Even with the lights on, the real stories behind some of the objects locked in the back rooms of museums can be chilling and spine-tingling as the haunted houses communities trick out as Halloween terror havens. Especially the body parts, tombstones, glass coffin, disturbing doll and some other items I profile in my new book: "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You." Grab a flashlight and some Halloween candy, and we'll go for a tour.
Creepy Museum Treasures
7 Creepy Museum Treasures That Will Give You the Halloween Shivers
Legend has it that the mummified thumb at theTennessee State Museum in Nashville is from the right hand of John A. Murrell, a notorious bandit from the early 1800s. The museum stores the digit in a tiny casket brought out only during an annual Halloween event when ghost stories and local legends are told.
A doll named "Jimmy" at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort has glassy eyes, a well-worn ivory complexion and a corpse-like look. "He just scares the heck out of the museum team," says Trevor Jones, director of museum collections and exhibitions, so Jimmy stays locked away.
The headstones of the "In Cold Blood" murderers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were stolen from a Lansing, Kansas cemetery and, once recovered, given to the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka for safekeeping. The grisly murders of four Clutter family members took place in 1959, but museum officials say any talk of displaying the markers still creates controversy.
It's art and it's invisible, but it's still a bit creepy. In "Anonymous II," artist Kris Martin called for an unidentified skeleton to be buried on the grounds of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When the work is on exhibit, museum visitors see a certificate that includes the GPS coordinates of the painted-yellow skeleton, but that's it.
Between 1897 and 1963, the electric chair dubbed "Old Sparky" ended the lives of 312 men and three women at the Ohio Penitentiary. The Ohio History Center in Columbus has displayed the chair briefly and received thank-you notes for doing so, including one from a visitor whose grandmother was murdered by someone executed in the chair.
This 600-pound, doeskin-embossed glass casket stays in storage at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York because "pretty much anywhere you put a coffin in a museum, it's going to make it look like funeral parlor," says Tina Oldknow, the museum's curator of modern glass. And who wants that?
This wallet in the collection of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Missouri was made from skin taken from human cadavers used in early anatomy classes at the country's first osteopathic medical school, which opened in 1892. Gruesome, yes, but "back then, cadavers weren't as respected as they are now," says museum curator Debra Loguda-Summers.