On Wednesday, museum registrar Amanda Klaus will present the lecture on unusual items collected during the museum’s 75-year existence. Some strange objects are available for view at the museum, but photos will be used to tell the story of items distributed to other institutions or lost in a fire at the former museum on Telfair Street.
The Augusta Museum of History began as a general museum that included art, natural history, archaeological artifacts and items from cultures around the world. The early museum directors accepted possessions that people brought back from travels that were not true historical artifacts, Klaus said.
“In the very beginning, they wanted to do a museum in Augusta that would be an educational institution that would cover everything,” Klaus said. “Now we understand you can’t cover everything.”
When the museum concentrated its focus on local history in the mid-1990s, artifacts were distributed to other institutions, including Augusta State University, the University of Georgia and the Natural Sciences Academy at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.
A shrunken head, most likely from a South American practice of boiling the head flesh after death, was left at the museum in the 1940s, Klaus said. After the item was unclaimed at a pawnshop, the shop owner loaned it to the museum but never returned for it.
In the 1940s, local doctors donated babies preserved in glass jars that were used for scientific study. At one point, the museum had a display of human fetuses that showed gestational development, Klaus said.
The Augusta Police Department donated a human skull found by the Academy of Richmond County. A coral snake preserved in a jar of alcohol, thought to have killed a Confederate solider, was lost in a fire in the 1960s.
Calls are answered every week from people trying to donate items that the museum finds have little significance, said Nancy Glaser, the executive director. Inquiries about the authenticity and value of randomly found items have increased with the popularity of television shows about antique hunters, pawnshop owners and junkyard scavengers.