People look to museums to learn more about our intricate, incredible planet. But it’s not all Mona Lisas and dinosaur fossils on display. Museums are also full of supremely bizarre, wholly disturbing pieces that have the potential to shake visitors to the core.

Exhibit A: a 2,000-year-old bun of real hair taken from a grave. Exhibit B: a dead man’s skin filled with coins.

These are but a few examples of the upsetting oddities on display in museums around the world, and we can thank the Yorkshire Museum’s Twitter account for the reminder.

Since the closing of the Northern England museum because of the covid-19 pandemic, it and others within the York Museums Trust have been looking for new ways to connect with the public. Its #curatorbattle has been one such effort.

Last week’s call for submissions of museums’ creepiest objects struck a different chord entirely. The good people of Museum Twitter responded accordingly, with heinous images from Germany, Canada, the United States, elsewhere in the United Kingdom and beyond.

Lee Clark, communications manager at York Museums Trust, chalks up the creepiness of many items to their age.

“Museums are home to a wide variety of objects, many hundreds or thousands of years old,” Clark told The Washington Post in an email. “Some are creepy simply because they have aged or decayed. Others are only creepy to modern eyes because they are out of context with the time or culture in which they were created.”

Whether or not time is to blame, the submissions to the battle are the stuff of nightmares. Behold some of the best — or rather, worst?

Drinking bear

The Toy Museum of Penshurst Place, in England, sounds like a whimsical, fun-loving space. Toys, right? What could go wrong?

Apparently everything, when you look at the monstrosity that is “Drinking Bear.” The red eyes and mangled visage don’t scream “toy” to us, but rather “abomination.”


It’s upsetting enough that the natural sciences department at the National Museums Scotland had this flesh-pink “mermaid” on hand for the challenge.

What’s worse is that the item is not the museum’s only “mermaid.” Its other mythical sea creature was made from fish parts and God knows what else.

Plague mask

As we socially isolate to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, we can also experience night terrors from seeing this plague-protection contraption from the 17th century. Imagine heading to the store for your weekly grocery run wearing this pointed, God-awful device.


Another horrible toy. Discovered inside some cursed 155-year-old mansion, this freak of nature sheep (?) was allegedly a play thing for children. The staff of the PEI Museum system and Heritage Foundation in Canada call it “Wheelie,” noting that not only does it look terrifying, but it also moves on its own. Why it hasn’t been cast into the sea yet is beyond us.


Sorry to ruin your day, but this is Ralph. Intended to be part of the train exhibit at the Dorchester Heritage Center museum in St. George, S.C., the mannequin has been banished to storage for obvious reasons. Look at Ralph’s teeth. Look at Ralph’s arms. We are so, so sorry for making you look at Ralph.

Stuckie, the mummified dog

Bad news for dog lovers, this submission is a mummified dog stuck in a tree. Stuckie now lives at the Southern Forest World museum in Waycross, Ga., after having been discovered by loggers in the 1980s. The artifact gets points for being both creepy and heartbreaking, not that this whole competition warranted keeping track of points.

Murderer’s scalp

Moyse’s Hall, you dog, you. Of course you had to share your Corder scalp with us! You had to tell us that you have a nearly two-century-old scalp of a famous murderer on display at your Suffolk, England, museum. You had to fill us in that you also had a book bound with skin from his back.

This was your time to shine, and you nailed it.

Human tongue, carried as charm

Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Putting money down that FDR never met the person who was walking around carrying the tip of a human tongue as a “charm.”

This tongue tip is no longer someone’s immensely ominous pocket trinket; it now lives at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England, for better or for worse.

If not for the existence of museums, all of these international treasures might have been lost. But the coronavirus outbreak is now threatening the future of these institutions and their creepy inventories, too.

“Like many charities and non-profit organisations we are struggling to survive the current coronavirus pandemic,” Clark said. “If you are in a position to help us survive the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic we would be grateful for any donation you can make. Please visit our website for more information.”

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