1863. Lightning Rock, Colorado. Five men stood near a rapidly turning saw blade staring at the freshly split log on the cutting ramp. A small, three-legged toad had just fallen from a blind pocket in the wood. Two legs in the front, one in the back. It croaked and hopped twice before Lancaster Mauson scooped it up with his hat and ran from the mill. As he ran down the mountain, visions of money and fame began to fill his rather small cranial recesses. The rest of men chased him, not knowing why but it seemed the thing to do at the time.
A week later in Denver, the tripod toad was on display at a back room of a saloon. The hand drawn poster outside billed it as “The Miracle of the Ages” and cost a hefty nickel to see it. In a time when boredom with women, whiskey and gambling was high, the Miracle was something different. Folks thereabouts talked about it. Talking begat exaggeration, then lies, and finally outright rumors abounded. Appartently, the toads appearance was in a constant state of flux. It seemed to have sprouted buds that became wings. Feathers were actually seen and a number of people swore that the rear leg had a small wooden wheel attached so the Miracle could walk about.
The nickels were piling fast and Mauson’s fingertips had begun thicken with counting blisters. This did not go unnoticed. On the first dark night after rumors became dissatisfied mutterings , a tobacco stained miner, named Kendall Schumacher, called the miracle a fake and demanded his nickel back. Mauson laughed. A Colt sprang into view. Shots rang and when the black powder cloud finally cleared, Mauson lay dead, the nickels spilling from his clutched hands. The toad was no where to be found and so ended, the career of the first curator.
1864. New York City. It is known that the toad made a brief appearance at Barnum’s American Museum. It was ballyhooed along with a troupe of Egyptian dancing girls, a bicycle riding dog and a yak woman from Tibet. All this for just two bits. The public was amazed with the toad. It did indeed seem to have a set of wings and a wheel had somehow been fitted to the rear leg.
The second curator was Hans Mauson, brother of the unfortunate first. He had learned of the toad through the papers and travelled to New York to retrieve what he saw as his rightful property. Three nights after his arrival, the toad went missing. Some believed, it had been toadnapped. Others that it had flown away. And still others, that it had simply gone for a walk and gotten lost. No one actually knew and the debate still rages on.
1866. Paris, France. The city planning board approved the first Mausonian Museum and it opened on the Rue de Faux. It featured the Miracle, recently expired, in a lovely glass case. Alongside was a photograph of Lancaster Mauson. He was wearing his best suit and had been propped up in a cheap wooden coffin on a boardwalk for all to gawk at. Nearby, a sign advertised that you could poke the dead man for a nickel. It all seemed quite fitting , at least that is what his brother told the Parisienne Gazette.
Hans did much better than his brother. Over the years, the collection of natural oddities grew as did his fortune. Scholars of the arts and the sciences became regular visitors and patrons. For just a very few francs, you could set your hungry eyes on some truly curious taxidermy remains of exotic creatures. There were also live legendary animals, the newest fossils, mythological artifacts, a creditable freak show and a flea circus.
All was well. However, time has a way of making what was improbable, quite likely. A competitor had set up shop in the district with the idea if it was profitable for one then there was room for two. Or not.
The Mausonian began suffering from bad press, bad rumors and simply bad luck. Patrons closed their wallets. Scholars melted into the landscape. People seemed to be avoiding him. Then there was a burglary of the museum. Many of the easily transported items were transported. Afterwards, one of thieves carelessly dropped a lit match. The very next day, a Parisian postcard arrived. There was a rather well done drawing of an axe on the back.
Hans studied the empty space where a signature should be and realized that only a week had passed since his competitor had opened their doors. Lancaster and his fate came to mind. Before another firearm could magically appear , Hans had packed up and left with what was left of the collection.
He moved to Prague and died almost immediately.. The museum contents were sold to cover the burial expenses. Hans went to potters field and the lot went back to Paris. It seems, it was bought by the competitor who also just happened to be in town at the time. This man became the third curator.
1893. Still in Paris. His name was Renee Noire and he was in it for the franc. Not that the Mauson brothers weren’t, but they brought along a flair of panache that made the silliness of it all seem worthwhile for the viewer. Noire only brought a blackjack. Under Noire’s rudimentary business plan, the francs really began to flow.
He bought the old Mausonian premises and set the museum up like it had never changed hands. All was like it had been. The public flocked back along with the intellectuals and those with heavy purses.
All was not well. Patrons were soon coerced and scholars begrudgingly gave endorsements under the gaze of heavily muscled thugs. On the surface, the museum flourished and Noire banked.
But nothing built on greed lasts.
In an effort to increase franc flow, more specimens were needed and quick. The result was the museum had begun show fakes. Well, they had been all along and everyone knew it.
