Whatsits, Whoknews, and Thingamajigs

by Brian Hearn


Oklahoma is home to an abundant community of odd and spectacular collections. Here, we highlight a few for you.

The Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum and the Apothecary Garden, Guthrie

Across from the post office in downtown Guthrie, the well-preserved capital of Oklahoma Territory, is the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum and The Apothecary Garden. Entering the museum storefront is an instant time warp back at least a century. For a mere suggested donation of $4, one encounters dozens of dimly lit glass cabinets and counters stuffed with every type of medicine, remedy, cure, and corrective marking over half a century of American illness. For thousands of years the sources of medicine were herbs and plants, as seen in the large glass jars that sound today more like an exotic spice cabinet. Even the tools of the frontier pharmacist—mortar and pestle, vaporizer, pill-tile and spatula, percolator—seem like they belong in a kitchen. Is that a cookie jar? Ewww, it’s actually for leeches.

This treasure trove of pharmacy antiques is maintained by the Oklahoma Pharmacy Heritage Foundation, which is dedicated to “promoting interest in the history of pharmacy and drugstores and educating people about healing herbs and medicinal plants.” While it remains the size of an actual frontier drugstore, this micro museum calls to mind the cluttered cabinets of curiosities that emerged in the royal courts of Renaissance Europe, where rare objects of natural history were displayed alongside artworks, medical specimens, ethnographic objects, and miscellaneous thingamajigs.

Donated by historic pharmacies from around the state, organized largely by medicine type, it is amusing to peruse the weird products and bizarre branding that passed as meds. Take “Gaitor Korn Killer,” “Dr. Poppy’s Wonder Elixir,” “SA-TAN-IC Laxative Compound,” or “Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Liniment” to cure what ails ya. Ladies could benefit from the therapeutic use of “Female Pills,” and “Douche Powder,” while the kids could get a nip of “Chill Tonic,” “Worm Syrup,” or “Sugar Lead,” and best of all, the instantaneous relief of “Cocaine Toothache Drops.” Don’t forget the bile salts and asthmatic cigarettes for dad. And just what exactly is “Desiccated Mammary Substance”? While pondering these mysteries, one can enjoy a sarsaparilla soft drink from the operational soda fountain or stroll through the adjacent Apothecary Garden with its beds of medicinal plants.

The Toy and Action Figure Museum, Pauls Valley

Kevin Stark is a serious collector. When his personal collection of toys and action figures reached 7,000 objects, attracting out-of-town visitors to his art studio in downtown Pauls

Valley, the civic-minded Kevin pitched it as an unlikely tourist attraction for a town better known for its soil and oil. The Toy and Action Figure Museum opened its doors in 2005. The clever pièce de résistance of the museum is the Adult Collector’s Bedroom Diorama. The tongue-in-cheek didactic panel suggests that the still-living-at-home-with-mom-so-he-can-spend-more-money- buying-toys occupant is mysteriously absent at a moment in which a toy-tastic riot of action figures comes to life. Thousands of articulated action figures swarm over every surface of the imagined bedroom, climbing out of drawers, out from under the bed, while hundreds of toy series, still in their original packaging, line every inch of the wall. Surely, this is every mother’s nightmare. Was the adult collector finally, fatally absorbed by his collection? The only remaining evidence is a conspicuously discarded box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies.

Additional highlights from this downtown storefront museum include the Bat Cave, chockablock with generations of Bat Man memorabilia and an interactive play area where you can don numerous superhero guises. Displays of other private collectors include vintage Wild West toys and paraphernalia, the Military Action Figure Heroes in Combat diorama, and the Action Figure Hall of Fame.

As an artist and toy-designer in his own right, Kevin Stark has made sure to also educate visitors about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into designing action figures from character development, to sculpting, to mass production. The overall experience of this uniquely Oklahoman museum is one of fun, childhood nostalgia, and playtime fantasy. The adult superhero briefs mounted on the wall reminds you of how one man’s private collection can evolve into a full blown museum and small-town tourist magnet.

Museum of Osteology, Oklahoma City

When Jay Villemarette was seven years old, he found a dog skull near his home and started a life-long hobby collecting animal skulls. By high school, his hobby turned into a home-based business cleaning and selling skulls. Some twenty-five years later, Jay and Kim Villemarette have established a successful retail and mail-order company called Skulls Unlimited, now one of the largest osteological supply companies in the world.

With an enormous collection of skulls and skeletal specimens acquired over the years, the Villemarettes decided to open the non-profit Museum of Osteology in southeastern Oklahoma City. Nearly 300 skeletons are on display; you can admire the minutiae of the mouse to the massive humpback whale suspended from the ceiling. The two-headed calf skulls are not to be missed, nor the bound skeletal foot from a Chinese fetish practiced for a thousand years. The variety of species on view is quite impressive, giving you an entirely different perspective on the rhinoceros, koala, stink badger, penguin, komodo dragon, or even our state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

Other Notable Collections

As the 21st century emerges as the first century in which culture shifted wholesale from material to digital, it is nice to know that objects will continue to have value in unique collections. These “shrines of the muses,” better known as museums, still have the power to amuse and educate us. Save the date of May 18; it’s International Museum Day. Why not celebrate by getting away from the screen and visiting one of the weird and wonderful micro museums in our backyard? In researching this article, the author wishes to share a list of honorable mentions of Oklahoma’s more unusual museums:

  • American Banjo Museum (Oklahoma City)
  • Shattuck Windmill Museum and Park
  • Museum of Creation Truth (Bokchito)
  • Twister The Movie Museum (Wakita)
  • Ames Astrobleme Museum
  • Washington Irving Trail Museum (Ripley)
  • Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum(Afton)
  • Ditch Witch Heritage Center and Museum (Perry)
  • Richard O. Dodrill’s Museum of Rocks Minerals & Fossils (Cushing)
  • Coo-Y-Yah Country Museum (Pryor)