Eureka Springs redeemed itself, in a manner of speaking, with Miles’ Music Museum. We pulled in on a whim, Derek hoping we might see some nifty old guitars or tube amps or something. But Floyd Miles, a Southern patriarch who bore a remarkable resemblance to a (more) evil Colonel Sanders, proved to be something other than the Ozark Brian Eno.
The centerpiece of Miles’ Music Museum was a collection of what I guess you’d call nickelodeons: big mechanical orchestras that ran on rolls of punch cards like player pianos. Apparently these were quite the thing in dance halls and bawdy houses around the turn of the century. You kids might “dig” that “rockaroll music,” but you ain’t heard nothing ’til you’ve heard a steam-powered circus wagon of automated trumpets and bells and accordions lay down the fat groove to “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.”
I sketched this ‘artist’s conception’ of one of the museum’s big autocthodeons in our roadtrip scrapbook. There were half a dozen of these beasts, each one the size of a minivan.
More Fun With Spastics
But here’s where it started getting stranger. In the back, behind the World’s Largest Banjo and a bass violin made out of matchsticks, was a little chapel. Fair enough. Seems like Jesus is even bigger than the Beatles around these parts. But mixed in between Franklin Mint renditions of the Twelve Stations of the Cross were some decidedly non-Christian artifacts: a suit of Mongol armor complete with Fu Manchu moustache attached; some weird fish skeletons and unidentifiable animal skins from Southeast Asia; a driftwood shoggoth…
Behind the, um, “altar” of this rather ecumenical place of worship was a little hallway and a series of rooms that weren’t on the tour proper. Floyd’s acolytes said we were welcome to look around, though. The first room featured a needlepoint tribute to Apollo 11, for some reason, and another to the Declaration of Independence. Floyd’s WWII-era button collection was on display, too, featuring such inspiring sentiments as “Bomb the Japs Off the Map,” “Go Get Some Monkey Meat,” and “Find a Fellow That is Yellow and Beat Him ‘Til He’s Black and Blue.”
Besides being a music lover and a patriot, Floyd was also a naturalist. Behind the jingoistic button room, a dusty chamber thick with the stink of formaldehyde featured jars containing snakes with women’s faces, “Chinese mummies,” and a crusty looking “mermaid” or fish-boy fetus. This room was also filled with framed mosaics made with hundreds of multi-colored buttons. A sign assured the discerning viewer that each and every picture was “handmade by spastics.” Good to know!
SAN is for Santa
Interspersed everywhere throughout the museum were these mechanically “animated” nursery rhymes and Christmas scenes, dating back, if the dusty placards were to be believed, to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Ninety-year-old herky-jerky teddy bears, lurching Santas, and topknotted Chinamen grinding endlessly back and forth, back and forth. “Animated” is in scare quotes because, well, animatronic technology in 1904 wasn’t quite at the level of Pixar’s Toy Story. Basically, each creature could perform one of three unsettling activities: it could twitch, it could lurch, or its eyes could light up.
I cannot express to you how creepy they all were.
The end of the tour, for our heroes, anyway, was in the third (!) Christmas room. (Like a lot of weird museums we went to on the trip, White Floyd’s Cavalcade of Sanity-Busting Knicknacks had a definite ‘bigger on the inside than the outside’ thing going on.) A life-size Santa, surrounded by a number of capering Jenkin-esque weasels, was jerkily playing some kind of holiday dirge on a tuneless old piano. Santa’s back was to us, and nobody was around, so we leaned over the velvet ropes to get a better look at the jolly old elf.
(i just want to see)
That’s when his beard, yellow and grimy with age, fell away from
(his face not his face)
where his face… should have been.
(no face no face o god he has no fucking face)
Man, we blew out of there like Buckwheat, Spanky, and Alfalfa in an haunted house episode of Our Gang.
(Those last few lines were a Steven King pastiche, in case you’re wondering.)