Museum Employees Describe The Coolest Things They've Ever Seen At Work

Museum Employees Describe The Coolest Things They've Ever Seen At Work
Photo by Chris Nguyen on Unsplash

A museum can be a pathway to new learning, with their well curated exhibits and artifacts from around the globe spanning decades or millennia of knowledge. A visit to one can be a life-changing experience.

That's all fine and good, but what about the cool stuff? The stuff the public isn't allowed to see? The things you only dreamed about discovering when you were a child.

Let's hear about that!

Reddit user, jonnycigarettes, wanted to hear what goes on behind closed doors when they asked:

"Museum Workers - What is the Coolest Thing You've Seen That is not Public?"

A museum's job is to catalog and record the past while influencing those within the present. It must be hard not to get caught up in the tales of the past.

Who Wouldn't Start Mixing Stuff Together?

"Worked in a science museum. It's not exactly not public, but when the museum was closed or on slow days we used to test out ideas we found on the internet for science activities. Anything from liquid nitrogen hurricanes to green and purple fireballs - if we had the ingredients, we could try it."


You Never Know What's Going To Pop Up On The Itinerary

"In my own university archive & cultural collections I filed away human teeth one day and local church financial records the next. Archive work is wild."


Sounds Like It Comes From A Ripley's Museum

"Taxidermied heads of a two headed calf (died shortly after birth). They are mounted just like you typically see deer head trophies."


"so you have a brahmin calf head mounted on the wall?"


"Well, the museum has it! I think it's a brown and white Holstein."


I'm Not Sure What I Expected...

"My wife is an art curator. In her younger life, she was working at a museum and vame across a box that said, "mummy head".

"Guess what was in there? A mummy head, as advertised."

"My favorite experience from visiting her at work (besides meeting Cheech Marin... seriously, dude! He borrowed my guitar!) was blowing as much time as I wanted looking at a Warhol print from 1966. It was mind blowing to see all that effort to make something seem shallow and simple."

"By the way, prints are awesome. You can buy art for less than the cost of furniture, directly from the artist. You are putting beer in one's mug, gas in the van, alimony in the envelope."


Too Much Of A Good Thing

"I used to live in Melbourne, Florida. There's a small building there that for some reason was built to house a replica of the Liberty Bell. For whatever reason, the museum evolved into housing all manner of patriotic memorabilia, mostly military in nature, but there's the occasional diorama. Retirees or widows would donate uniforms and other military gear to the place. Unfortunately this meant over time a huge quantity of this stuff was just crammed into this tiny museum they call Honor America."


Even when the stuff is categorized under "Awesome," it doesn't mean they hold no educational value.

Pew, Pew, Pew

"I interned at the US navy museum for a few months, primarily in the armoury"

"There is a long list of awesome stuff, but the best was all the Vietnam era SEAL weapons. China lake grenade launcher (002), prototype .50 rifles, modified shotguns, suppressed m16e1’s....."

"And that’s before the really spooky stuff like a g3 lacking all external markings and a soviet SVD donated by the state department in the late 60’s..."


Hospitality, Ghosts, and Samurai Armor

"I worked at the Biltmore House for a few years. My favorite things were the two sets of samurai armor. Between that, some of the wall hanging, a few books and the katanas I always thought Vanderbilt was a bit of a Japanophile. Plus the rooms in the sub basement with the bared gates, that was fun to go check."


Images That Stay With You

"I once had to help mop out the vault that stored the excavated remains from a Fort Ancient site where I volunteered as a teen. We got to see what was removed from the graves. It was a pretty intense and somber day."



"One castle type museum I did my work experience in I was taken in a room just full of guns."

"I am a lot older and work in a museum again now so I know how things are stored carefully, in controlled conditions, but these guns were just piled about. There were ton of musket looking guns but two that stood out was something that looked like a revolver but with a barrel like a canon, and a musket that was much bigger barrel and eleven of my feet long."

"It was in the early nineties so I'm sure they've tidied up a bit now, but so so many guns."


There really is no other job like it, is there?

Read, Read, Read

"I've worked at multiple museums and Archives/Special Collections sections of libraries (in various capacities). Some of the highlights:"

  • "The full collection first editions of Mildred Benson's Nancy Drew hardbacks from the 1930s"
  • "the autographed Arthur Rackham-illustrated copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales that we had sitting on our shelves in the Archives of my university, owned by his aunt-by-marriage and donated to us"
  • "The Virginia Museum of Transportation had so many cool railroad bits and bobs floating around in storage, especially while they were working on the restoration of the 611 steam engine."
  • "a Lewis and Clark original map of the Pacific Northwest, kept in the Library of Congress archives because it's too fragile to display"

"Edit: another one that I just remembered:"

  • "the beautiful illuminated manuscripts and Book of Days from the Middle Ages that my university had sitting around in Special Collections. We occasionally wheeled them out for the Medieval Lit undergrads, but other than that they were generally locked up"

Walking In The Steps Of Giants

"I volunteer at an air museum. We had just got a Huey helicopter to restore and it was in the maintenance hangar. Some Vietnam vets that flew a Huey found out that we got one in. We let them into the maintenance hangar to check it out and while they were looking at it they discovered it was the Huey that they flew in Vietnam. They had no idea that it had survived."

"I was just hanging out and got to witness the whole thing."


Desk Is Next To A WHAT?

"Hmmmmm. Where to even start? Fun fact - most museums only have about 0.1-10% of their collections on display at any given time."

"My desk used to be right next to an atomic bomb."

"A couple of times, I was in Charles Lindbergh's pants. Also Neil Armstrong's boots. Also saw Buzz Aldrin's underpants."

"I got to hold a pair of Roald Amundsen's skis."

"SPACE SUIT STORAGE. It's like a morgue but better. Fun story - one of the best ways to transport space suits is in coffin boxes. Always tripping over coffin boxes everywhere on shipping days."

"A drum hand-collected by Margaret Mead that's one of three like it left in the world (iirc)."

"Victorian hair art. So disturbing we didn't have any on display at that museum. As one classmate said, "that's not art, that's the shower drain!".

"Airplanes made out of plywood."

"An actual military medal that was a hand flipping the bird - Order of the Rigid Digit. Still my favorite use of taxpayer dollars to this day."

"Napoleon's handwritten notes for his autobiography. There was also a collection of prints with his face that made excellent memes among my friends."

"James Doolittle's pilot license signed by Orville Wright."

"Lindbergh's prize check for crossing the Atlantic."

"135 laxatives previously belonging to Charles Lindbergh. Fun story - Jane Addams used the same kind of laxatives."

"Used tissues. Used bandaids. Random trash. Unidentifiable fragments of wood. A board that was supposed to call cats to it or some weird hocus pocus like that. All things we had to take very seriously and treat with the same care we did everything else because some dumdum decided to accession everything."

"A very wide range of baccula, aka penis bones."

"Dinosaur storage, need I say more?"

"The super secret Egyptian temple buried in the bowels of the Field Museum."

"Teddy Roosevelt's samurai outfit, gifted to him at a state dinner by the Japanese ambassador. He then drunkenly put it on and ran around the White House in it, iirc."

"A second atomic bomb."

"Ugh, best job ever. I make myself jealous sometimes. Even when I had to alphabetize and chronologize 653 barf bags."


Anyone feeling like switching career choices? All of this sounds way more fun than anything we're doing today.

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