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Museums Showcase Creepiest Objects in Nightmarish Online Challenge

Steve Palace
Creepy objects from museums. (Courtesy of respective museums via Twitter)
Creepy objects from museums. (Courtesy of respective museums via Twitter)

Museums are showing the world their creepiest objects! While #CuratorBattle may not be the first hashtag that springs to mind when someone thinks of excitement, this latest cyber-skirmish has definitely got people’s attention.

The weekly contests have taken a turn for the weird, as host Yorkshire Museum launched the #CreepiestObjects battle on Twitter. “MUSEUMS ASSEMBLE!” the institution declared, posting an opening salvo from the lunch-summoning side of history.

Looking at first glance like a bird’s nest, the Roman “hair bun” (minus owner) was introduced to the Twittersphere by these self-isolating challenge setters. Dating to around the 3rd or 4th century, it has what appear to be nails jutting from the fearsome follicular display (they’re actually jet pins). It’s available to view once things get back to normal – not that many are going to accept that offer!

creepy museums
Submissions included a plague mask, a Feejee “mermaid” and a peapod pincushion. (Courtesy of respective museums via Twitter)

The Museum were certainly taking a gamble with this post. Speaking of which, a retch-inducing response came from the SMT Collections Team in the seaside town of Scarborough. There have been some interesting good luck charms used by humanity over the years. Not to point the finger, but this is the worst… a gambler’s digit! It’s labelled as being from British Columbia, 1911.

For those preferring more meat on the bones of their creepy objects, Blaise Museum in Bristol showcases frighteningly realistic props from much-loved British TV series Casualty. The show’s been running so long, the dismembered display surely counts as a museum piece…!

From humans to crustaceans for this unholy offering from York Castle Museum. The Victorian curio shows figures hand-crafted from crab parts. Should the venue ever wish to pass them on, it’d be a hard shell.

Masks are a staple element of many a horror flick. And they play a pretty mean role in history too! Gaze upon this worryingly pointy plague mask from the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. It’s identified as being from “1650/1750!”

The next pick has a prestigious location, but that’s the only impressive thing about it! The famous Royal Armouries invites Tweeters to “turn the creep factor up to 100” over a mask that once sat in the Tower of London. Made of iron, it’s thought to have been an Executioner’s mask. However the Armouries believe that this isn’t a facial accessory for noggin choppers but a “scold’s bridle”, which encased the head and pushed somewhat nastily on the wearer’s tongue.

The animal kingdom has contributed much to the creepy side of human heritage. Inadvertently of course! Why paint a face on a plate when a whale’s eardrum will do just as well? That’s the crazy logic employed by this relic from the collection of Historic Environment Scotland. The find is highlighted by conservation head Clara Molina Sanchez, who describes it as “one of my favourite objects”.

Marine life of the most macabre kind is ably demonstrated by a “zombie blowfish”, care of collector Annie Brassey. (She’s managed to start a Twitter account despite being alive between 1839 and 1887!) Located at Bexhill Museum, the specimen is remarkably and horrifyingly intact.

feejee mermaid
A papier-mâché mermaid from the same Moses Kimball collection that once included the Feejee Mermaid exhibited by P. T. Barnum.

Brassey posted this in response to a notorious “Monkey mermaid”. Supplied by National Museums Scotland, it thankfully has no place in nature. “Rather than representing any natural-born creature, the objects were purposefully manufactured oddities,” writes Smithsonian Magazine, “often created by sewing the back half of a fish onto the torso of a juvenile monkey (or a sculpture crafted to resemble one).”

Jet pins were mentioned in connection with Yorkshire Museum’s hair bun. Those wondering where else to stick them couldn’t do much worse than this pin cushion. Resembling a pea pod, only with children’s heads (yes, children’s heads) instead of greens, it’s more Texas Chainsaw than Jolly Green Giant.

The kiddie-themed creepiness continues with “Wheelie”. A four-legged creature of some kind set on wheels, it’s said to be cursed. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, it was discovered walled up in an old mansion! The proud yet petrified owners of Wheelie are the Provincial Museum system of Canada. According to them, it moves around when no-one’s looking, adding to the fearsome and furry fun.

Related Article: 8 Creepy Museums in America

Smithsonian Magazine give a whistlestop tour of the other entries to Yorkshire Museum’s nerve-shredding shout out. “A curator from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford sent in a nail-studded sheep’s heart intended to be worn as a necklace that could ‘break evil spells’” they write. “Also batting for Team Creepy Jewelry, the nearby Ashmolean Museum submitted its own pendant, carved to display a ded man’s drooping face on one side and a rotting skul wriggling with worms on the other.”

The battle of the curators takes place every Friday. Here’s hoping their next subject will be a little less nightmare inducing…