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5 Hidden Treasures Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You

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We all know that museums don’t put everything on display, but just what do they have lurking in storage? It turns out U.S. museums have host of hidden treasures. This weekend, Harriet Baskas shares them all in her new book, Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You (pre-order your copy now). We were lucky enough to score a preview of five. Check out what the museums don’t want you to see.

1. Pinups Hidden at a Family Heritage Museum

Sedona Heritage Zoemozert

Photo credit: Sedona Heritage Museum, Sedona, Arizona

Model and well-known illustrator Zoë Mozert created hundreds of paintings and magazine covers featuring Hollywood starlets and pin-up girls. Among her most famous works is the poster for the controversial Howard Hughes film, The Outlaw, starring Jane Russell. But “naked is the problem” with the self-portrait Mozart gave to Arizona’s Sedona Heritage Museum, according to museum historian Janeen Trevillyan. “We’re a small, family-oriented museum and how in the world are we ever going to show it? We laugh sometimes and say if we ever have an art exhibit, we’ll have to put that painting in a separate room, behind a black curtain.”

 2. Gun Control in Dayton

Ohio Dillinger Gun

Photo credit: From the collections of Dayton History

John Dillinger – dubbed Public Enemy #1 – is best known for a Depression-era crime spree of bank robberies, jail breaks and alleged murders in the Midwest that transformed him from a petty criminal into an infamous gangster and folk legend. He broke out of a supposedly escape-proof jail in Crown Point, Indiana in 1934 armed with a carved wood gun, but a very real gun he used in a robbery in 1933 is part of the collection managed by Dayton History in Ohio. The historical value of the artifact and concern over being able to exhibit the gun in a secure manner are among the reasons it is rarely, if ever displayed. So for now the gun remains housed in a safe, climate-controlled archive center somewhere in Ohio.

3. Thumbs Out on Halloween

Nashville Historical Thumb

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum

Among the treasures in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville are President Andrew Johnson’s piano and a $240 check issued by the Republic of Texas to David “Davy” Crockett’s estate after his death at the Alamo. The museum also has what was is said to be the mummified thumb from the right hand of John A. Murrell, a notorious criminal who roamed Tennessee and along the Mississippi River in the early 1800s. Because doubts have surfaced over the years as to whether or not the thumb is actually Murrell’s, the museum keeps the digit in storage. But it resides in a specially made tiny casket that is taken out during the museum’s annual Halloween event, when ghost stories and local legends are told.

 4. Monkeys Gone Wild

Hidden Treasures

Photo credit: From the Collections of the Henry Ford (15.1.1/THF49082)

The single-story, nine-acre museum in Dearborn, Michigan, known as The Henry Ford displays everything from bicycles, buses, cars, airplanes and locomotives to unusual artifacts such as a test tube sealed and taken from the bedroom where Thomas Edison took his last breath. As big as it is, the museum still has treasures tucked away. One example: this diorama made around 1914 of 70 monkeys gambling, drinking and working in a saloon – all activities that the diorama maker, an inmate in a Massachusetts prison, believed led otherwise upstanding people astray.

5. A Felon’s Manual

Orcas Book

Photo by Harriet Baskas

During a multi-year crime spree that stretched from Washington’s San Juan Islands to Canada and the Bahamas, Colton Harris-Moore (dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit”) committed dozens of break-ins and stole cars, boats, bikes and planes. In 2012, after Harris-Moore was captured and put in jail, the Orcas Island Historical Museum in Eastsound, Washington, received boxes of declassified evidence from the trial. Many area residents would rather their local museum not give more publicity to a felon, so for now items such as the pilot’s manual Harris-Moore ordered online in order to teach himself to fly are kept tucked away.

For more museum adventures, check out:

By Harriet Baskas, as excerpted from Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You

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