If you've ever wanted to spend the night in a museum a la The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, the latest social media challenge to sweep the internet might cure you of that fantasy for good. Museum curators around the world are sharing the creepiest, weirdest, and most downright unnerving items in their collections – and you probably wouldn't want to run into any of these haunted dolls, stuffed animals, or mummified remains on an overnight in the exhibition hall.
Museums shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic have been stepping up with virtual content to keep would-be visitors entertained while they're sheltering in place. You can, for example, wander the halls of the Louvre from your laptop and visit the Great Wall of China, or browse some of the artifacts normally on display in National Park visitor centers. The Getty Museum even invited art lovers to recreate their favorite paintings using whatever is on hand at home, to great hilarity and ingenuity.
Then things got weird.
The latest social media challenge gauntlet was thrown down by the Yorkshire Museum, which is home to a variety of Britain's archeological treasures. They started the #CurratorBattle trend with the #CreepiestObject challenge, and kicked things off with a picture of a preserved bun of human hair that's over 1,500 years old.
Now museums large and small from Canada to Japan have offered up creepy contributions that will make you laugh, cry, cringe – and feel extra curious about what you might have missed last time you were checking out what was on at the archives.
There was this example of #TroublingTaxidermy, with an especially alarming fabrication of a mermaid from the National Museums Scotland.
Not to be outdone, fellow Scots at the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitors Center offered up this whale eyeball that's part of the Shetland Museum and Archives' collection. It's large enough to have been turned into a lampshade, though that does make one wonder about the rest of the original owner's decor.
Another instance of #TroublingTaxidermy comes in the form of this kitten tea party at the Tasmanian MONA Museum. It's an example of the work of Walter Potter, who was famous in the Victorian era for his whimsically weird scenes made from real stuffed animals.
The History Center of San Luis Obispo County proved that fake animals can be just as unsettling with a well-worn plaster sculpture of Nipper, the dog who served as a model for the famous painting titled His Master's Voice, which went on to become the logo for numerous gramophone and radio companies over the years.
Then there's Alexander Peden's mask, made from leather and real human hair, which was worn as a disguise by an itinerant outlaw preacher in 17th-century Scotland to avoid prosecution as a member of the Covenanter movement. How his intended audience didn't run away in terror when they saw him walking up wearing this is a question best answered by curators at the National Museums Scotland.
Whitby is known by many as the town where Dracula first makes landfall in England in Bram Stoker's famous vampire novel – but that's not its only claim to horror fame. The Whitby Museum is also home to this Hand of Glory, which they explain is "the hand of a convicted felon, cut from the body while it is on the gallows or gibbet, carefully prepared and preserved, and used as a holder for a special candle, will send all sleepers in a household into a coma from which they cannot be awakened while the candle burns. It was therefore regarded as an indispensable tool for burglars."
The Art Institute of Chicago nominated this sinister Italian helmet, complete with a villainous mustache and tiny teeth. With a look like this, it's no wonder Monty Python surmised that the black knight always triumphs.
Many of the nominations for the Creepiest Object included toys that seem more likely to induce nightmares than happy afternoons at play. This Drinking Bear from the Penthurst Place Toy Museum is definitely more creepy than cute.
Curators at the Provincial Museum in Prince Edward Island, Canada say there's more to this antique wheeled sheep toy to give you the willies than just it's lopsided appearance. Supposedly it's been known to move around of its own volition.
Then there's this timely plague mask from the 17th or 18th centuries, presented by the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. When you take a look at this Renaissance version of PPE, the masks many are donning today to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus seem chill by comparison.
Some of the items curators submitted to the challenge seem to defy any explanation at all. Even the Divulgação do Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo left it at, "people tend not to like our 'Lamb of God' very much."
Move over, Ms. Havisham – this preserved wedding cake is by now even older than the one Charles Dickens famously included in Great Expectations. It's at the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec, and it was baked in 1889 for the wedding of Delvina Paradis and Gaudiose Vallière. You might look a little differently at the slice of your own wedding cake you have in your freezer saved for future anniversaries after seeing this one!
Last but not least, there's this painting at the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku of a giant hair-eating monster. Is this how the Yorkshire Museum got that Roman lady's bun that kicked off the #CreepiestObject challenge? That's another history mystery for these curators to solve while we all eagerly wait for museums to open back up so we can peruse their weird and wild collections for ourselves.