I ran across this Buzzfeed article today which lists off the “11 Of The Oddest Tourist Attractions In America.” I’m all for quirky/odd/irreverent adventures (it’s one of the reasons I love the books by the Weird USA guys) so as soon as I saw the headline I clicked in. Of the eleven I have been to only two… a travesty. Of the two I have only really experienced one. The one I didn’t get to truly experience was the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. I was there, in the museum, for a conference but our time was so tightly scheduled that I never had an opportunity to see the exhibit. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great conference about art in America, but alas, no anatomical specimens or antique medical equipment for me to peruse. The one I did get to enjoy was “The Thing!”
Back in 1989 my family was moving across the country from Goose Creek, South Carolina (a beloved childhood home just outside of Charleston) to Monterey, California (a less-beloved at the time coastal town in a world far removed from what I had known my first 14 years of life. In hindsight, Monterey is a great town… but my angsty teenage self wouldn’t accept the move that easily).
As we traversed the U.S. in our Ford Aerostar, my mother made a point to stop at locations that we might not get to see again in the near future, like Arizona’s Meteor Crater or the Hoover Dam. But then, as we drove along I-10, we started spotting bright yellow billboards proclaiming, in large blue letters, that “The Thing” was ahead. These signs started at least a hundred miles out and seemed to pop up ever two to three miles as we drove along.
“Mom, what’s ‘The Thing’?” I asked from the passenger seat (both brothers were busy playing with Happy Meal figures in the second row and had ignored the mysterious roadside beacons).
“No idea,” she said, tapping her cigarette on the window ledge, ashes scattering past the glass. A dozen more miles came and went, and two dozen more billboards passed. Each time that yellow rectangle zoomed toward us I could see my mom’s eyes narrow behind her sunglasses as she stared. It was as though she was trying to decipher some coded message in the text, What’s your secret??
Finally, she flicked another cigarette out the window, turned to me and smiled, “Wanna find out?”
As the signs pointed us in the correct direction, she pulled the Aerostar off the interstate and drove into a dusty little storefront.
We entered the store and she paid the measly admission (even today it’s only $1.00 each), walked past the gift shop/gas station cashier, and entered the “museum.”
We walked along a path which lead past various exhibits including a rusted out Rolls Royce and a cage of torture devices (I kid you not) and then we came upon what looked to be either a homemade sarcophagus OR a deep freezer like you might find in your parents’ basement. And there, inside this box, was “The Thing.”
For the sake of the museum and those who are eager to discover oddities like “The Thing,” I’ll leave mystery a mystery. But I will say that we left half laughing and half disappointed in our so-called adventure. Sure, we bought some snacks and cold drinks from the cashier and went on our way, sated and possibly wiser (in some ways)… but by no means will seeing “The Thing” answer all of your questions that you dream up as you drive the long stretch of road toward it. Your imagination is by far the greater attraction here.