The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, Los Angeles, has been described as labyrinthine, with its dimly lit, densely populated corridors. Whereas many might think of a labyrinth as something to solve, a challenge to puzzle their way through, the museum will not reward you for seeking a definitive path through its halls. The message of this small building packed with glowing dioramas; wall-mounted phones; ghostly, operatic wailing; a rooftop, dove-flocked garden; and countless other gems, is that there are many true paths and many contradictory realities in the world.
A 2018 profile of the museum argues that your visit will be most fulfilling if you “lose yourself,” not if you find your way. No need to mimic Theseus—the mannequin hands displaying cat’s cradle configurations on the second floor have the only string you’ll need on this journey.
Even the most intricate, bedeviling maze has walls, some kind of structure to give your lost wandering a shape. The Museum of Jurassic Technology is no exception, grouping its exhibits according to five thematic categories: Pins and Needles, Shoes and Stockings, Body Parts and Secretions, Thunder and Lightning, and Insects and Other Living Things. A wide range of curiosities inhabit this taxonomy, from skulls and horns, to plaques bearing folk wisdom about bees, to photographs of the dogs that the USSR sent into space. One room appears almost to pulse with vibrant stereofloral radiographs “revealing,” according to their accompanying description, “unexpectedly complex internal architecture and graceful geometries, [and reminding] us of jellyfish or gothic cathedrals.”
Another room is papered in letters supposedly written to Mount Wilson Observatory. Eight years ago, when I finished touring the museum for the second day in a row, I purchased from the gift shop a bound collection of these letters, entitled No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again. Fittingly, I have always struggled with where in my own home library’s categorical structure to place this book—Science? Urban studies? Science fiction? Inevitably, I always capitulate to slotting it in alongside poetry books, naming poetry a kind of grab-bag genre and also honoring the beauty of lines from the letters like, “The moon is a sphere and it works the clouds by night; it is not a Planet, & should not be interfered with.”
Whether any of these letters were ever actually written to Mount Wilson Observatory is a mystery, as is the question of whether the Italian opera diva highlighted in one exhibit ever lived to sing a single aria. Lawrence Weschler’s book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology is an enthralling work of investigation into the museum—its background, its design, its veracity. And not for lack of admirable effort, the book offers little to no conclusive evidence one way or the other as to how rooted in fact the exhibits, altogether, may be.
A one-star review of the museum on Tripadvisor ends, “I wish I’d stayed home and read the newspaper instead.” If some semblance of fact-checking and predictable, familiar organizational categories is important to you, then yes, the newspaper might be preferable to taking a trip to this dimly lit cabinet of wonder. If, in contrast, you want to feel like the Minotaur, lost in a labyrinth and caught between realms (human and animal, factual and fantastical), then the Museum of Jurassic Technology is the perfect destination. While the museum did temporarily close down during the early stages of the pandemic, admission is now available via advance appointment Thursday through Sunday. If you’re ever in Los Angeles, go ahead; resist the urge to solve the maze or the mysteries and plan to lose yourself instead.
Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!