Specimens were created in the basement with hide glue, cotton, needle and thread. The public, after all, loves being fooled. What the public doesn’t like is being taken for a fool. So when specimens began appearing in the viewing galleries with glue and sawdust dripping from between blatantly bad stitching, the howl of “Hoax!” went up. Scientists stopped coming. Patrons fled and the museum’s attendance spiralled. Within a week, people could not be paid to come in. But Noire had made his bundle.
Seeing the imminent demise of his scheme, he then proceeded to plunder the museum’s rich resources. The better artifacts and relics were sold off to private collectors. Second tier artifacts were hocked, auction and bartered away. What was left was tossed into warehouse storage and the museum building was torched for the insurance. Noire had made a fortune and went on to live comfortably for many years. So, exits the third curator.
1912. Paris still. Joel Mauson was in the process of finishing one quest and unknowingly starting a really long one. Since childhood, he had been mesmerized by the family stories told of the strange brothers who collected even stranger things. They had set up a museum for frogs and such and Joel really liked frogs. So when he was old enough, he went forth to seek the truth. He started in Colorado and the trail slowly led east. Two years later, he found himself in an old warehouse district of Paris.
The sun was retreating and the air was becoming quite cool and damp. He could hear the river and what floated in it, gurgling by. The dim gaslight above the darkened doorway only served to make him feel even more isolated. Standing alone on the dark cobblestone street, a strange thought flitted through his mind. You know, they eat frogs in this country, right?
The dark doorway beckoned. Joel banged with the knocker against the door. A rotund dwarf cracked it open, his long nose jutted into the dim lighting. The dwarf spoke broken English and Joel flashed a few notes of currency. The door opened and he entered.
In the office, a long discussion had produced no records or bills of what he sought. Joel refused to believe that the man did not know what was in his charge. A few bottles of wine and a donation to the warehouse owners retirement fund secured him passage to the subcellars. Steep worn limestone steps led down. The dwarf led by torch, through catacomb tunnels. Water trickled everywhere. Rotting wood cases lay about, the weight of those piled on top crushing those below. Joel could hear the lapping of the river echoing softly through the passageways.
Eventually, they reached a doorless chamber. A large tarp was pulled back and dozens of beady red eyes stared at the two trespassers. There stood the remnants of the his quest. One large crate. Stenciled on the side and still legible in the torchlight, were the words: Property of the Mausonian. A crowbar made short work of the lid.
Joel dug through the musty excelsior. His hands seized on a wooden frame. His left eye twitched. He drew it forth and a crazed grin spread over his face. He was looking at the the famed tripod toad , the Miracle of 1863. Somehow it had survived Noire’s artifact to franc conversion purge. Joel had become the fourth curator.
1914. The World. The Mauson Touring Museum travelled extensively. Joel exhibited for working money and spent off hours tracking down old original specimens and searching for new ones. He was quite successful, as the oddities provided welcome respite from the a world that was at war.
1931. Sovereign Territories of Mu. The museum had been showing and doing well in the Sovereign territories. The islands and its people were an agreeably disarming lot and the climate agreed with Joel.
In his off time explorations, he came upon an abandoned piece of property that he realized would be a perfect home for the collection. The collection was large after eleven years of seeking and transport had become a burdensome task that sometimes left artifacts broken or stolen .
The property was run down but it had space and grounds. The main structure was a conglomeration of styles, built and rebuilt upon the old over the years. The identity of the builders and prior tenants seemed murky and no one person actually owned the building. It seemed to be within the purview of the local council of elders as it sat on tribal lands.
So, he petitioned the local government. His proposal was that the museum would be a boon to local tourism and was sure to increase the depth of their coffers. The elders looked at each other and promptly threw him out. Tourists were the last thing that they wanted. Confused, Joel decided to do some research on the laws and local customs of Mu. Once suitably enlightened, he returned and offered a substantial unscheduled donation to the elders council pension fund. The museum found a home.
1932 and forward. The museum has never been successful, in a manner that a capitalist would understand the word. There still are scholars and scientists who support the museum and some income is garnished through sales of artifact reproductions. The buildings have never reached even a smattering of their old grandeur and the property has long returned to nature. Wildlife flourishes here. The roofing still leaks and lighting is accomplished by a series of temperamental generators. The museum has large stores of beeswax candles.
However, the galleries and storage areas are dry. New specimens are constantly joining the hundreds of crates that need unpacking, cataloging, authentication and historical documentation. Like many museums, only a fraction is in the upstairs halls. The bulk of the collection and the wealth of the museum is in the basement storage facilities. Being a curator of the Mausonian means always being on the lookout for the curious.
N.B. Along with all the things curious, is the fact, that the museum does not exhibit. It does not have hours, schedules or discount tickets. Tourism in Mu, for all intents and purposes, is forbidden. Laws are rigidly enforced by the local constabulary on a case by case basis. Rumors of constabulary annual picnic fund donations linked to certain smuggler tours are unfounded and should be disregarded. Also, it is an outright lie, that for a nickel, half the population will go blind. It’s simply that you can’t see what is going on, if you are looking somewhere else.