Sex Museum Suffers Performance Anxiety

Three words you don't want to hear when you want serious sex are "Not tonight, dear." But last Saturday, that's what New York's Museum of Sex told its visitors.

The eagerly awaited grand opening of the Museum of Sex — New York's newest cultural attraction — had to be delayed. Isn't that always the case when you are hoping for a good sexual experience?

Museum officials blamed delays in construction of its first exhibit, "NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex in America," and rescheduled the opening for Oct. 5.

Of course, there's always the chance the Sex Museum might suffer another bout of performance anxiety — in which case we'll fire the engineers and hire a team of psychiatrists.

Sodom on the Hudson

New York haters might consider all of Manhattan a giant, 24-hour sex museum — featuring peep shows, strip joints and adult book stores. But former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made it a priority to clean up Times Square.

Nevertheless, museum Director Daniel Gluck says New York is the perfect place to celebrate sex. He cites such contributions as the evolution of the porn theater, tabloid-style news reports, and archetypal sexpots — beginning with Mae West and continuing on through today with Sex and the City's Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall.

"It was called 'Sodom on the Hudson'; that was the name for New York City," Gluck told my colleague Michael James [see related stories].

"The idea, 'Only in New York,' is not a recent term or cliché. It is a fairly old one. And that is because it seemed that almost anything was possible in New York — good and bad, vice and achievement."

The museum's official mission is "to preserve and present the history, evolution, and cultural significance of human sexuality," and it takes itself quite seriously. Gluck thinks the sex museum will one day take a rightful place alongside such New York institutions as the Museum of Modern Art.

Just like modern art lovers refer to that museum as "MoMa," Gluck's institution may one day known as "MoSex."

If the delayed opening of "MoSex" has forced you to change your plans, here's a look at some offbeat, lesser-known museums, many of them privately run, that celebrate, among other things, ghosts, junk food and tacky Christmas trees.

Strange Museums

The Nonsense Museum — A Nonsense Museum makes sense, at least to the Austrian government, which agreed to fund a permanent showroom in Vienna for a group known as The Society For Surplus Thought.

The exhibits include dubious milestones in engineering, such as a see-through suitcase for easier customs inspections; a heated garden gnome that repels snow; a chin rest for commuters who snooze on the train; and a chess set for alcoholics featuring different mini-glasses for each piece.

Aluminum Christmas Tree Museum — Remember the good old days, before tacky plastic Christmas trees? That was the era of tacky aluminum Christmas trees.

North Carolina's Aluminum Tree and Aesthetically Challenged Seasonal Ornament Museum and Research Center honors Santa's worst stylists. Located in Brevard, it features 62 vintage aluminum trees in blue, gold and even green — which were popular in the 1950s.

"You couldn't really use electric lights," says Curator Stephen Paul Jackson. "They'd catch fire."

With a collection of ornaments that stretches through the years, Jackson is notorious for setting new standards in tree decoration. The "Toilet-Tree" features ornaments made of tooth brushes, faucets and toilet paper spools. The garland is fashioned from shower-curtain rings.

There are ornaments made from commercially marked animal dung, known as "Zoo-Doo." Other ornaments honor such luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Tammy Faye Bakker.

A separate tree entirely devoted to Monroe features a blond wig in place of the star and a tree skirt that blows upward.

Spooky Homes

Spy Museum — His name is Barrie. Dennis Barrie. And he's the curator of the newly opened International Spy Museum in Washington, which seems to prove that the gizmos in James Bond movies weren't totally farfetched.

In fact, you'll find a lipstick gun manufactured by Soviet KGB agents, who were inspired by Agent 007, says Barrie, who left the Smithsonian Institution to honor the cloak-and-dagger game.

Talk about spy kids: The museum's "spy school" lets youngsters can learn how to bug a room or use itty-bitty cameras.

Occult Museum — Ghosts, poltergeists and spooks of all manner are none too pleased with the Occult Museum in Monroe, Conn., according to curators.

Angry spirits regularly trash the place, says Lorraine Warren, a clairvoyant who runs the museum with her husband, demonologist Ed Warren. She says an exorcist has to come in there every three months to ward off any unearthly presence.

