In an out of the way street in the city of Baltimore in Maryland, behind a door flanked by the statues of two lions, lies the mythically named “Protean Books and Records” store. And within the confines of this store behind a set of dark curtains lies a single-room museum with a most bizarre collection of oddities named “Doctor Gloom’s Crypt of Curiosities”.
The collection was originally put together by Dr. Augustus Gloom, a gentleman with interests that ranged from the unusual to the morbid. The first incarnation of the crypt was opened to the public in 1954 in Greencastle, Indiana. It grew and remained open for two plus decades until Dr. Gloom was killed in a Ferris wheel accident in 1977. The collection then changed hands a few times and travelled across two states before being gifted to horror filmmaker Chris LaMartina and finding its way to its current location.
I visited Dr. Gloom’s Crypt of Curiosities this year, and you can see some of the things that I found there in the photographs below.
Now, why am I presenting this in a science blog? Let me be clear, Dr. Gloom’s Crypt is pure balderdash. I mean, Bruno the headless duck doesn’t even have webbed feet. It’s a chicken! Fiji mermaids have long been a well-known taxidermist folly. No conclusive evidence has ever been found for the existence of Bigfoot, and so on. This museum is nothing more than a combination of myth, anecdotes, hearsay, exaggerations, and fake artifacts. But it admits as much. The book I bought regarding the museum’s collection is titled: “Take Home Tourist Trap”. Dr. Gloom’s Crypt of Curiosities revels in its own fakeness. It follows the great tradition of the American Dime Museums which were popular places of entertainment for the working class during the latter part of the 19th century. I see visiting Dr. Gloom’s Crypt as some harmless fun no different from reading a work of fiction or watching a fantastic movie.
But what if I told you that right now in the United States there are a number of museums and theme parks that are presenting misinformation, fake claims, and beliefs as truths?
The places where this is done are the so-called creationist museums and theme parks. In these places you are told that the world is a few thousand years old, that there was a universal flood that covered the whole planet, that the animals we see around us today are descendants from those saved from the flood in Noah’s Ark, that dinosaurs and humans inhabited the same time period, and that evolution is not true. Not only are creationist arguments highly problematic but they ignore, twist, or misrepresent all the evidence generated by scientists that has conclusively demonstrated that these notions are false. The scientific evidence indicates that our world is billions of years old. Scientists have refuted creationists’ alleged evidence for a worldwide flood as well as the notion that humans and dinosaurs were contemporaries. The sheer diversity and stratification of fossils also refutes the universal flood/Noah’s Ark narrative, and evolution not only is a fact, but its tenets have been and are being applied to the betterment of our societies.
I don’t believe that creationists are dishonest on purpose, and I understand the reason why they do these things. Creationists take the narrative of the Bible as literally true. And if they limited themselves to issues such as values, ethics, and morality, that would be one thing. But creationists also take the narrative of the natural history present in the Bible to be literally true, and from there they try to fit it as best as they can to evidence that is incompatible with it. In essence creationists are trying to insert a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. Not only do their beliefs taint their interpretation of the facts, but they are also presenting them as true to a wider audience and influencing minds. Because of this, I cannot excuse what they are doing. Belief is a fine thing to have, but it must be tempered by reality. If hundreds of years of evidence generated by scientists of different countries, ethnicities, and political, social, and philosophical persuasions indicates that your beliefs are wrong, then you should revise them.
If the people behind Dr. Gloom’s Crypt of Curiosities started arguing that the remains of Baron Radu are those of a true vampire, or that the specimen they have of the Devil Hawk of Amchitka Island is a true mutated bird, or that their copy of the Scroll of Anubis can actually raise the dead, I would raise my voice against them and write about it. However, they don’t. Doctor Gloom’s Crypt is phony and obviously so, but the premises espoused in creationist museums are no less fantastical. The difference is that the latter will not admit it.
Photo of dinosaurs alongside humans in the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY by David Berkowitz used here under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.