When was the last time a museum made you laugh and cry without having to take a single step in any direction? Though its entire collection—which includes crudely counterfeited cash, rocks from Mars, tip jars, and one of the shoes thrown at George W. Bush by an Iraqi journalist in 2008—is located inside a sweltering elevator shaft in a tiny alley in Lower Manhattan, the confines of Museum's display serve to magnify the power each artifact has on you. It's a dizzying combination of art and human history viewed through the quiet nobility of our everyday ephemera, and it is awesome.
When I arrived at Museum, which is located on Cortland Alley between Franklin and White Streets— not too far from where P.T. Barnum first set up his gallery of oddities—a nice woman greeted me and explained how the Museum worked. Admission is free, pictures are encouraged, and information about each artifact could be gleaned through a printed pamphlet or by calling an 800 number.
Make the call so you can have your experience narrated by a bemused man with a British accent. Many of the artifacts, such as the property of the late jeweler Alex Hastreiter—who liked to emboss his possessions with the phrase "Stolen from Alex Walter Hastreiter," and whose life is lovingly recounted by his daughter Kim—have stories. Others do not. Silicon noses and nipples, taken from piercing shops, sit mutely against the wall.
A haunting row of bulletproof children's backpacks, which sold particularly well after the Newtown shootings in December, lies near bars of soap carved into swastikas by a convicted Alaskan murderer who killed his cellmate for talking too much.
The sad-looking hamburger in the line of Cambodian menu photo rejects (exactly what it sounds like) hilariously transports you into the negotiation between photographer and restauranteur. Al Goldstein's notes from the mid-1990s, transcribed by the pornographer's secretary from his dictaphone, are what you'd expect ("Monday and Tuesday night again I want to do Katherine one night and my little blonde friend the other night…This is for Liz. There is something called Arizona Raspberry iced tea. Diet. I would like.") yet the fact that they still exist and are inches from your face is fascinating.
When it opened for its first season last year, one of Museum's founders, Alex Kalman, told the Times that the items "reveal a lot about who we are." This is unequivocally true, even if the provenance of that famous shoe is not.
Museum is open Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but you can peer through the windows of the doors anytime. The artifacts in Season 2 can be seen through July 1. Go, and drop a few dollars in the donation bin.