If you think I typically enjoy car museums, you’d be wrong; however, if you think the Classic Car Museum in Canton is anything like a normal car museum, you’d also be wrong. I’ve been to a lot of museums in Canton, and they all seem to share a delightful sense of quirkiness; looking at the above photos, you can quickly see their car museum is no exception. I was greeted at the door by Norm, who I later found out was having his 86th birthday that day. He was just an exceptionally sweet and lovely guy who was eager to help with any questions (plus I have a total soft spot for old people because of my awesome (now deceased) grandparents). Admission was $7.50, which I initially thought (anticipating the museum would be quite small) was a bit spendy, however, after actually experiencing all the museum had to offer, I think it was a fair price.
Now, I’ve been to a lot of museums in my time that were essentially just random collections of crap, but right from the start, this was one of the most extensive and eclectic (and in a nicer building than most). On their website, they essentially promise something for everyone, and they weren’t lying. The first room was large and open, but the walls were covered in old signs, and there were cases everywhere filled with old toys, hood ornaments, and pretty much every other kind of old, random junk you could think of (in fact, they had a case of “mystery items,”of which you were supposed to guess their use). There’s even a scavenger hunt that you can do, which was surprisingly hard given the number of objects to be found.
Since it is close to Christmas, they’d put up a few trees, and draped boas and Santa hats over their collection of cardboard cutouts of old movie stars. I jumped a little when a mini-Bruce the Talking Spruce who was evidently motion activated starting suddenly singing at me (is Bruce the Talking Spruce just a Cleveland thing, or do other cities have similar anthropomorphic trees? I’m not counting that creepy-ass talking oak tree In London’s Winter Wonderland because Bruce was adorable but that oak tree freaks me out). Speaking of creepy things, there was a clown who looked like his face was melting stood in one corner, amongst other, slightly less frightening clowns. Coulrophobes beware!
The next room was the “Canton History Room,” with the usual sorts of things about local businesses and local history, but of course, William McKinley lived in Canton, and you must all know by now how much I adore presidential history. (Also, everyone please take note of the McKinley and Hanna political cartoon above, apparently drawn by a William Jennings Bryan supporter.) Thus, the McKinley display case was an absorbing find.
It was only one small case, but there was a lot crammed into it. You can see his top hat above, but I’m including a few more highlights below…
The picture on the left is of Katie McKinley’s baby bracelet. Both the McKinley daughters died in childhood; little Ida as an infant, and Katie at the age of 4, from typhoid fever, thus the bracelet was probably a poignant reminder for Ida (Sr.) and William. In the back of the photo on the right, you can see a sort of assemble-it-yourself paper doll of President McKinley. That’s the kind of paper doll I would have loved as a child (though those historical American Girl ones weren’t too bad either!).
Above you’ll see some kind of odd attempt to make the largest flag in the world, which appears to have taken place outside the McKinley memorial, and finally, a memorial plaque made for McKinley. I was already super excited about all of this, but the next room had a hat rack full of old fashioned hats that you could put on for a photo op. I’d just watched the film Laura, with Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb, and so my choice was inspired by one of the chapeaux Laura donned in the film, though I am sadly nowhere near as attractive as Gene Tierney, especially with my chin wodged on a wooden cutout and making a stupid face.
Like the rooms that preceded it, this one was also full of curiosities. Judging solely by the plaid “invalid style” blanket next to him, I believe there was a life sized cartoonish FDR mannequin, but he could have equally been George Bush the younger. You’ll probably already have spotted the Frankenstein racer and the mummy at the start of the post, and there were a lot of hatters’ head mannequins modelling the styles of yesteryear congregated in one corner.
Being a fan of the grim and morbid, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small mock-up of a funeral home set up, I suppose, because there was an antique hearse next to it (I should mention that there were cars throughout this whole gallery, but there was so much other stuff I could effectively just ignore them. But if like a normal person, you have come to a car museum expecting cars, then don’t fear, you will see plenty of them!).
I kind of love the picture on the right, a dark reminder to “Drive Carefully.” I almost hate to tell you, for fear of putting you off visiting, but there were more clowns in here, in the form of a puppet show that jangled around when you pressed a button. I don’t like clowns myself, but I promise that except for the melting face one I described earlier, most of the ones here were really not that scary, and none of them are real, so please don’t let them deter you!
I was amazed to find that there were still more rooms after this; like the TARDIS, the museum was bigger on the inside. The next room was mostly cars, but I didn’t care because they had Neil Zurcher’s car. For those of you who aren’t from Northeast Ohio (or over the age of 50, probably), Neil Zurcher was this old guy on a local news channel who drove around in a snazzy car on “One Tank Trips;” basically a segment on slightly offbeat places in the local area that you could get to and back from on one tank of gas. I think largely because I spent a tonne of time over my grandparents’ house, and often watched TV with them or read whatever books they had laying around, I am very familiar with his work (and in fact, have discovered quite a lot of places around Ohio myself through his books), so it was kind of neat to see his car.
(That picture on the right is of Bobby Kennedy, before and after airbrushing. Just thought it was kind of interesting).
I apologise for the even crappier than normal quality of the above photos, but seriously, aren’t those the ugliest Beatles dolls you’ve ever seen? Paul is straight-up scary, not to mention Ringo, who wasn’t attractive under the best of circumstances! And I have an FDR doll that I dearly love, but I think I’d also love to have the one on the right. Still no wheelchair, but he is wearing a hat, and that is a splendid suit!
(And yes, that is a guitar made out of a toilet seat behind Elvis’s antler-bedecked head). As you can see, I had at last wandered into a gallery that was mostly cars, but still with touches of whimsy throughout. A close-up of the balcony (and part of my finger) is below , and you might spot some familiar faces…
I found a children’s mechanical reindeer ride, with dimes already laid out for my convenience, so I had to try it, but it felt unfortunately like riding some weird vibrating machine (if you get my drift), and left me with very itchy thighs. It may have been part of the memorabilia from a long defunct local amusement park called Meyers Lake, along with some awesome-looking arcade machines and games that were sadly no longer working (or maybe they were, but they were blocked off by a rope).
There was a small shop at the end of all this, from which I purchased a few postcards from lovely Norm (and “all this” meant wandering through about six huge rooms, plus lots of little nooks), but I capped off my visit with a stroll down a side hallway, where I finally espied a typed portrait of FDR made by an inmate that was mentioned on their website.
I really, really enjoyed my time at this most unusual “car museum.” Sure, a lot of it probably was junk, but there were some gems hidden amongst the collections, particularly all the wonderful presidential artefacts, and I think most people would probably have a good reminisce over all the nostalgic old toys. And of course, there are the cars too, I mustn’t forget those. Apparently, the collection was curated by both the late Marshall Belden Sr, and his wife, which explains why there is a mix of cars and well, everything else (so a big thanks to Florence Belden!). I promised Norm I’d spread the word, so that’s what I’m doing here. Please pay them a visit if you get the chance and you like old stuff arranged with an “old general store” aesthetic, as it really is more than just a car museum! 4/5