Before "The Event", aesthetes occasionally visited museums as a low-cost way to ingest some culture. Those vaults of bygone curios still exist, and their staff have had an ingenious idea in this age of isolation – public Twitter throwdowns over which establishment has the best exhibit on various themes.
The weekly hashtag "CURATORBATTLE" originated with Blighty's own Yorkshire Museum, a wonderful place of learning with exhibitions on the northern region's prehistoric, Roman, Viking and medieval past.
Millicent Carroll, of York Museums Trust, told the BBC: "The curator battle has been gradually building as more and more museums and the general public look at our Twitter feed every Friday to see what theme we're going to pitch.
"It is great for us and other museums to be able to still share our collections with the public when our doors are closed – we just hope we haven't given anyone any nightmares!"
Because this past Friday, the theme took a macabre turn with "creepiest object" – a particularly suitable topic as we all know the best museums are jam-packed with accursed antiques.
Yorkshire Museum's opening gambit was strong, showing that more than 1,500 years ago, Roman women could still show Princess Leia a thing or two about style. That's right, somehow the archive has in its possession a bun of hair from a burial.
MUSEUMS ASSEMBLE! It's time for #CURATORBATTLE! 💥— Yorkshire Museum (@YorkshireMuseum) April 17, 2020
Today's theme, chosen by you, is #CreepiestObject!
We're kicking things off with this 3rd/4th century hair bun from the burial of a #Roman lady, still with the jet pins in place...
CAN YOU BEAT IT? 💥 pic.twitter.com/ntPiXDuM6v
The challenge proved tempting for the world's treasuries, which responded in kind with relics ranging from highly questionable taxidermy to objects that positively vibrate with ancient and eldritch evil.
National Museums Scotland was delighted to be able to inflict its stuffed mermaids upon observers, at last giving credence to the maddened ramblings of many a drunken sailor.
Surrey's Egham Museum wheeled out its First World War-era dolls, which have seen better days but are still obviously not something you want to be unpacking by candlelight in the black corners of a musty basement.
Imagine rummaging through an archive and unwrapping this 👇— Egham Museum (@EghamMuseum) April 17, 2020
MC 490A: Broken Dolls head in many parts with fair hair c.1920
Found on the grounds of @StJudesHead. Let’s hope they treat the pupils better 😂#CuratorBattle #CreepiestObject pic.twitter.com/J5aVRNuSo6
Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum offered up this awfulness – because in fairness that's a thing people still do in South Devon to this day.
Sheep's heart stuck with pins and nails and strung on a loop of cord. Made in South Devon, circa 1911, "for breaking evil spells", @Pitt_Rivers collections #CreepiestObject #CuratorBattle pic.twitter.com/z5vdCFCU4S— Dan Hicks (@profdanhicks) April 17, 2020
Watching and waiting from across the Channel, Deutsches Historisches Museum chimed in with this plague mask dating back to the 17th century. Topical! I'm pretty sure I've seen people hitting Asda wearing one of these.
Thanks for thinking of us @HottyCouture and wow, will we be having nightmares tonight with all these #CreepiestObject|s ! Here is the one we just can't hide from you, one of our many creepy gems – our Plague Mask (1650/1750)! #curatorbattle pic.twitter.com/JrMjqAJSIM— Deutsches Historisches Museum (@DHMBerlin) April 17, 2020
Fellow resident York Manor House presented its mummified cat, found "concealed" under floorboards "surrounded by a ring of hazelnut shells" – because that's not weird and sinister at all. The National Leather Museum helpfully suggested that it was to "deter witches or evil spirits".
Ok so our entry for #creepiestobject is, of course, our mummified cat. It was found concealed in the floorboards above our State Room surrounded by a ring of hazelnut shells. The X-ray below was taken at a local vets (no one else had a machine big enough!) #CuratorBattle pic.twitter.com/O9nUoBp6gC— York Mansion House (@YorkMansionHse) April 17, 2020
Kent's Penshurst Place upped the ante somewhat with the undiluted nightmare fuel of its "Drinking Bear".
Live from the Toy Museum of Penshurst Place, we present the Drinking Bear. Feed it a 2 pence piece and it'll pretend to drink from its cup as it stares into your soul. #CuratorBattle #CreepiestObject pic.twitter.com/ohNl2974UJ— Penshurst Place (@PenshurstPlace) April 17, 2020
Proclaiming itself to have "won", however, was another compatriot to the challengers – York Art Gallery – with a severed human leg that has been fashioned into a, er, dinosaur?
Morbid folk can find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes here. Both #CreepiestObject and #CURATORBATTLE are still very active days after the challenge was first called. Hopefully we can visit these aberrations in the flesh one day – and don't forget to tune into the hashtag next Friday for your weekly dose of cyber-culture. Maybe toss your favourite institution a coin or two too. Museums are likely taking the pandemic hard.
The Register would add this affront to decency to the list. Last we heard, the Martin Brothers' fugly crab ornament had been slapped with an export ban for being "culturally important" or something, which is just tragic for the UK. Who knows where it could be plotting its nefarious schemes now.
Hang on, I just heard something snicker-snack in the attic. Brb. ®