Saturday, September 18, 2010
Mesmerized by Marsh's
An old girlfriend used to accuse me of having Horror Vacui, a fear of open spaces, because of my tendency to like visually overwhelming decor where ones senses are bombarded with visual imagery. There is an element of truth to this, because I find myself energized and excited when I walk into an antique store packed full of old stuff, and my attic office is becoming more and more packed with knick knacks. On my recent vacation to the Pacific Northwest, I visited a place that delighted that side of me, where surprises were packed around every corner and the unexpected was often hanging right above your head.
Marsh's Free Museum in Long Beach, Washington goes back to 1935 when Wellington Marsh, Sr. opened up a business to sell hamburgers to "curious onlookers" who flocked to the beach to see a ship that ran aground in the fog. Over the years Marsh's has accumulated all sort of bizarre objects and artifacts for "curious onlookers", today known as tourists. In reality Marsh's is about as much a museum as Hillbilly Village is an actual mountain community. In other words it's a bunch of cool stuff arranged to lure you into a tourist gift shop.
Marsh's reminded me of Ripley's Believe It or Not with a shrunken head, a two-headed calf and their resident celebrity, Jake the Alligator Man. I'd become aware of Marsh's because of Vintage Roadside's work with Jake and Marsh's, and I was fortunate to be able to squeeze in a visit to meet Jake. The legend of Jake has taken on mythic proportions as some claim they saw him when he was alive in carnival sideshows or working as a New Orleans valet. On our July trip Jake was still sporting a Christmas hat with shells glued around the bottom, I like to think he put it on so he looked fancy for us.
Jeff from Vintage Roadside advised me to make sure I looked up when I was there, as there are all manner of bizarre critters hanging from the ceiling and perched on high places throughout the space. This was by far the most complete collection of taxidermy treasures I'd seen since the Shell World and the juxtaposition of life-like animals, antique arcade games and contemporary tourist kitsch is surreal. I have to admit I was very inspired by the bizarreness of this place and I liked most of the photos I took. It was provocative, slightly creepy and incredibly inspiring all at the same time. And on the opposite side of the continent from the mountains of South they even had a hillbilly. Yee haw!