The Ed Wood School of Museology

Johnny Depp - Version 2"Why, if I had half a chance, I could make an entire movie using this stock footage!"

Edward D. Wood, Jr., in "Ed Wood," 1994 film by Tim Burton

(right, image of Johnny Depp, ©Touchstone Pictures)

That discarded stock footage of stampeding buffalo does make it into one of his films, along with something involving a writhing octupus…  Tim Burton's affectionate take on Hollywood's worst-ever schlock film director (played with comedic brio by Johnny Depp) may not be everyone's inspiration for museum management, but I often think, "hey – Ed Wood wouldn't let this go to waste" when stumbling across some artifact or image connected with the Legation's long history.

I say artifact, but tangible items connected with American diplomats in Tangier dating back to the 1790s are extremely rare.  In fact, we have all of one such thing – a sword cane from 1945, left behind by the Legation's wartime Chargé d'Affaires.  We keep dropping hints with the State Department's US Diplomacy Center – building a museum of American diplomacy – that we could use some of their artifacts (diplomatic seals, uniforms… anything), to no avail.

TALIM Minister's officeSo we keep on winging it.  Often this is simply creating crossovers from our research library to our museum.  Or repositioning seemingly unrelated pictures and maps to illustrate a theme.

Our new "Legation Room" (photo at left) was once the Minister's office, so we gathered together much of our US Government-issue Drexel office furniture, put in a few period touches like telephone and bakelite radio, a new paint job to highlight the 19th century architecture and voilà, recreation of an era.  It's among the first rooms that visitors now see, and it's replete with World War II stories and other anecdotes of diplomatic life at the Legation.

In response to my pleas for a scale model of the USS Olympia, someone sent me mini models (1250 scale, the kind that they used to push around table tops to plan World War II operations).  So what do I do with these cute little inches-long guys?  Put them on a chart of Tangier harbor to illustrate the Perdicaris Affair, where Teddy Roosevelt sends the Atlantic Fleet on a gunboat diplomacy mission.  Instant illustrated exhibit.

Of course, if we had a generous budget to acquire items, display cases, all the paraphernalia of big-name museums, we could do much more.  But there's something fun about the Ed Wood approach of do-it-yourself, nothing is wasted, museum management.  Now, what can I do with these vintage magazine covers from the Spanish-American War?  To be continued…

Gerald Loftus    

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