aids in the Speech and Hearing Clinic at the school. But the published story said he wanted a museum of hearing aids.

Soon Professor Berger began to receive old hearing aids. They arrived from all over the United States and from other countries. A man in Massachusetts sent more than five-hundred hearing aids. Professor Berger and his wife kept the growing collection in their home. Then, enough space opened at the university for his collection to become a real museum.

Some popular foods in America also have their own museum. One is the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, New York.

Some Jell-O products taste like fruit. They come in colors like red, orange, yellow or green. You add water to make it from powder. Then you cool the liquid gelatin until it becomes solid. People like to watch how it shakes when moved. Jell-O was invented in eighteen-ninety-seven. This museum tells about the history of the product.

Another museum also tells about a popular food product -- mustard. This museum is in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Mustard is a spicy substance made from mustard seeds. People have added it to their food for centuries. It tastes good on some meats and on bread.

The Mount Horeb Mustard Museum has more than three-thousand kinds of mustard. These come from almost every one of the fifty states and several other countries. The museum shows how mustard is made. Visitors can taste three-hundred kinds of mustard. But it is probably not a good idea to try them all at once.

A museum in Boston, Massachusetts, collects another common substance, but not one you would want to eat. This place is called the Museum of Dirt. It has hundreds of small containers of soil, sand and other dirt. People have given the museum dirt from around the world.

For example, the museum has dirt from Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee. There is red sand from Nome, Alaska, containing gold. There is also dirt from Mount Fuji in Japan.


Some museum collections are about the lives of famous people. A museum in Branson, Missouri, honors Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans. Roy Rogers was called the “King of the Cowboys.” He appeared in cowboy movies beginning in the nineteen-thirties. He later appeared on television.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans entertained people for more than a half a century. People in movies were not supposed to kiss when these two first appeared on film. So Roy kissed his horse.

The museum is full of memories of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. There are western hats and clothing. Photographs. Letters and recordings. A statue of Roy Rogers' horse, Trigger, stands outside the museum. Inside the museum are mounted versions of Trigger, Dale Evans’ horse Buttermilk and their dog Bullet, a German shepherd. They were among the most famous animals ever to appear in Hollywood movies.

Another museum honors the memory of two other entertainers, Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz. The Lucy-Desi Museum is in Jamestown, New York. That was her hometown. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz appeared in one of America’s best-loved television programs, "I Love Lucy." Millions of people watched the show during the nineteen-fifties. Even today, millions watch repeats of "I Love Lucy." The museum includes clothing and other belongings of this famous Hollywood couple.

Still another museum claims the world's largest collection of objects about the actor James Dean. The James Dean Gallery is in Fairmount, Indiana, the town where he grew up.

James Dean was a film star in the nineteen-fifties. He appeared in only three movies: "East of Eden," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant." Each time, he played a young man angry at the world.

A man named David Loehr started the museum twelve years ago to honor the actor. The image and memory of James Dean as a rebel against society remains strong long after his death. James Dean was killed in a car crash in nineteen-fifty-five. He was twenty-four years old.

From movies, we turn to radio. The development of this medium is the subject of a museum in Bedford, New Hampshire. It is called the United States National Marconi Museum.

Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor and engineer. He sent the first wireless telegraph message over the Atlantic Ocean in nineteen-oh-one. The signal reached from Cornwall, England, to Saint John’s, Canada.

Visitors to the Marconi Museum learn about early wireless equipment. This invention more than proved its value at sea. In nineteen-oh–nine, it saved many lives from a sinking ship, the Republic. In nineteen-twelve, the crew of the Titanic appealed for help after that ship struck an iceberg.

Visitors can discover how radios have changed over the years. One set from the nineteen-thirties, for example, is tall and wide. Modern children may be surprised to see no picture screen. But in the nineteen thirties radios could tell wonderful stories.

They still can.

THIS IS AMERICA was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. This is Phoebe Zimmermann. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States, in Special English, on the Voice of America.