Monsters in Museums

The nights are getting crisper, and darkness is descending upon the land earlier each evening. This can only mean one thing; “Winter is” as they say “coming.” But before Winter arrives, we celebrate that most bizarre of holidays. You know the one, it’s where we make shapes out of gourds, dress up as the things that scare us the most and place apostrophes in awkward places.

I am, of course, talking about Hallowe’en. 

In keeping with the spirit of the season, I’ve been looking for monsters in museums…

Frankenstein’s Monster

Frankenstein display at the Faraday Museum

Frankenstein display at the Faraday Museum

Frequently referred to as just ‘Frankenstein’ (FRANKENSTEIN WAS THE MAD SCIENTIST BEHIND THIS ABOMINATION, THE ACTUAL MONSTER IS NAMELESS!) this monster was created by Mary Shelley during an infamous holiday to Switzerland with her husband Percy Shelley and their companion Lord Byron. Like all good monsters, this one was created during a storm; the weather was unseasonably wet so the group entertained themselves by telling ghost stories.

Mary’s story won.

But where can you find Frankenstein’s Monster in a museum?

If you pop along to the Faraday Museum at the Royal Institute there is a small display on this literary monster as he was partly inspired by Faraday’s research.  The Edinburgh Wax Museum also had this badge featuring Frankenstein’s monster.

Witches

Witch bottle

A bottle containing the spirit of a witch

The image of the crone riding a broomstick across a full moon is one that you see so much at this time of year. Witches, however, are no longer the malevolent, aged, crooked hooked nose crones they once were. In fact they’ve gone through something of an image rehabilitation and are now usually wise-women without a wart in sight.

You can find lots of evidence of ‘witches’ in loads of museums but my favourite is Margaret Murray’s witch bottle from the Pitt-Rivers Museum. 

Why is it my favourite?

Not only is there a charming hand-written label, but it also has a local connection for me as it was found in Hove. The label reads:

Accession book entry MISS M. A. MURRAY. – Small glass flask of bilobed shape, silvered over the inside and stoppered. This is reputed to contain a witch, and the late owner, an old lady living in a village near HOVE, SUSSEX, remarked, “they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there’ll be a peck o’trouble.” It was obtained from her in 1915.’

Vampires

Vampire Slaying Kit (c) Royal Armouries

Vampire Slaying Kit (c) Royal Armouries

I couldn’t have a list of monsters in museums without talking about the ubiquitous Vampire. Although there have been tales of blood-suckers and parasitic monsters since we started telling scary stories, the Vampire didn’t really reach the A-list until Bram Stoker wrote Dracula.

Here is a Vampire Slaying Kit from the Royal Armouries. 

Jonathan Ferguson, curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries, said: “These kits are often said to have been made as novelties in the Victorian period, but research shows they are later than this.”

As you can see, a Vampire Slaying Kit contains everything you would expect; stakes, crucifixes as well as a copy of the Book of Common Prayer from 1851 which has a handwritten extract from the Bible quoting Luke 19:27.

“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

” “slay them before me.” ”

Cyclops

Cyclops at the Natural History Museum

Cyclops at the Natural History Museum

The cyclops is a one eyed monster introduced to the masses  by Homer’s epic poem The OdysseyInterestingly “cyclops” means “wheel-eyed” rather than “one-eyed” but this post is not a language lesson. So, where on earth can one find a cyclops in a museum?

Look no further than the Natural History Museum in London.

Being all about the Science, the NHM actually tells you a bit about the possible origins of the cyclops story.

It turns out that the race of one-eyed giants were really mastodons – a kind of early elephant. Don’t believe me? Then look at this skull!

Mastodon skull

Mastodon skull

The big ‘eye hole’ is where the trunk was and, in case you were wondering, this skull was found in Greece.

The Canvey Island Sea Monster

canvey island sea monster

canvey island sea monster

“The what now?” I hear you ask. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it, this monster is rather niche. Canvey Island is a small island in Essex. It also happens to be the town where I grew up, so this story means a lot to me.

The Canvey Island Sea Monster is the name given to an actual thing (some say it was a large fish; others say an alien; there are even those who think it was an actual monster from the deeps of the Thames Estuary…) that washed ashore in 1953, the same year the island experienced terrible flooding. 

A co-incidence? I think not.

Reports from the time say that the beast was cremated by zoologists after they had studied it. They quite literally saw it and thought “KILL IT. KILL IT WITH FIRE!”

A second sea monster came the following year, luckily it was photographed by a local resident. This one even made it into the newspapers:

Newspaper report of the Canvey Island Sea Monster

Newspaper report of the Canvey Island Sea Monster

The second Canvey Island Sea Monster

The second Canvey Island Sea Monster

Although the actual monster no longer exists, these scant traces of it remain in the local archive, which is nice.

So there you have it; 5 monsters in museums!

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