"I wouldn't dare go in there after 9 p.m., and I warn everyone: Don't touch anything," she says.

The museum features about 1,500 dolls, puppets and other items from places like the New York home that served as the basis for the film The Amityville Horror. Signs that say "Danger! Do Not Touch!" are posted throughout the museum.

The Warrens have been hailed as "America's top ghost hunters," and have written nine books on the occult. For decades they have provided their "ghost-hunting" services to thousands of homes free of charge — except for travel expenses.

Mr. Warren became ill last year, forcing the couple to curtail their services. But he claims to have been present at more than 200 exorcisms, and has maintained in speeches that "God is more powerful than any demon."

Ms. Warren says they are still chasing the truth. If you believe your home is haunted, don't try to contact a spirit with a Ouija board. "That can only make matters worse," she says.

Junk Food? I Think Not

SPAM Museum — SPAM is a lunchmeat legend, and some folks take the spiced ham concoction very seriously.

In fact, Gov. Jesse Ventura was on hand in Austin, Minn., when the SPAM Museum opened last year — and it's not because he fancies himself the biggest ham in American politics.

Hormel, based in Ventura's state, boasts $4.1 billion in annual sales, and the blue-and-yellow SPAM logo is now is trademarked in more than 100 countries.

Here's a sobering thought: Americans purchase 3.6 cans of SPAM every second. That adds up to 216 cans a minute, 12,960 cans every hour.

The SPAM saga began around World War II, when GI's tucked away the canned pig meat. President Eisenhower and even Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev each expounded upon SPAM's effectiveness in beating the Nazis. "Without SPAM, we wouldn't have been able to feed our army," Khrushchev said in his autobiography.

Inside the SPAM Museum, fans will find plenty to absorb. A 430-foot conveyor belt rattles around the ceiling, carrying about 850 cans of SPAM. Visitors can take a SPAM exam or can their own SPAM (not the real stuff). There's also a radio station — KSPAM — and a video screen that shows classic Monty Python skits slamming SPAM. Salad Museum — Do you need to revisit your salad days? Then check out New York's Dole Museum of Salad. Did you know that salad dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, and was very similar then to what we eat today?

A video walk-through of the harvesting and packaging processes shows how salads are triple-washed, inspected and trimmed. Exhibits feature the history of the Caesar, Cobb and Waldorf salads. You might consider all this a bit of industry propaganda, but salad insiders say they account for $2 billion in the U.S. economy. That's a lot of lettuce. And we haven't even started to talk about dressing.

Jell-O Museum — The Jell-O Museum in Le Roy, N.Y., hit the road last year, and it's still on tour — spreading the word of its jiggling goodness.

The humble Le Roy carpenter who invented the gelatin dessert in the late 1800s never found success and sold the rights to it in 1899 for $450. Within a decade, it was a million-dollar business.

Jell-O is now made in Dover, Del., and the highest per-capita consumption is in Utah, where it's the state's official snack food.

If you get a chance to catch the Jell-O show, be sure to try all 31 flavors.

Legends Remembered

Liberace Museum — The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas got a face-lift last year and now features an outside wall that depicts the flamboyant pianist in a rhinestone-studded tile mosaic, topped with an enormous pink piano.

Liberace, who died in 1987 at the age of 67, might be remembered for his outrageous style, but the museum stresses his contributions to popularize classical music.

Peanuts Museum — Which dead celebrity earned the most money? Elvis — no surprise. Who was No. 2? Marilyn Monroe? John Lennon? Good Grief! The correct answer is Charles M. Schulz, who pulled down $20 million last year. How's that for Peanuts?

At the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which opened a few months ago near the cartoonist's home in Santa Rosa, Calif., you'll find bronze statues of Snoopy and the gang. The comic strip, started on Oct. 2, 1950, eventually ran in more than 2,600 newspapers, reaching millions of readers in 75 countries.

Schulz died of colon cancer on Feb. 12, 2000. Just hours before readers saw his farewell strip, featuring Snoopy typing a letter thanking fans for their support.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.