The Million Dollar Museum
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US-62/180 and Highway 7 · Whites City, NM
What if you had a garage sale and no one came? Now, what if the same thing happened every spring for fifty years — a lifetime of reclaimed attic space accumulating in your driveway? Well, you might just be able to open your very own Million Dollar Museum.
The Million Dollar Museum, located en route to Carlsbad Caverns, is a showcase of pack-rat compulsion. It's proof positive that otherwise useless miscellanea become quite fascinating when presented in sheer quantity. "Antiques Roadshow" it's not, but entertaining it definitely is.
My eye was first drawn to the museum by a large, yellow sign on the side of a truck out front. German scientists ask — is 12-inch body a real alien? The answer is inside. It was roadside advertising at its best. I had to find out what the German scientists had to say.
Once inside, I was titillated by an antique, 25-cent, Kinetoscopic peep show marked "Men Only," as well as an original, working Asteroids video game — two items that, by themselves, could give the museum its opulent name. Potential hours of entertainment and I hadn't yet entered the first showroom.
I resisted such temptation and made my way inside, but not before I was admonished by hand-written signs warning, "No Snuff Inside." Apparently, there had been some sort of snuff-related problem in the past. I made a note to watch my step.
As I was to discover, such enigmatic signage pervades the self-guided tour. But, I realized that's exactly what makes it so mesmerizing. "George's Fiddle." "Angel-face devil fish. Caught in Old Mexico." "Tom Ketchum's Amputated Arm." They're like little puzzles waiting to be solved. Many are hand painted, but fraught with typos, although often corrected in pencil.
In the first showroom, I discovered that what actually gives the museum its title is a valuable European dollhouse collection, "the largest of its kind in the free world." As it is explained, the largest is under control of the Russians in East Germany. Will the Cold War ever end?
The dollhouses were pretty (and evoked some repressed childhood memories) but I had to move on. Where was the alien? Why, in the next room, of course. So much for suspense. There it lay in a glass case, the story of which was fully explained by a typed, letter-size narrative — the longest that would be witnessed within these walls. If you would like to see the curiosity for yourself, well, you'll just have to head out to New Mexico. Sorry to tease you and not offer a photo, but I'm not about to be accused of ruining the surprise.
Besides, there's much more that I can tell you about.
Although there was only one direction to go, yellow arrows on the floor defined my path. After gawking at — among many other things — a two-headed snake, as well as a mummy originally discovered surrounded by "four heads in baskets," a couple of liberated cavern stalactites and a genuine Roswell newspaper (having nothing to do with any alien crash site), I made my way downstairs through the Hall of License Plates to the proclaimed Horniest Room in the World.
Once again, I am loath to reveal the surprise, so I'll leave you to discover the secret yourself. Suffice it to say the room is exactly what you think it is and nothing that you hope it could be.
Further chambers revealed many more eclectic treasures. Cuckoo clocks, cars, wood planes, bear traps, cooking utensils, musical instruments, branding irons, post-office boxes, stamps, fossils, keys, washing machines, guns, eye glasses, gramophones, funhouse mirrors, swords, artillery shells...the list goes on. A voice in the background proclaims, "What's this thing?!" Another follows, "What the...weird thing!"
Some items stick out more than others, like the 500-piece, hand-carved Whittlin' Cowboys Ranch. Or the nineteenth-century horse-drawn hearse. Or even the two-wheel roller skates, "patent 1897." (Turns out Rollerblades aren't such a new idea.) Of course, you can't dismiss the wooden mail slots acquired from a Roswell post office. Then there's the contraption hanging on the wall marked, "Used for Smoking Bees." Frankly, I wasn't aware you could do that. Must be a great buzz.
The exit lead back out to the arcade and through the convenience store where I purchased my admission. I was on a schedule and Carlsbad Caverns was calling me from up the road, but if you have the time yourself, my recommendation is to grab a couple of cold beers (as advertised) and experience the museum a second time around in another state of consciousness.
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