Flat-Line Time for the Squished Penny Museum
As I toured Washington's Squished Penny Museum -- indeed, as I took the very last tour of the museum -- I couldn't help wondering if perhaps the reason the museum has closed its doors is that everyone who could possibly want to see the world's largest public collection of copper coins flattened into wafer-thin souvenirs has already seen it.
"Oh, no," said Christine Henry, the museum's co-founder. The public remains as interested as ever in squished pennies, she insisted. Christine and her husband, Pete Morelewicz, would just like their weekends back.
For the museum, you see, is -- or, rather, was -- in the front hallway of the couple's LeDroit Park home. People interested in touring the museum -- in seeing the squished pennies carefully encapsulated in plastic cases and mounted on wooden boards; in learning about the hobby's history; in squishing a few pennies of their own -- simply called them up and made an appointment. But the address had leaked out over the 11 years Pete and Christine had run the museum, and all too frequently patrons would simply show up.
Sometimes Christine would be in her pajamas.
So the museum was closing its doors, and there I was, the last outsider to get inside.
I learned that the squished penny made its first appearance in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
I saw the first penny Christine squished, as a college student visiting New York 18 years ago. I saw pennies the couple squished on visits to back-road tourist traps and interstate rest stops across the country, from Cadiz, Ky., "Home of the Ham Festival," to Graceland, home of Elvis.
I saw squished penny oddities: "Never play leapfrog with a unicorn," read one. "Good luck from Buzzy the Master Lover, Indianapolis," read another.
I experienced the charm of the museum and felt a little sad -- as Pete and Christine do -- that it has closed.
"We started to get so many visitors that we were overwhelmed," said Pete, 34, art director of the Washington City Paper. "We didn't have enough time to accommodate everyone who wanted to visit us. And that was really tough for them as well as for us, because we wanted to make people happy."
Some people seemed not to quite grasp the homespun nature of the museum. They would call and ask if there was tour bus parking or a cafe.
Even without tour bus parking or a cafe, more than 2,000 people visited the museum.