And while we’re on the topic of sordid and morbid… Mike Sheeter sends this gem along…
In St. Augustine, around the corner from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not , there was a two story white clapboard house that billed itself as “The American Tragical History Museum.” Vast swathes of American tragedy were omitted, but what they kept on display was fairly striking .
The lower floor featured the entire contents of Lee Harvey Oswald’s room at his Dallas boarding house. A fairly realistic mannequin of Oswald himself commanded the street outside, complete with his scoped Manlicher-Carcano. My first clue that the place existed was when I glimpsed the dummy sniper out of the corner of my eye, drawing a bead on me as I drove past. It alarmed me enough to stomp on the accelerator, in an instinctive attempt to get out of the line of fire.
The first floor was dominated by Oswald’s room, and by the same big gray Pontiac ambulance that fetched him to Parkland hospital after he was gut shot by Jack Ruby. There was a small gift counter nearby, which sold souvenir calendars featuring grisly photographs of the dead, nude bodies of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They looked as thoroughly deckled as a pair of Spaulding Maxi-Flight golf balls.
The facing wall featured a selection of massive Calusa Indian skulls looted from one of the burial mounds that dot central Florida, and a huge salt water aquarium guarded by a couple of baby sand sharks, who glided over fifty years worth of straight razors, switchblades, and Saturday Night Specials dredged from bridge over the St. John’s river.
The real attraction was in the back yard, where a glass fronted shed displayed the crumpled wreckage of a big gold Buick 225, the Jayne Mansfield death car. There was a letter under cellophane affixed to the shed, signed by one Anton Szandor LaVey, the high priest of the Church of Satan. LaVey rather sheepishly admitted that Mansfield had briefly been one of his fellow diabolists, and that she had died because he had placed a death curse on her manager, with whom she had been riding. St. Augustine is very much a tourist town, and the ATHM museum inspired the city fathers to whip up a municipal death curse of their own, much to the curator/owner’s indignation.
He was finally forced to close his doors, but not before auctioning off Jayne Mansfield’s Buick. The death car was purchased by some guy in North Carolina, a passionate Mansfield fan, and the last I heard, it was still sitting in his back yard, arguably the most macabre bird feeder in the U.S.
Mike Sheeter is the author of Preferred Customer, a short story thriller of international intrigue. Read it at Beat to a Pulp (link to the right).