We’re thrilled to have a guest post from Tom Zarrilli of Yard Sale Addict. Tom started the blog in 2004 and closed up shop just a couple months back. When we got a peek at the photos below (via the still alive and kicking Yard Sale Addict Facebook group), we practically begged him to do a guest post for us. Kick your feet up and enjoy!
Creationism or properly Creation Science has made a name for itself in debates over school textbooks. But it has also fostered the establishment of a number of small museums around the country that offer those who prefer a biblical inspired version of natural history a place to see dinosaurs and other things prehistoric in a different light from those old line humanist institutions one encounters in major cities.
One of these establishments, The Museum of Creation, is located in Social Circle, a small charming town about forty minutes east of Atlanta. Social Circle is mostly known for the Blue Willow Inn, a highly touted southern restaurant located in an old Victorian home. I had heard some talk of a creation museum there, but I never considered a visit until I saw the ad in the Sunday paper for an auction indicating that it had become a victim of these recessionary times and its entire contents were up for sale. The museum is the brainchild of John Hunt, a skilled taxidermist who in his long career has created elaborate displays for theme parks and museums. The sale appeared to be the cultural opportunity of a lifetime, mixing yard sale, roadside attraction and religious dogma into one fun-filled package.
I set out to explore the place on the preview day with two other artists, Stan and Devidyal, who shared my bizarre curiosity about the place — not only for the odd religious aspects we might encounter, but also for a love of taxidermy. I have always had a love of mounted animals. There were no hunters in my family, so we had no mounted stags over the mantle. As a child, I concluded that those dead heads that forever stared at you with glass eyes were something only the rich and elegant enjoyed in their homes. But my love of really great mounts (never used the word stuffed) was formed when my family lived within a day’s drive of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. Frequent visitations invoked dreams of having a home containing not only mounted yaks and okapi, but also life-sized dioramas of Eskimo hunters and tattooed Maori warriors.
Later, as an adult exploring the realm of yard sales, I determined that a dusty mounted moose head was the leading cliché of what people might encounter at yard sales. Sadly, in all my years spent in the yards of clutter I’ve never seen a moose head at any sale. While common white tailed deer heads do sometimes appear, overall the sales I visit are mostly stocked with plastic bass on plaques that sing “Take Me to the River” at the push of a button.
We found the Museum of Creation in a strip mall built directly behind the town’s noted restaurant — conveniently located so one could fill up on collards, country fried steak and peach cobbler, then wander through its doors to marvel at the wonders of creation.
To my surprise the place was not overrun with curiosity seekers. Perhaps more people would turn out for the sale itself, in lieu of today’s preview. At the entrance we were given a bidding number and an inventory list. Inside we found the museum for the most part unchanged from when it was open for business. Near the entrance we encountered the first animatronics display, a life-like talking lion.
At the push of a button he instructed us to enjoy the museum, go to the theatre and to be sure to visit the gift shop on the way out.
Past the talking lion was a hallway where seven huge paintings were hung depicting dramatically the seven days of creation. Past the seventh day of creation (which was really a day off for God) we encountered what happens when you hoard a goodly amount of creation by displaying it wildly arranged in massive glass cases. One case was a dizzying array of butterflies whose arrangement screamed of a serious OCD.
Some cases contained mostly skeletons, well-assembled skeletons but gathered together in no particular order. In one display the backdrop was a gigantic painting of Noah’s ark in a stormy sea, in front of it was a selection of rocks, eggs, assorted bones and a model of a velociraptor.
The whole thing began to look like someone was trying to create a TV show entitled America’s Got Taxidermy.
More animatronic creations showed up in the form of a pair of pandas silently nodding and shaking their heads. Another showcased two brightly colored macaws sitting motionless on a slowing spinning perch. One case labeled The Old Curator’s Office appeared to offer homage to the general confusion of the place. This display looked like it started as a curator’s office but soon turned into a junk pile badly in need of a garage sale. Scattered about were old lamps, a telegraph, a cast of the head of Abraham Lincoln, plush cats, more bones, more rocks, old furniture, a human skeleton, an old fire extinguisher, a selection of claws, assorted turtle shells, several pelts, and a faux Gila monster,. The best feature was that the glass was removed from the case and the general public could step into the display and shift through the clutter.
Another case offered a backstage look at how the animatronics were created. Here was the bare Plexiglas body of a lion with a good deal of electronics trailing out of its body so it appeared like some discard from an unfinished, low budget Terminator film. It was placed in a scary looking workshop littered with power tools, test equipment and remote controls that looked like they came from Radio Shack.
Amid, between, and scattered near the display cases was a mixture of minerals, bones, petrified creatures and objects of dreadful decor. I have no idea what purpose the five foot stylized metal chicken served. Among the mix was a mummified cat (technically not natural history), an alligator skull with a frog in its jaws, a large ceramic sculpture of a fairy with a flamingo, and an Asiatic elephant skull with a sign adjoining it reading “Please touch Asiatic elephant skull.”
In a corner was a pair of benches flanked by a massive faux elephant head, possibly placed there to give museum visitors struck with sensory overload a place to rest.
More hands-on exploration could be done in the back storage rooms away from the watchful eyes of the auction security officers. Here we came upon a metal case full of large broken insects and crustaceans. While I have drawers in my own home that have large broken insects in them, I would not consider putting them up for auction.
The back rooms contained not only the contents of a museum, but also the contents of a gym with a variety of exercise machines. In the center of the room were an unfinished full-size model of an orca and a full-size unicorn (thankfully not crafted from a dead horse).
But our greatest surprise was finding a cardboard drum marked “elephant hide.”
Amazingly, it did house an elephant’s hide.
Stan became fixated with the thick, massive, leathery dried skin and envisioned plans of adding it to his studio décor. I suggested fashioning a three-piece suit out of the leather, with matching shoes and hat. But when the owners explained that the barrel of skin would be in the four-digit range, Stan declined.
The theatre mentioned by the lion at the entrance was a large empty room with a stage at one end with a lion and lamb sitting in what appeared to be the set of a passion play. At the push of a red button located near the entrance the lamb and lion began a lengthy theological discussion. The lion’s remarks were accented by growls that sounded as though he suffered from a serious case of post-nasal drip. While the lamb that spoke in a very wimpy voice mostly remarked, “tell me more Mr. Lion” as he rolled his head and eyes about.
The area of what had been the gift shop was mostly empty, and most of its contents will remain a mystery. But left in the room scattered on the floor were a variety of carved figures of Native Americans, a wicker container used by the Swiss military for carrying munitions, a painting of a desert scene that incorporated real sand on the canvas, old coke bottles from around the world, and a huge stack of large plastic reproductions of the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
The largest single item in the gift shop was a Jurassic Park pinball machine. I have yet to determine what day of creation it was manufactured on.
We did not return for the actual auction held over the following two days, but some of the results of the sale (along with more photos) can be found on the Morbid Anatomy web site.
Wow. Just … wow.
Thanks, Tom! We look forward to following along on more of your adventures via Yard Sale Addict on Facebook.