There is no longer an excuse for writer’s block, at least as far as inspiration is concerned. I found the remedy during a recent trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when I walked into Pexcho’s American Dime Museum. Pexcho’s is tucked into a dark corner of the all-but-deserted Broadmoor Center Shopping Center on Florida Boulevard, a couple of blocks east of Airline Highway. If you need to have your polite view of the universe counterbalanced by the heady weight of dark reality, Pexcho’s is the place to go.
P. T. Barnum opened the first dime museum in 1841 as an entertainment and education center for the working class. Admission, by amazing coincidence, was a dime. The concept became extreme popular over the next several decades, with such establishments featuring bizarre exhibits, freak shows, magicians, and performers. Pexcho’s American Dime Museum is the last existing such establishment in the world. A great deal of its inventory was acquired from the gone, but not forgotten, Baltimore Dime Museum which closed in 2007.
So what is Pexcho’s American Dime Museum? The coolest place in the world, nothing more or less. When I toured the establishment, late on a Sunday evening in August, Proprietor Peter Excho was happily inking a tattoo in a parlor designed for such matters in the rear of the museum. Caila, Peter’s charming wife, expertly balanced an infant while showing me around the museum, which resembles nothing less than the home of your Uncle Indiana Jones. Two red velvet chairs which once sat proudly in a house of prostitution owned by former Louisiana Governor Huey Long sit quietly next to an aquarium which houses what is known as a “Pac-Man toad,” which flattens itself into a disc until dinner, in the form of a baby rat arrives. Indigenous to the South American rain forest, this little fellow has a mouth full of inverted teeth which makes it impossible for prey to escape its grasp. And yes, it will latch on to bare feet. Another aquarium houses a Florida Snapper Turtle, which, according to my host and hostess du jour, is used by body search teams in south Florida to locate waterlogged cadavers, since it regards decayed flesh as a delicacy. A clear plastic toy gun is safely and securely ensconced within a glass case.
This item was briefly marketed as a candy dispenser. The candy pellets were placed into the toy gun, and the user then put the barrel into their mouth and pulled the trigger. A shiver went down my back. And, against a far wall, a display devoted to the French entertainer Le Petomane and which includes vials which are reputed to contain sealed samples of his gaseous products. Verification was neither offered nor requested.
There are many, many more objects, loving displayed and wonderfully disarrayed. Peter, who spoke excitedly about forthcoming new exhibits while a young man reclined in a chair and watched his pectorals being pricked and inked with a stoic indifference, is awaiting the arrival of Abraham Lincoln’s last bowel movement, preserved from a chamber pot in Ford’s Theatre on that fateful night almost one hundred fifty years ago. That alone would be worth the return trip to Baton Rouge. You can visit online at www.pexchos.com , but you need to see the place in person to believe it. And when you get there, ask Caila to tell you the story behind the carving of the weeping pregnant woman. It is one of the saddest stories you will ever hear.
On a personal note: I am not the photographer in our family as should be obvious by the pictures which accompany this installment. My wife Lisa is, and her talent is surpassed only by that of my alternate blogmate John Ramsey Miller. Lisa’s work recently graced the cover of Westerville Magazine and some of her award-winning photos can be seen at the magazine’s website at http://www.columbuscityscene.org/capturing_life039s_moments.html
As you scroll down, the pictures beginning with the dragonfly (which was the September/October cover for the magazine) through the girl reading with the statue (featuring our daughter Annalisa) are hers.
What I am reading: TRAIL OF BLOOD by Lisa Black. A grisly discovery puts police forensic scientist Theresa MacLean in the middle of one of Cleveland’s oldest and most bizarre unsolved mysteries. You don’t want to be between me and the pages of this book until I finish it. Honestly.