Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Strange Museums Online

A guide to odd and eclectic Internet sites.

By H.B. Koplowitz

MAY 22, 2000:  People will collect anything. Anything. And on the Internet, collectors can become curators and flaunt their obsessions at strange museum Web sites.

In 1973, Tom Bates of Goodletsville, Tennessee, saw a pyramid in his Aunt Susan's basement made from beer cans given to her by his Uncle Buzzy, a chemical equipment salesman. Bates, 13, decided collecting beer cans was "neat," so on his way home from school everyday he began retrieving "dirty, scroungy, ant-filled beer cans from the side of the road." Soon Tom's can pyramid outgrew his room and invaded the den, where it nearly killed the family cat when it tipped over. Tom's dad got into collecting soda cans, and the collection was moved into "Old Blue," an abandoned construction trailer. In 1986, ground was broken for the "Museum of Beverage Containers and Advertising and the Bates Collection of Drink-Abelia" (www.gono.com/vir-mus), which today contains more than 36,000 beer and soda cans, 9,000 bottles, and all kinds of advertising.

Phil Miller of Greenfield, Indiana, has been collecting sugar packets since he graduated from college in 1978. Through the "generosity of friends, friends of friends, and various truckers," his collection has grown to more than 6,000 packets and wrappers. In 1996 Miller started "The Sugar Packet Collector's Page" (members.iquest.net/~phillip), with a stultifying array of sugar packets decorated with pictures of old presidents, old cars, and old airplanes, along with tips on collecting sugar packets, a list of international events for sugar packet collectors, and links and e-mail addresses for sugar packet traders.

In 1994, Kevin Savetz and his wife bought an old house in Northern California. When they moved in, the garage was full of junk, including nails, washers, and bolts stored in 17 metal Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid containers dating back to the 1950s. "75 Years of Band-Aid" (www.savetz.com/bandaid) has some basic information about Band-Aids, like that they were invented in 1921. But Savetz has apparently resisted the temptation to expand his collection much beyond the original 17 Band-Aid boxes he found in his garage, which are displayed, front and back, on his Web site, along with a few others contributed by visitors.

Over the past 30 years, Barney Smith of San Antonio, Texas, has decorated more than 500 toilet seats -- most of them still hanging in his garage -- with city decals, fraternal organization pins, old license plates, and other items you wouldn't normally associate with glue guns. There are city, fraternal organization, and sports team logo toilet seats, religious-themed toilet seats, even a "just say no to drugs" toilet seat. If you can't make it to Barney's garage, you can still see his work at "Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum" (www.unusualmuseums.org/toilet).

Thirty-five-year-old Douglas James Gilford is co-owner of Gilford's Floorcovering in Portland, Oregon. He also owns a copy of every issue of Mad magazine since the first one was published in 1952. "Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site" (www.collectmad.com/madcoversite) displays the covers of them all with a summary of their contents. Gilford says he never set out to become a collector, but that he was first exposed to Mad by a baby-sitter in 1972, and by the time he was a teenager he was hooked. "For no particular reason I just woke up one day and told myself I had to have every regular issue," he says. The Web site is "a resource for collectors and fans of the world's most important (ecch!) humor publication."

St. Louis newspaper reporter Ray Castile's "The Gallery of Monster Toys" (members.aol.com/raycastile/page1.htm) contains an extensive collection of vintage monster toys dating back to the first Aurora monster model kit -- Frankenstein -- in 1961. As impressive as the collection of monster toys is Castile's narrative, half history and half reminiscence, explaining the connections between the toys, horror films, and TV shows and personalities like Shock Theater and Elvira.

Scott Gordon, an assistant professor of computer science at Sonoma State University in Northern California is curator of the "World Famous Asphalt Museum" (www.cs.sonoma.edu/~sgordon/asphalt.html). According to Gordon, the museum's most valuable holdings are a chunk of old Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, along with chips of other highways in California, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The "museum" tops a "Yahoo!" search engine list of Bay Area museums, although it is housed in a box on a desk in Gordon's office.

All the way from Perth, Australia, comes "Graham Barker's Navel Fluff Page" (www.feargod.net/fluff.html), which at first sounds pretty clever -- a collection of navel lint from the rich and famous -- except that the two-and-one-half jar collection, begun in 1984, consists entirely of Graham Barker's navel lint. The Web site examines such burning questions as where does navel lint come from, what determines its color, why it is more often found in men than women, and why does it accumulate in the belly button? You can also take part in the world's first Internet survey of navel fluff.

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