Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

10 Fun Things in AMNH's Memorabilia Collection

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

Everyone knows that New York City’s American Museum of Natural History has incredible collections of everything from dinosaur fossils and bioluminescent fish specimens to ancient Chinese robes and meteorites to hippo skulls and rare books. But what people maybe don’t realize is that the museum has a unit—the Research Library’s Memorabilia Collection—devoted to cataloguing its own history, including scientific equipment, old exhibits, and the personal collections of notable contributors to the museum. The Memorabilia Collection is housed in an off-the-beaten path section of the building near one of the museum’s rare book rooms. Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Director of the Department of Library Services, let us poke around—under close supervision, of course.

1. Vintage Cameras

When you first enter the Memorabilia Room, you notice almost an entire row of shelves devoted to vintage camera equipment, including some large format cameras, and viewfinders. Much of it still works!

2. Lemur Bust

This bust of a “lemuroid primate” came from a long closed exhibit created by a museum curator, William King Gregory, called “Our Face from Fish to Man” (Gregory also wrote a book on the subject). The display—which went up in 1929 and would definitely not be considered accurate or politically correct today—included a number of busts, starting with a Devonian shark and ending with the bust of an “Australian bushman” and, finally, the head of a classic "Greek Athlete," which can also be seen in the Memorabilia Room.

Like most objects in the Memorabilia Collection, the bust is stored in a custom box constructed for it in the Library’s Conservation Lab.

3. Radiolarian Model

This beautiful model of a Radiolarian—tiny protozoa, found in the ocean, that come in a wide variety of shapes—was made by a glass blower at the museum. Written on the inside of the box is "Haeckel," for Ernst Haeckel, a scientist who published a book on these organisms in 1862, and the person for whom this species is named.

3. Microscopes

A collection of vintage microscopes were left to the museum in 2009 by Ronald Wilkinson, a Washington DC-based collector of rare books and scientific equipment. To avoid having to lift the delicate scopes out of the boxes, the museum’s conservators built some boxes with transparent removable front panels: simply have a look, or lift off the top and slide the front up and out.

4. Plaster Hadrosaur and Stegosaurus

Think of a dinosaur—any dinosaur. Chances are the image you’re conjuring up in your mind was drawn by famous dino illustrator Charles Knight, who worked at the museum in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He made these models of a Hadrosaur and a Stegosaurus out of plaster during that time.

A number of Knight’s paintings from the late 1800s and early 1900s also recently made it to the museum’s collection. They were mounted on thick artist’s board that contained acid, which was leaching into the paintings; the museum’s conservator painstakingly shaved off the board, then used an ultrasonic welder to seal the artwork in layers of mylar for protection.

6. Planetarium Pieces

The original Hayden Planetarium, designed by the New York City-based architects Samuel Breck Parkman Trowbridge and Goodhue Livingston (they also designed the Stock Exchange!), opened in 1935; it was dismantled in 1997 to make room for a new, state-of-the-art facility, which opened in 2000. The museum saved some very distinctive art deco wall sconces and architectural fragments to document the building—including pieces of the exterior stonework from the old planetarium—and stored them in the Memorabilia Collection.

7. Polar Bear Diorama

In the early- to mid-1900s, the Museum had a School Services Department that took things like this miniature polar bear diorama to public schools (objects, photographs, and lantern slides went out on loan, too; you can see one of the trucks they went out on for delivery here).

This diorama has both a front and a top window for more natural light; Baione believes these little traveling dioramas were created in-house.

8. Uncle Cosmo Signage

When the museum was renovating to put in the new Hayden Planetarium, workers discovered a false wall. Behind it was an old sign, featuring a character called Uncle Cosmo, that invited visitors to learn what they would weigh on other planets in the “Your Weight on Other Worlds” exhibit. Today, visitors to the museum can still step on scales in the planetarium to find out what they’d weigh on “other worlds.”

9. Plaster Model of Chrysalis

The museum’s most famous naturalist and taxidermist, Carl Akeley, sculpted this plaster model of a man—who resembled Akeley—emerging from a gorilla. The resulting bronze statue, Chrysalis, was initially refused a place at the National Academy of Design (which had commissioned it) on the grounds that it lacked merit, according to the New York Times. Chrysalis was instead unveiled at the West Side Unitarian Church during its “Evolution Day” in April 1924. Akeley spoke at the unveiling, stating that “his purpose in creating the statue was not to depict humans as ascending from beasts, but rather to defend the gorilla and other animals against the charge that they were somehow ‘bestial.’” Akeley died just two years later in Africa working to save the mountain gorilla; the bronze statue can now be found at Chicago’s Field Museum.

10. Seed Pod

It’s not just glass and plaster models and old equipment in the Memorabilia Collection. There are also things like a monkey seed pod—again, in a custom-made box—which doesn’t smell very good. Baione guesses that the pod was once part of an exhibit, and since it was in good condition, it was retained and made its way to the Memorabilia Collection.

Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.


Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)


Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.


This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.


This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.


To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.


“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.


Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.


Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

The American Museum of Natural History
10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.


Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.


We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.


When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.


Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.


Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.


Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.


Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.


Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.


If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.


The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.


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