Peculiar Exhibits at This Ohio Museum

This isn’t your ordinary county museum. It has rare birds riding a Ferris wheel, a full-body iron lung, a display showcasing the things locals choked on over the years, and the infamous gangster Dillinger behind bars. All that and more are at the Allen County Museum.

In the taxidermy gone wild exhibit, there are several mechanical dioramas that play out scenes starring preserved dead animals. They are fascinating pieces with an entertainment quality that has stood the test of time. The myriad of moving gears and other mechanical pieces bring imagination to life if nothing else. In one, a bunch of birds rides a Ferris Wheel. In another, the animals ride Noah’s Ark. The Ark is over a hundred years old. A local shoe store owner used to turn it on to amaze kids after they purchased a pair of new shoes. It’s fun to watch when it’s running, but it’s not turned on that often anymore.

One of the more bizarre collections may take your breath away. It displays objects removed from the esophagus, bronchial tree (lungs), and larynx of patients of doctors Estey C. Yingling and Walter E. Yingling. Yes, they collected these from their practice during the 1930s to the 1960s. Each item is marked with the date, the age of the patient, and the patient’s name. Looking at many of the items may make it difficult to swallow.

The “Iron Lung” or “Drinker Respirator” was invented in 1929 by Phillip Drinker.  The display says this was the first widely used mechanical device capable of artificial respiration. It was used to treat victims of respiratory paralysis, often caused by Polio. The patient’s body, excluding the head, was placed in the tank. A rubber collar was fitted tightly around the neck to avoid pressure on the windpipe and larynx and to prevent air leakage. As the pressure in the tank decreased the patient’s chest expanded, moving air into the lungs. When tank pressure returned to normal, the lungs released the air.

Lima had the distinction of holding captive the outlaw John Dillinger in 1933. He was jailed for robbing a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. But before he could be tried for his crime, Dillinger’s gang members busted him out of the Allen County Jail. In the process, they shot and killed Sheriff Jess Sarber. They even locked the sheriff’s wife and deputy in the jail cell. The scene is replicated in the museum with Sarber sitting at his desk and Dillinger peering through the cell block bars at him.

Oddities aside, The Allen County Museum in Lima, Ohio is serious about history. The museum itself has a 100+ year history.

While turning the street corner upon approach to the museum, a stunning two-story glass wall showcases an 1893 Shay Geared Locomotive engine. Inside, visitors may explore the exhibit up-close.

The main museum features 42,000 square feet of fascinating exhibits. It took an entire room to display the model built by a local couple depicting George Washington’s plantation – Mount Vernon.  The exhibition galleries feature the area’s history of geology, Native Americans, canals, Civil War, locomotives, and Lima’s oil fields, once the largest known in the world.

Many of the exhibits have that “cool factor” that prompts the inevitable, “Wow! Check this out.”

The museum is kid-friendly and features plenty of hands-on experiences in the Children’s Discovery Center and a Children’s Garden. Little visitors can sit around the fire (not a real fire) in the Indian mud huts. They may stare in wonder over the huge model train display illustrating and demonstrating railroad town culture. Stop in the one-room school for a quick lesson. If anyone “acts up,” there’s a tall, pointed Dunce Cap on a stool in the corner.

The Allen County Museum grounds have much more to explore than the many treasures inside the main complex. The MacDonell House is a Victorian mansion open for tours depicting the high life on what used to be known as Lima’s “Golden Block.” The nearby Log House interprets pioneer living in 1848.

Although this museum is in a historic small Ohio town, it is widely recognized to offer more than many of its “big-city” counterparts. Its diverse and extensive collection has more than 250,000 archival and material items putting it in the league of some of the finest museums around.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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