Monthly Archives: November 2013

Start Your Own Museum

Ye Ol' Watering Hole & Beer Can Museum -- Northampton, MA

Ye Ol’ Watering Hole & Beer Can Museum — Northampton, MA

Several of our friends are going through the process of “downsizing”.  Over the years, we all accumulate stuff that, through sentimentality or laziness, we have a hard time throwing away.  Hey, there’s always a chance that I’ll need some of those telephone cords that are in a box in my garage.

To give you an idea of how our belongings expand over time, consider this:  According to the website of The Self-Storage Association, “The self-storage industry in the United States generated more than $22 billion in annual U.S. revenues (2012).”  Of course, if it’s in a storage unit, that suggests that the stuff is overflow from the house or apartment where it had previously been clutter.

Putting it in a storage unit is one solution.  The downsizers take a different approach, getting rid of unneeded things so they can live in a smaller space.

A third option is to move to a bigger place and fill it up with grandma’s sweaters, the tire chains for the car you no longer own, and all the other goodies we can’t bear to part with.

OR — you could start your own museum.

As they sifted through the objects with which they were sharing space, some of my downsizer friends have discovered that they owned collections they didn’t realize they had.  Sally and I had probably given them some of the drink coasters that somehow wound up in the back of a drawer and now number in the hundreds.  What they do with them now is their business — yard sale, charity donation — I’m just saying, they have enough to open a Museum of Coasters.

That may sound a little far-fetched, but you might be surprised at some of the unusual museums around the world.

In Rüdesheim, Germany, Sally and I visited Siegfried’s Self-Playing Music Museum.  It was a collection of music boxes and elaborate cabinets that held violins and piano keyboards and, so help me, even banjos.  When the machinery was set in motion by something that looked like a player-piano roll, the instruments would bang out a tune.

If you find yourself in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you won’t want to miss the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, which has thousands on display.

A man named Gary Doss turned his extensive collection into the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia.  It’s just a short drive from San Francisco International Airport.  Among other things, there are hundreds of Pez dispensers, including the world’s largest — it’s almost 8 feet tall.

Ye Ol’ Watering Hole & Beer Can Museum in Northampton, Massachusetts, has over 4,000 beer cans — none are duplicates.  Several years ago I bought an official T-shirt there; it’s now part of my growing collection of souvenir T-shirts.

In Madrid, Spain, we briefly stopped in at Museo del Jamon (Museum of Ham).  Frankly, it’s more of a restaurant than it is an actual museum.  Besides, if you’re considering my proposal to start your own museum, you probably don’t have a lot of old hams stashed around your house.

It’s also possible that you don’t want a lot of strangers tramping through your home, gawking at your extensive collection of refrigerator magnets or trowels or whatever.  If you’re adamant about not opening a museum, maybe you want to think about selling your stuff online.  Then, with the money you make, you can buy more stuff!

You Want That With Cheese?

"And while you're at it, do you have any mustard back there?"

“And while you’re at it, do you have any mustard back there?”

Chances are, you ate a sandwich recently.  That isn’t mere speculation on my part; according to food-industry statistics, the average American eats 193 sandwiches per year.  Even allowing for the fact that you are a way-above-average American, you’re eating plenty of sandwiches, right?

We’re not including wraps and burritos and other hand-held variations, either.  We’re talking about an official sandwich:  two or more pieces of bread that have at least one layer of something edible between them.

Some authorities trace the origin of the sandwich back many centuries, where its remains were found in a bachelor’s refrigerator.  The most common explanation, however, involves John Montagu (1718-1792), whose hereditary title was 4th Earl of Sandwich.

He was known to enjoy gambling, and supposedly one night in 1762 during a marathon card game, he ordered a servant to bring him some meat between two pieces of bread.  This enabled Montagu to continue playing cards while having a meal.  Having bread on the top and bottom meant he didn’t have to touch meat with his bare hands, so the cards didn’t get greasy.

Others in his circle of acquaintances began to order up this nameless food item by calling to the servants, “the same as Sandwich.”  The name caught on, and so did the portable, inexpensive meal between slices of bread.

With the growth of industrial society in the 19th century, the sandwich became very popular in many places around the world.  It was one of the few things associated with the 4th Earl of Sandwich that worked out well.

To his credit, as First Lord of the Admiralty Montagu funded a couple of Captain James Cook’s expeditions.  Cook made the politically expedient gesture of naming one of his discoveries the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii).

Most of Montagu’s other decisions about British naval deployment were not successful.  For instance, his strategy during the American Revolution was to keep most of the British navy at home to fend off possible invasions, rather than sending ships to North America.  That had to be helpful to the colonies, since their navy pretty much consisted of some retrofitted merchant ships and a couple of inner tubes.   Meanwhile, critics accused Montagu of corruption:  taking bribes and giving jobs to his cronies.

While Sandwich’s sandwich in 1762 may have been a roast beef, many varieties have developed since then, of course — and the origins of most of them are in dispute.  The club sandwich, for example, is traced by some to the Saratoga Club in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Other food historians associate it with club cars on railroad trains.

The hamburger’s name suggests it originated in Hamburg, Germany, but apparently that might not be so.  Claimants include New Haven, Connecticut, Tulsa, Oklahoma… and Hamburg, New York.

The use of peanut butter didn’t become, uh, widespread until the 1920s, but is now among the most popular sandwich ingredients.  According to the National Peanut Board’s website, “The average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he/she graduates high school.”

Personally, I’m partial to corned beef on rye… although when it’s done right, grilled cheese is hard to beat.  And then there’s thinly sliced turkey — Mmm.  So  what’s your next sandwich going to be?