An unusual museum featuring bizarre exhibits that celebrated freakish things seen in circus sideshows is closing at the end of the year.

Curator Dick Horne said the American Dime Museum will close Dec. 31 because of rising operating costs, maintenance problems and a lack of donations.

Despite its popularity with the general public, Horne said, admission fees alone weren't enough to support the museum, which opened in 1999.

"The competition for funding museums is so intense," he said. "So we just haven't had any luck. So, in short, yup, we have financial problems."

The museum operated on a tight budget, relying on a network of volunteers. Even Horne, who ran the museum, never drew a paycheck.

Featured in the New York Times, National Geographic and Washington Post, it was said to be the only museum in the nation that re-created a 19th-century dime museum.

"They were collections of things related to science and the oddities," Horne explained. "People were just then beginning to be aware of the world around them. So the museums opened up a whole new world to people."

Over the years, the museum has had an array of strange exhibits. A giant bat and the "Peruvian Amazon giantess" were mainstays.

This year, it featured a display of mortuary artifacts, including embalming shunts and Victorian-era "animal-claw jewelry," which helped visitors understand the evolution of death and grieving in America.

The museum has faced difficulties in the past. In 2003, Horne's then-business partner, James Taylor, pulled out, taking his portion of the collection with him -- a third of the exhibits. Closure seemed imminent. But Horne persevered, launching a retrospective two months later on the finger paintings of Betsy the chimp, a once-favorite attraction at the Baltimore Zoo.

But this time, it doesn't appear there will be a reprieve, Horne said.

"If somebody steps up between now and then with some sort of giving plan, then we could maintain it," Horne said. "But it just doesn't look like it. So you make a decision, and you have to live with it."

The museum will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until its closure. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 7 to 12 and free for "well-behaved" children 6 and younger, Horne said.

Dick Horne and James Taylor in 1999, holding a few of the curiosities at the American Dime Museum in Baltimore.