- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

Expect some “ewws” and “ahhs” during a visit to the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum.

Earwax spoons, mousetraps, human-hair jewelry and Thomas Jefferson’s slipper socks are on display in an exhibit that showcases the stranger side of American history.

“Obsolete, Odd and Absolutely Ooky Stuff From the DAR Museum Vaults,” open through Sept. 2 at the museum, located at DAR headquarters near the White House, features about 80 objects that may have been useful and innovative in 18th- and 19th-century America but seem downright strange today.

“Everyone goes to the Air and Space Museum. How many people can go home and say I saw an ear spoon?” says Darleen Swanson of Annapolis, who recently visited the museum with her grandson, Carl Amaral, 13, of Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Museum director and chief curator Diane L. Dunkley got the idea for the family-friendly exhibit while showing a father and his two young sons around the museum’s period rooms. The boys spotted a snuff mull (a container for powdered tobacco) made out of a stuffed ram’s head. Cries of “eww” and “ahh” and “gross” ensued.

Ms. Dunkley decided to include the snuff mull, which the museum staff has nicknamed “Frank,” in an exhibit showcasing some of the more unusual pieces in DAR’s collection of 30,000 objects from pre-industrial America.

The exhibit is divided into sections such as “Just for Fun,” “Bad Medicine” and the tactfully titled “Taking Care of Business.” Each section is complemented by humorous illustrations taken from late 18th- and early 19th-century satirical prints.

“Somebody had a good sense of humor when they designed this exhibit,” says visitor Vicki Mallone of Chevy Chase.

Some objects in the exhibit, such as a box iron, may resemble modern-day household items, and others, including a ladies’ urinal, are one of a kind. A few of the gadgets, such as an 18th-century mousetrap and a meat grinder, are familiar but so strangely designed that even the museum curators aren’t quite sure how they work.

Visitors are invited to guess the identity and use of six “mystery objects” based on clues on the items’ placards. A handout picked up at the end of the exhibit reveals the correct answers.

The exhibit is designed for all ages, Ms. Dunkley says. Younger children don’t have to understand the exhibit to appreciate it. They may have fun just looking at a pair of dentures or a clothespin doll. Older children and adults may view the artifacts and ask about the history behind them. Labels and brief introductions to each section provide some background information on the items’ uses and their place in history.

“It has a lot of weird stuff. It’s interesting to see what people used to use,” 13-year-old Carl says.

Ms. Dunkley says she hopes the exhibit provides museum visitors with a starting point for learning more about American history.

“I hope they’re entertained,” Ms. Dunkley says. “I hope they learn at least one thing from life in the 18th and 19th century they didn’t know when they came in.”

If nothing else, there’s always the icky, ooky factor to keep people engaged.

“Kids are just fascinated by the gross,” Ms. Swanson says.


Location: The DAR Museum is at 1776 D St. NW, near the White House. It is between the American Red Cross and the Organization of American States buildings on 17th Street across from the Ellipse.

Directions: Walk south on 17th Street from the Farragut North stop on Metro’s Red Line or the Farragut West stop on the Orange and Blue lines toward Constitution Avenue. Turn right on D Street. The main museum entrance is in the middle of the block.

Hours: The DAR Museum and shop are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The exhibit runs through Sept. 2.

Parking: There is limited metered parking on nearby streets.

Admission: Free

More information: Call 202/879-3241 Monday through Friday, visit www.dar.org/museum or send e-mail to [email protected]


• Visitors must sign in at the front desk, pick up a visitor badge and pass through a metal detector. They may be asked to show ID.

• After touring the museum gallery, pick up a free self-guided tour map at the gift shop and explore the museum’s period rooms or take a group tour. Docents lead tours from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Tours leave from the desk near the museum entrance every half-hour.

• Visit the New Hampshire Attic on the third floor. It’s filled with dolls and toys from the late 18th and 19th centuries. In the hallway outside, children can play with reproduction toys.

• The DAR Museum does not have a place to eat lunch, but the Clara Barton Cafe at the American Red Cross is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. There also are vendors on 17th Street.

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