Monday, June 03, 2013

Irish Mossing Museum

A neurologist friend at the hospital was fond of taking educational leave to obscure places.  While there, he would take in their esoteric museums.  He went to the cigarette lighter museum in Guthrie OK, the Davistown shovel museum at Stonehill College, and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minnesota. 

Ben and I stopped at the Oz Fantasy Museum when looking at colleges in 2001– how can you pass up a giant ruby slipper in a field as an ad, after all?  I lived near Nash Dinosaur Tracks as a wee lad, and we try to drop in on local historical societies.  Those often have unusual finds, as one eccentric resident from earlier days may have assembled an impressive collection of bugles, or redone the Seven Wonders out of matchsticks. These were duly donated to the society by his heirs, who were likely sick of it all by then.

Most recently we went to the Irish Mossing Museum in Scituate, MA, more properly called the Maritime Museum.  Irish Moss was a cash crop out of the ocean off-and-on for a hundred years, as it was used as an ingredient in medicines, foods, soaps.  If you used to read the ingredients on labels, the word carrageenan may look familiar.  That comes from Irish moss - a good Gaelic-sounding word, isn't it?  

It’s hard on these smaller museums – they have to create interest by being different.  Irish moss is well less than half of the museum, which has much more on the boat-building and shipwrecks of Scituate. One can tell that the docents like that part better as well, and want to download the whole three volumes on you if they can. Plus, there’s not much to say about Irish mossing.  Harvesting the stuff was hard work and most years there wasn’t much money.  There were no carrageenan moguls or pirate mossing raids to fill a youngster’s heart with a desire to strike out on his own to make his fame and fortune there.

On the other hand, “Maritime Museum” likely fits a hundred organisations down the East Coast, so it doesn’t stand out much. The museum is a good specimen of the type.  Inexpensive, comfortable, taken in an hour or two, with more if you want it.  You come out knowing more maritime history in general, especially regionally, and more about Irish moss than 99.9% of the world will even know

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