Portrait of a Dime Museum: The Niagra Falls Museum (1827-1999)

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Niagara Museum, circa 1888

A Lecture by Historian, Museologist, and Collector Bill Jamieson, Owner of The Niagara Falls Museum Collection
***PLEASE NOTE: This event will be held OFF SITE at The Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Avenue
Date: Sunday, June 19
Time: 1:00 PM
Admission: $5
Part of the Out of the Cabinet: Tales of Strange Objects and the People Who Love Them, presented by Morbid Anatomy and Scholar in Residence Evan Michelson

In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, popular museums–many of them charging a dime for admission, and thus often referred to as “dime museums”– were a beloved part of the amusement landscape. In the U.S., these attractions were pioneered by Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum (est. 1784) and P. T. Barnum’s American Museum (est. 1842). These early museums exhibited a dizzying array of curiosities including live menageries, animal and human freaks, taxidermy, artworks, waxworks, cosmoramas, temperance plays, trained bears, the tree under which Jesus’ disciples sat, Jenny Lind, General Tom Thumb, Chang and Eng, and Barnum’s infamous Feejee Mermaid.

The Niagara Falls Museum–Canada’s oldest museum–was an important early dime museum founded in 1827 and open to the public until 1999. The collection is unique for being a remarkably intact early dime museum collection, showing the kind of breadth and variety rarely seen in the museums of today. Over the course of its tenure, it was notable for hosting such wonders as the mummy of pharaoh Ramses I (repatriated in 2003), early Wild West Shows starring General Custer’s scout “Wild Bill” Hickock and local Woodland Indians, and a number of artifacts from the Pan American Exposition of 1901 including the shell and coral collection famous naturalist Dr. Louis Agassiz. It was also renowned for its strong natural history collection with a focus on local fauna and freak animals living and dead.

Over its lifetime, the museum changed location and hands several times, and many collections were added or discarded. It was ultimately purchased by Bill Jamieson–a private collector in Toronto–with the hopes of one day restoring the museum to its original splendor. This year, Mr. Jamieson loaned an assortment of astounding artifacts–including 19th Century waxworks, the remains of Skipper the two-legged dog, taxidermy, Native American artifacts, and seaweed artwork– from The Niagara Falls Museum to be exhibited as part of The Great Coney Island Spectacularium; these objects are currently on view as part of this exhibition at The Coney Island Museum through April 2012.

This Father’s Day afternoon, please join us at The Coney Island Museum for a unique opportunity to learn about about the historical, curious, and amazing Niagara Falls Museum surrounded by an assortment of astounding objects from the collection.

Bill Jamieson is a historian, ethnologist, museologist, ancient and tribal art dealer and collector. Bill’s interests evolve around the forgotten cultures and customs of the South Pacific, Indonesian, African, South and North American Indians, and Egyptian. His fascination with artifacts from these cultures, as well as oddities and curiosities from around the globe, especially objects of the Macabre. Bill’s fieldwork amongst the Shuar in Ecuador and Peru has helped him with much knowledge of this tribal group. His expertise has been drawn upon by National Geographic’s documentary production unit for a series Headhunting, Human Sacrifice, and Cannibalism as well as by numerous museums and researchers. He has been a member of the Canadian Chapter of the New York Explorers Club since 1997. Bill is active in loaning and donating to such Toronto institutions as the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario. Bill is presently working on a pilot for a series for History Television.

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