Off The Wall

Is it our imagination or are museums becoming more eclectic than ever? You decide.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the October 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

  • Can You Dig It? The Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta, claims to be " famous" . . . and it's easy to see why. We'll go out on a limb and guess there's no other place in the world that pays homage to more than 50 stuffed and mounted gophers, displayed in costumes ranging from players to farmers. More than 6,000 people have visited this museum since it opened in June.

  • Toast Of The Town: Our only virtual museum, The Gelman Toaster Collection is the brainchild of toaster connoisseur Howard Gelman. Having collected toasters for some 25 years, Gelman knows better than to clutter this Web site with, uh, burnt offerings. Visitors are treated to images of antique toasters such as the Toasterlater (which includes a porthole to monitor toasting) and The Breakfaster (which, ironically, does seem to break in record time).

"Toasters are the greaBODY idea since sliced bread," says Gelman. See for yourself at

  • Round Here: An enchanting discovery, The Frisbee Museum in Seattle is home not only to more than 4,000 Frisbees but to museum owner Ralph Williamson as well. As a championship Frisbee player, Williamson isn't going to complain about sharing quarters with what he proclaims to be the world's largest public collection of Frisbees. There are plastic, metal, wood, inflatable--even light-equipped--Frisbees to be found in this fortress of flying saucers.

  • World's Ultimate Toy Chest? Casual visitors to the Nashville Toy Museum may not realize it, but some of the rare boats and trains owner Ted Lannom has on display are worth as much as a Mercedes-Benz. Lannom is a man who knows his toys: The tractors, cap guns, dolls, teddy bears and assorted other toys showcased in his 8-year-old museum date back as far as the 1800s.

The museum's centerpieces, however, are two custom-built 50-foot-long train layouts that took Lannom nearly 20 years to complete. More than 60,000 of the young and young-at-heart visit Lannom's toy extravaganza every year.

Dance Fever

No less a luminary than Princess Diana is rumored to flip for flamenco--the laBODY craze sweeping dancers off their feet. Passionate, theatrical and sensual, this gypsy-originated style of dance is influencing everything from contemporary fashion to music.

"It's a very strenuous activity," says K.C. Patrick, editor of Dance Teacher Now magazine. "It's not anything you can just go and learn on a Saturday night. It's got layers and layers of traditions and skills built in."

Much like tap dancers, explains Patrick, flamenco dancers use their feet as instruments of percussion. But the swinging of long, flowing skirts as well as the
explosive arm movements and elaborate footwork (zap-- ateado) separate this Spanish import from all the rest.

Which, undoubtedly, explains some of flamenco's allure to the growing number of children and adults signing up for lessons at dance studios throughout the nation. There are even reports of gyms offering flamenco classes as well. Flamenco fever . . . catch it!

Sleepless In . . .

There's a reason why the highly touted sleep enhancer melatonin is being popped like breath mints by consumers: As a society, we're just plain tired. Daily juiced up on caffeine, cyberculture, stress and work, we've become a nation of insomniacs. In fact, it's estimated that one-third of the population has trouble either succumbing to--or staying--asleep on any given night.

In a survey released by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Better Sleep Council, 18- to 24-year-olds registered the highest degree of sleeplessness. Gender, however, does not appear to play a role in the lack of nighttime ZZZs.

How much sleep have we lost? Believe it or not, our unwaking hours have declined a staggering 20 percent over the past century. It's no surprise, therefore, to find the sleep-starved masses snapping up medications, New Age nature-sound tapes, and specially designed pillows to ease the path to slumberland.

Baby On Board

Although there's no sure-fire formula for success, the creative team behind Eubie "Bad Baby" Goode's first animated TV feature are betting that the comic strip character will generate a ratings whirlwind when his two-hour movie airs early next year.

And why not? With Kathleen Turner and James Belushi lending their voices as parents of l'enfant terrible, the tentatively titled "Happy Oooobie Day" (a collaborative effort between Hallmark Entertainment, Calico Entertainment and Imagination Factory Inc.) packs enough star power to attract those who aren't already fans of the long-running Parents Magazine comic strip.

Created by Patrick McDonnell in 1984, "Bad Baby" might be considered something of a modern-day Dennis the Menace--if Dennis were still in diapers, that is. "While he's not a nasty kid, he creates some havoc in everything he touches," says Tom Burton, director of the forthcoming "Bad Baby" TV movie. "He's the toddler tornado."

According to Burton and producer Stanford Blum, "Bad Baby" products as varied as T-shirts, posters and books will be blowing their way into retail stores soon. In addition, there are plans to follow up the movie with a TV series as early as next fall.

Can anything stop the momentum of this mischievous 2-year-old? Well, we wouldn't want to stand in his way.

A Night At The Opera

It doesn't seem possible that a generation weaned on the grunge sounds of Pearl Jam and Nirvana would embrace an art form as highbrow as opera--but so it has. Indeed, with a contingent of young fans providing much of the momentum, opera is now considered one of the hotBODY tickets in entertainment.

"It is the only performing art that has gained an audience in the 1990s," reveals Patrick J. Smith, editor of the trade publication Opera News. "I'm not about to say the younger crowd is going [to opera houses] with the same diligence they go to rock concerts, but [they are increasingly going]."

According to the trade association OPERA America, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds attending opera performances swelled by nearly 20 percent between 1982 and 1992. That figure is particularly striking given the fact that the number of people in that age group dropped 16 percent during the same time period.

What accounts for opera's burgeoning appeal? Smith believes that the visually oriented art form is a natural fit in today's image-driven . Then again, the success of the Three Tenors tour (featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Jose Carréras) surely brought the music to the masses. Notes Smith, "We've gotten a number of letters from people who didn't know anything about opera until the Three Tenors came along."

With more than 100 opera companies nationwide, it's clear that a little knowledge pays off in acceptance--and appreciation. "We're witnessing a whole change of attitude," says Smith, "and that's going to make more of a difference than anything else."


After doing a little nosing around, we've come to the conclusion that consumers indeed want to stop and smell the roses--not to mention the laundry detergents and household disinfectants. As allergy sufferers run for cover (or antihistamines), savvy business owners with a nose to the air are cluing in to the fact that unscented items are becoming decidedly unpopular among the masses.

For proof, consider figures released by marketing research firm The Freedonia Group Inc.: By the year 2000, it's estimated the U.S. market for flavors and fragrances will grow by more than 7 percent annually to a total of more than $4 billion. Aside from cleaning products, scents are expected to be a particularly noseworthy--er, noteworthy--element in personal-care items as well as candles and (of course) potpourri.

Scents making cents? Makes sense to us.


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